MIAMI—Responding to widespread criticism of voting procedures that have plagued the state since the 2000 election, the Florida Elections Commission announced Thursday its plan to experiment with new 600-lever voting machines.
The 22-foot-tall, 11-foot-wide steam-powered machines, which Florida officials are hailing as “the future of voting,” each feature more than 45 separate panels of levers, along with an intricate series of valves, knobs, cranks, pumps, and switches, all reportedly designed to help ease the electoral process and ensure accurate balloting this November.
“We hope these advances will allow Floridians to go to the polls this fall fully confident their votes will be counted,” said Elections Commission general counsel Tim Conner, explaining the “completely intuitive” machinery’s use of diagonally, vertically, and horizontally shifting levers, as well as 270 separate pistons designed to ensure chads are fully punched. “Voters simply place their ballot in the machine; enter their name, address, and social security number using the corresponding alphanumeric lever panels at the top; and then maneuver the remaining 564 levers to select a candidate.”
“And just to guarantee there is no confusion, voters will reconfirm each selection by repeating the 80 required steps using a second panel of levers on the machine’s side,” Conner added. “The whole system is designed to get voters in and out of the booth in no more than four hours.”
Upon entering a polling place, each Floridian will reportedly be handed a 2,200-page instructional manual, the first 410 pages of which are devoted to teaching users how to start up the machine by operating a hand crank at the back and using the side valves to unbolt its 18 security locks—as well as step-by-step instructions on how to engage the pulley system that closes the booth’s curtain.
“Some of the levers are naturally a bit rusted and may require some extra jiggling, but other than that the process should be pretty straightforward if you read the manual,” said the machine’s inventor, Mason Reid, who went on to describe the series of pedals that voters must operate with their feet at all times to ensure the pistons and cylinders are adequately sprayed with coolant. “Every 10 minutes or so, voters will have to remember to go around back and pour more water in the boiler tank to ensure the steam engine stays operational. And then every hour, of course, they’ll need to shovel more coal in the firebox.”
“We’re also keeping a ladder nearby in case a bird gets caught in the smokestack and the voter needs to climb up to get it out,” Reid added. “Happens from time to time.”
According to early reports, Florida voters are being asked to bring a crowbar, a screwdriver, and tweezers to their polling place for a section of the process that requires them to crawl underneath the machine’s base and pry open a panel containing the 83 tiny switches necessary to print the final ballot.
Officials also noted that any minor voter errors at any point could be “easily remedied” by pulling a green lever right at the front of the machine that allows users to restart the process altogether.
Prototypes of the new device were used in seven Tallahassee-area voting precincts for this January’s Republican primary, and the Elections Commission deemed the experiment “largely successful.”
“The process got a little confusing when I had to manually shift the oscillating cylinders inside the engine during Stage 12 of the process, but at the end of the day I’m glad to have voted,” 79-year-old Tallahassee resident Angela Stern said. “I’m pretty sure I voted.”
Despite the fire that burned down a polling site after one of the trial machines overheated, officials said they are thrilled to see the how Floridians take to the new process this fall.
“Ultimately, the system is designed so that no matter who you’re voting for, you have a very simple 90 to 450 levers that will allow you to properly select your candidate,” Conner said. “Of course, if you decide to vote straight-ticket Republican, you can, alternatively, just hit the large red button right in the center of the machine and move on with your day.”