Friday, June 5, 2009
Carlisle voting machine costs rising
At first glance, it seemed like a great idea when, in 2007, the state required all towns and cities to provide handicapped-accessible voting machines to make it easier for disabled citizens to participate in elections. However, for Carlisle, it might just be a solution in search of a problem.
According to Town Clerk, Charlene Hinton, “Not a single person used the machine” during the recent Town Election. Until now, the state covered the expenses, but this time Carlisle was responsible for the $1,081 in set-up costs for the AutoMARK electronic-accessible voting machine, which must be reprogrammed for each election. For the time being, the state has said it will continue to pay the costs for state and federal elections, but towns must pay for using the device during local elections.
The voting machine has a touch screen, a keypad with Braille labels and can deliver instructions via headphone for blind voters. Hinton says that a few people have used the machine over the past three years, but most had to be encouraged to experiment with it. Hinton notes that some residents with disabilities are exercising their option to vote at home via paper absentee ballot. To her knowledge, no one in Carlisle has used the AutoMARK machine due to a physical disability.
One might expect greater demand for the accessible machine in larger cities and towns, and Hinton confirms that some cities have had a good response. For disabled residents in those communities, the state-mandate for accessible voting machines has been helpful. However, Hinton says many other towns have had experiences that mirror Carlisle’s. For a small town in the midst of a big recession, it seems a shame to spend even a couple thousand dollars a year if it benefits no one.
Ideally, the state will loosen its requirements for small communities. For instance, would it be reasonable if towns like Carlisle only programmed the AutoMARK if asked by disabled voters interested in using it? A voter would need to make the request ahead of election day, as is the case for those who wish to vote by absentee ballot. It may take time before the state considers either relaxing requirements or covering more of the costs. Meanwhile, Hinton expects an animated discussion of the topic at the Massachusetts Town Clerks’ Association conference later this month. ∆
Good luck, bad luck
There’s an old Chinese proverb about a poor farmer, whose only valued possession was a horse. The steed was a bit wild, and one day it ran off. The villagers, knowing how much the farmer loved the animal, offered their condolences. However, the farmer, who had grown accustomed to hardship, was philosophical about his loss. “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?” was all he would say.
A week later, the horse returned unexpectedly, leading half a dozen wild ponies. The villagers could not believe the farmer’s good fortune – now he was rich beyond all imagining. When they offered their congratulations, he refused to gloat, saying only “Good luck, back luck, who knows?”
The farmer’s son set to work taming the wild horses. One was particularly aggressive and strong, and threw off the boy, whose leg was badly broken. This created great hardship for the farmer, for he was old and frail and now had no one to help tend his fields. Once again, the villagers were sympathetic, but the farmer merely muttered “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?”
A week later, an officer from the army came to the village to recruit new soldiers. He conscripted all the young men of the village, but did not take the farmer’s son, whose broken leg made him useless for battle. This seemed like a blessing from heaven, but the farmer said (you guessed it) “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?”
I’m sure that this story has many more chapters, but the point is clear. We don’t always know what’s in store for us, and sometimes the things that seem the most disappointing or dangerous turn out to be a true stroke of luck. There’s always a yin to the yang. Rev. Peter Gomes, who preaches at Harvard, tells the story of his greatest disappointment, which was being rejected by the college of his choice (Bowdoin), a place that he truly had his heart set on. He was devastated by this, and wound up at Bates instead. There, he received a fine education, subsequently attended Harvard Divinity School, and eventually became one of the most notable and admired preachers in the land. Many years later, he was invited to give the commencement address at Bowdoin and receive an honorary degree. As he stood at the podium, he thought to himself “Should I, or shouldn’t I?” But of course he couldn’t resist. “I stand before you a failure in your eyes, for you rejected me outright, and the keen sense of disappointment that I felt then is still with me today,” he began. The audience shifted uncomfortably in the seats. “However, it was your rejection that enabled me to go to another college, where I was so well taught that I wound up at Harvard, which set me on a path that eventually brought me back to you, and now I can finally lay claim to my Bowdoin degree.”
These are trying times, full of change and uncertainty. Many things that we have taken for granted in the past now seem vulnerable. Even General Motors, not too long ago the largest industrial corporation in the world and a proud symbol of American capitalism, is in bankruptcy. Is this good news or bad news? Ask the farmer.
© 2009 The