(August 18, 2004) Hear the audio version

My friend Molly was the first to use the new ATM at the bank next door to our office in 1979. “It’s so cool,” she said. “You almost feel like you don’t have to record it in your checkbook!” For 25 years I’ve appreciated the convenience of being able to get cash on Saturday mornings for the farmers market, and deposit checks without standing in a teller line. The ATM worked wonderfully ­ until the bank installed new, touchscreen models. Last week the machine took my deposit envelope and then wrote on the screen: “Your request cannot be processed at this time.” No receipt, no money, no nothin’. Fortunately the bank was open. Unfortunately, it is against federal law for the teller to retrieve the envelope and return it to me, or deposit it in my account. Two days, two visits to the branch, and four hours on the phone to customer service later, I was granted “provisional credit.” The head teller’s advice? “Don’t use the ATM. This happens randomly, at least once a week.”

Oh, dear. Touchscreen ATM’s are related to touchscreen voting machines, which, in an over-reaction to the hanging chad fiasco in Florida, will be inaugurated en masse across the nation in arguably the most important election of our time. Will random voters this November 2 see “Your vote cannot be processed” on their touchscreen voting machines? Or “This ballot is provisional pending an investigation?” Bravo to Secretary of State Kevin Shelley for insisting on corrections to the security of electronic voting machines in California, and for requiring polling places to offer a paper ballot alternative. Florida’s Governor Jeb Bush apparently has no qualms about the technology, despite computer crashes and lost – then found – discs from the 2002 gubernatorial primary, and his own party’s recommendation that Republicans vote absentee.

My bank sent a letter informing me that “a hardware failure occurred during (my) transaction.” No kidding. So I’m going back to banking the old-fashioned way: with a teller. And I’ll be casting my ballot the old-fashioned way, too: on paper. Isn’t progress wonderful?

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.