Lucky for Oklahoma, a program that provided federal grant money to help the state upgrade its voting machines came into being several years ago. If it happened today, our policymakers might say “no thanks.”
That's what happened early this year with a grant to help the state establish a health care exchange, something each state must do in order to comply with President Barack Obama's health care law. Oklahoma returned that money over concerns about the potential red tape — but mostly because accepting the money was painted by some conservative lawmakers as the same as endorsing Obamacare.
Funds for our voting machines accompanied the Help America Vote Act, which Congress approved in 2002, two years after the messy 2000 presidential election (remember Florida's hanging chads?). Oklahoma got about $26 million, and has put about $16.7 million of it toward a system that will get its first big test in February.
The new machines will be similar to the optical scanning machines Oklahoma has used statewide with few hiccups for the past two decades. Voters will still mark their paper ballot with a felt-tip pen, then insert the ballot into a machine for the choices to be tabulated. The upgrades will allow disabled Oklahomans to vote without assistance, providing them the same privacy other voters enjoy.
What has set Oklahoma apart from most states through the years is that every precinct has used the same process. That will continue. But with the upgrade, county election boards will be able to report their results online for the first time, which means results should be available to the public more quickly than before.
Some states have used touch-screen voting or other options, with mixed reviews. Oklahoma was wise to stay with the optical scanners because the paper ballots provide a back-up if snags occur.