As the 2008 Presidential election campaign moves into full throttle, people are again concerned about voting machines. How much can we trust our government? It turns out this isn’t the first time this has happened. Historian Bryan Pfaffenberger reminds us that “There’s an almost exact parallel between the debate we’re having today concerning electronic voting machines and the equally divisive, but completely forgotten, debate that greeted first-generation voting machine technology in the 1920s.”

For more than a century, voting machines have helped shape American political history.The chaos of the 2000 presidential election in Florida demonstrated the crucial role that voting machines played in shaping the outcome of that election. While there may be real reasons to worry, Pfaffenberger believes there is value in understanding that the interaction between technology and culture has been going on for more than a century. His research focuses on the machines’ introduction in New York State in 1892 to 1925, when the technology was employed throughout the state.

Earlier this year the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would require every state to use paper records permitting voters to see that they had correctly cast their votes. At the same time, electronic voting systems used in California were shown to be vulnerable to hacking.

Assuming our votes WILL count, how do we pick who we’re going to vote for? A new study that suggests that people can forge strong opinions about a candidate just by glancing at his photo. In, Dave Mosher quotes psychologist Alexander Todorov as saying, “We’re seeing that snap judgments play a bigger role in voting than we thought.” He and his co-researcher Charles Ballew showed a group of people to a pair of face?one of whom had recently been elected governor and the runner-up?for ? of a second or less and asked them who they thought was the best candidate. Mosher reports that “subjects picked the elected governor over the runner-up as the most competent one about 64% of the time, a result that significantly exceeded random chance of 50%. When the two candidates shown were of the same ethnicity and sex, the results were even more predictive of a winner. If someone recognized a candidate, their results were excluded from the study.”

Mosher quotes Todorov as saying, “People had no trouble telling us who they thought was more competent by rapidly viewing the faces. When we ask ourselves, ‘who should I vote for?’ I think this shows we sometimes resort to our first impressions.”

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