Does anyone else wonder whether Al Gore is having second thoughts about choosing paper over plastic?
No, not at the grocery store checkout. We´re talking about inside the voting booth.
All the talk about pregnant or swinging-door chads definitely has a lot of industry entrepreneurs thinking about a new application: plastic punchcards for voting machines. But maybe they´re already too late. The 2000 election debacle may not be the last straw for punchcard machines. The more that politicians learn about how imprecise this system is for counting votes, the more likely they´ll be to invest in new technology in 2004 — if not sooner.
Systems exist today that could make voting easier, tabulation quicker, and fraud more difficult to perpetrate. But the government, like many private-sector businesses, is slow to adopt radical improvements.
If you don´t believe that, check out the new U.S. currency. Plastic currency that lasts longer and is more difficult to counterfeit than the traditional paper variety already is in circulation in other countries today. Plastic bank notes can even incorporate impossible-to-photocopy holographic images. But when the U.S. Treasury Department recently redesigned its currency, it did not make the leap from paper to plastic.
Futurists may dismiss plastic notes as a temporary change anyway. Many expect more durable injection molded smart cards eventually to replace currency altogether. Groceries, gas stations and many fast-food chains already accept debit cards, so we´re already on the path to a cashless society. But watch for tax-cheaters and other beneficiaries of the underground economy to delay this change as long as they can, probably in the name of their right to privacy.
Change can be scary, and sometimes it means hardship for workers and companies without the right mix of new skills or technology.
But nearly all plastics processors have stories to tell about how they finally convinced a timid customer to replace metal, paper, wood or glass with a new version of a product made of plastic. That´s been the story of how the plastics industry has grown and thrived in the past 100 years.
Let´s keep that spirit of embracing change in mind as we look down the road to the next general election. With any luck, paper ballots will be a thing of the past.
Maybe we can mix the old ballot slips (and stray chads from Florida election halls) with plastic grocery bags to make some truly valuable new composite decking. Who says politics doesn´t serve a useful purpose?