inventor discusses the machine's development, strengths and
potential weaknesses in just-released UC Berkeley oral history
Janet Gilmore, Media Relations
- Interested in learning more about the Votomatic? Now a household
word, the vote-counting machine spawned numerous similar machines,
including the one at center stage in the Al Gore-George Bush
battle for the Presidency.
from a 1980 interview with James P. Harris, the inventor of
the Votomatic, are now available on the Web for reporters
and the general public.
who died in 1985 at age 88, was a political science professor
at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1941 to 1963.
The campus's Bancroft Library conducted an interview with
Harris as part of its oral history program. That interview,
"Professor and Practitioner: Government, Election Reform and
the Votomatic," can now be read at www.lib.berkeley.edu/BANC/ROHO/Vote.
the interview, Harris discusses how he invented and patented
the concept of a punch-card voting machine in the 1930s. His
development of the Votomatic occurred three decades later,
in response to new computer technology. He describes obstacles
he faced marketing the device, criticisms the device drew
from losing politicians and business competitors, and instances
in which he believed counting ballots by hand would be advisable.
expresses pride in the accuracy of the machine itself, but
noted that it can be vulnerable to programmer error. Harris
notes one instance in which a programming error caused one
county in Montana to incorrectly show that a candidate who
was considered the heavy favorite actually lost in that county.
Harris also notes Florida's widespread use of the machine.