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Votomatic's inventor discusses the machine's development, strengths and potential weaknesses in just-released UC Berkeley oral history interview
06 Dec 2000

By Janet Gilmore, Media Relations

Berkeley - 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.

Transcripts 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.

Harris, 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.

During 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.

Harris 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.

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