E-voting: Worth the work

Internet voting is a no-show this election season, but it looms large in

our future. The reason is simple: poor voter turnout. Online voting will

not cure apathy, but some political experts say that more people would choose

to vote if it were more convenient.

Most opponents do not question that premise, but they tend to focus

on the pitfalls. The Internet, rampant with viruses and malicious hackers,

may open the door to election fraud, possibly on a very large scale.

Online voting could also skew election results, bringing in a lot of

young, white, middle-class voters who generally have Internet access, while

elderly, minority and poor voters could be left out.

Those arguments, though compel-ling, should not derail online voting.

Rather, election officials should turn those pitfalls into action items

to be addressed as part of online voting initiatives.

The technological challenge — how to secure votes cast online and protect

online voting systems — is serious but, given time, not insurmountable.

Nearly every sector of the U.S. economy is pouring money into e-commerce

applications, and the same technology being developed to secure online transactions

can apply to online voting.

The potential imbalance in voter turnout is a thornier issue. Communities

nationwide are undertaking efforts to close the underlying digital divide,

but there's no telling yet when or if such efforts will succeed.

As part of any Internet voting initiative, election officials must develop

substantial programs designed to increase the turnout among communities

at risk of having their voting power diluted — almost always the lower-income

areas where computers are not part of the everyday routine.

Indeed, it's possible that Internet voting could become the impetus

for "Rock the Vote"-like projects that otherwise would never occur, increasing

overall participation in voting whether done electronically or not.

Clearly, a lot of work is required to make Internet voting a reality.

But this approach clearly has the potential to increase voter turnout, perhaps

dramatically. An engaged electorate is one of the underpinnings of our political

system. So, if the Internet can bolster that system, it's worth whatever

it takes.

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