'Rocking the vote' is worth the effort

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

our future all the same.

The reason is simple: poor voter turnout. Online voting will not cure

voter 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, already 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.

But these arguments, while compelling, 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 challenges — How do you secure votes cast online

and protect online voting systems? — are 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 key issue, of course, is trust, in economics and politics. With

a large volume of business already being conducted electronically, our economy

would collapse if people lost trust in the security of those transactions.

But that trust is there, despite the embryonic state of information security

technology.

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

across the country are undertaking efforts to close the underlying digital

divide, but there's no telling yet when or if these efforts will succeed.

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

together substantial programs designed to increase the turnout among communities

at the risk of having their voting power diluted.

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.

And it's something of a gamble, because no one is certain if it will increase

voter turnout.

Perhaps Internet voting might have only a minimal impact on voter turnout

in the beginning, but, as seen with e-commerce, will increase as time goes

on and people become comfortable with the idea.

But an engaged electorate is one of the underpinnings of our political

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

takes.

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