Fraud casts pall over Internet voting

As election officials search for ways to reverse the trend of dwindling

voter turnout, the convenience of Internet voting seems to hold great promise.

However, the potential for fraud is likely to delay voting via home computers

for years to come, according to Gary McIntosh, president of the National

Association of State Election Directors.

"I'm a fan of Internet voting," McIntosh told the Congressional Internet

Caucus Wednesday. "If we can provide greater convenience and greater access

for voters, that's good."

But he added, "The kind of security we are going to need is a long way

off. It's going to be a lot harder than we thought."

In the 1996 presidential election, about 49 percent of the nation's

registered voters went to the polls. Some predictions of turnout this year

are for even less than that, McIntosh said.

Election officials in several western states — including Washington,

where McIntosh is elections director — have tried to increase voter participation

by permitting voters to complete paper ballots at home and mail them in.

Some officials had embraced Internet voting as a more advanced version of

voting by mail.

But the excitement over the possibility of voting from the comfort of

home has begun to give way to the reality that the Internet is hardly a

secure environment. It is becoming clearer that Internet voting sites are

vulnerable to hacker attacks, PCs are vulnerable to viruses and there is

no way to ensure voters who cast their ballots via computer aren't being

intimidated by employers, spouses or others.

If concerns about the integrity of Internet votes aren't resolved, Internet

voting could further erode voter participation, said Deborah Phillips, president

of the Voting Integrity Project, a voter rights organization. A lack of

public confidence that election results are untainted could lead to a further

dropoff in voter participation, she said.

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