Internet voting put to the test

While millions of voters nationwide decide the futures of Al Gore and George

W. Bush on Nov. 7, a relative handful in Arizona, California and at military

bases may decide the future of Internet voting.

Voters from a precinct near Phoenix, from four precincts in California

and from military bases in the United States and overseas will test Internet

voting for the first time in a presidential election. The test results could

lead to much more widespread Internet voting in 2002, said Alfie Charles,

chairman of California's Internet Voting Task Force.

In Arizona and California, the tests won't involve voting from home

or work over personal computers — that's still years in the future, said

Yvonne Reed, spokeswoman for Maricopa County, Ariz.

For military voters, however, the future is here. About 350 military

personnel will be able to use computers in their homes, offices or at U.S.

embassies abroad to file encrypted ballots to election officials in five

states.

Only the military Internet votes will count. The Internet ballots in

Arizona and California are for test purposes only.

When the 932 registered voters of Maricopa County's Fern precinct go

to their polling places, they will vote on standard machines. Then they

will be offered the chance to try out a nonbinding ballot using a computer

connected to the Internet.

In California, voters will be able to cast nonbinding votes over the

Internet in precincts in San Diego, Sacramento and two counties near San

Francisco.

Voting officials will analyze the security of votes cast over the Internet

and test voter comfort with Internet voting systems, Charles said.

For county officials who manage elections, the Internet promises to

cut costs by eliminating the expense of printing ballots. It can also save

time and money by making vote tabulation almost instantaneous, he said.

The cost of elections, which now runs $3 to $5 per voter, could be cut substantially.

In the short term, however, Internet voting is likely to cost more than

it saves, warns Doug Lewis, director of the Election Center, a Houston-based

organization that tracks developments in election technologies. Localities

will have to buy voting system servers and sophisticated routing systems

"with lots of redundancy to ensure people don't get disenfranchised," Lewis

said.

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