An e-voting referendum
- By William Matthews
- Oct 16, 2000
While millions of voters decide the futures of Al Gore and George W. Bush
on Nov. 7, a relative handful of voters 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 both 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
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.
County officials want to see how the public reacts to Internet voting,
Reed said. The Fern precinct was selected because it includes a mix of white,
Hispanic, black, American Indian and Asian voters, and households with a
mix of incomes and ages. In California, voters will be able to cast nonbinding
votes via 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.
Whether California voters will ever be able to vote from the home or
office "is still up in air," he said. But if the tests go well, using the
Internet in polling places where voting is closely monitored "will probably
happen within the next two years," 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, warned 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
The prospects for using the Internet to transmit voting results from
polling places to a tabulating center look good, Lewis said. "But there
are some real serious issues" concerning vote security and integrity that
are likely to delay voting from the home or office, he added.