Election Day winner: Online voting

Al Gore and George W. Bush have had to wait to find out who has been elected

president, but election returns Nov. 7 pointed to one clear winner - Internet

voting.

Voters in six states cast ballots over the Internet, and the procedure

won overwhelming endorsements from voters and election officials.

Most of the votes were nonbinding ballots cast in experiments in Arizona

and California. But about 85 were live votes cast by U.S. military personnel

in an experiment that could lead to widespread use of the Internet for voting

by personnel stationed around the world.

The military voters "loved it, it was wonderful for them," said Marti

Taylor, director of information services and special projects for the South

Carolina Election Commission. About 20 members of the military who were

registered voters from South Carolina cast ballots from computers at U.S.

installations in the United States and overseas.

An Internet voting system established by the Defense Department enabled

them to receive ballots online and send encrypted votes to election officials

in South Carolina, Florida, Texas and Utah. DOD installed secure Internet

lines, routers and servers at the state election commission headquarters

in Columbia, S.C., to ensure security and privacy for military ballots,

Taylor said.

"We had no problems at all. It worked like clockwork," she said.

As voters from the Fern precinct near Phoenix filed into Faith Lutheran

Church to cast their ballots the old-fashioned way, election officials asked

if they would also like to cast nonbinding votes over the Internet. About

half agreed to.

They were taken to an "authentication station" for identification verification

and then were given plastic "ibutton" keys that would activate the voting

computers. The keys contained voter identification data and an encryption

program.

The keys ensured voters would receive the proper ballots and vote only

once. The encryption program converted ballots into a string of code to

ensure privacy. Once submitted, the ballots were transmitted to a data center

in Seattle for processing by VoteHere.net, the Internet voting company that

ran the experiment.

"We were very impressed with it," said Yvonne Reed spokeswoman for Maricopa

County, Ariz.

"People really liked it," reported Betsey Bayless, Arizona secretary

of state. "We think the Internet is a great alternative."

Voters expressed similar enthusiasm for Internet voting in precincts

near San Diego and Sacramento, where Votehere also conducted tests. In overwhelming

numbers, voters said they were comfortable with Internet voting and would

do it again if given the opportunity.

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