Election Day winner: The Net

Vice President 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 via 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 South Carolina's election commission headquarters

in Columbia 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 do so.

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 that 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 Inc., the Internet voting company

that ran the experiment.

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

Maricopa County, Ariz.

"People really liked it," said 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, Calif., 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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