E-voting wins backers

A year ago, as Steve Katsurinis watched, ballots mailed in by military voters

from overseas were thrown "by the fistful" into the trash.

It was wrenching, Katsurinis said. As vice chairman of the Alexandria,

Va., electoral board and a voting rights lawyer, he is more accustomed to

fighting to ensure that as many voters as possible can exercise their right.

But there, in the midst of the closest presidential election in U.S.

history, absentee ballots were being discarded. State law forbids accepting

votes after an election deadline, Katsurinis explained. And delays in mail

delivery prevented many military ballots from arriving on time.

The experience convinced Katsurinis that it's time to permit military

personnel to vote via the Internet. "The technology is safe and secure,"

he said, and vote delivery is instantaneous.

Congress agrees, at least to the extent that it has ordered "a demonstration

project" of electronic voting by troops based overseas for the mid-term

election in 2002.

A year from now, when voters will decide which party controls the House

and the Senate and who will be governor in 36 states, tens of thousands

of troops stationed abroad might be able to vote online, said Jim Adler,

president and chief executive officer of the online voting company VoteHere

Inc.

By the next presidential election, in 2004, the number of military personnel

able to vote electronically could be in the hundreds of thousands, said

Adler, whose company hopes to be involved in next year's demonstration.

The technology for secure, accurate Internet voting exists today, said

Adler. VoteHere routinely conducts online elections for corporations and

has conducted election tests in several states and foreign countries.

For U.S. troops, desktop computers or electronic kiosks would serve

as voting booths at overseas bases or on deployed ships. And the military's

extensive communications capability will ensure that votes get transmitted

to the United States from anywhere in the world.

Encryption would ensure that arriving votes have not been tampered with,

and an audit trail would make the election results fully verifiable, Adler

said.

The biggest challenge will be preparing localities to accept electronic

votes and ensuring that local ballots are available in electronic form for

deployed voters. Nationwide, there are about 300,000 local precincts, each

with its own ballot, Adler said.

"The military is a perfect constituency" for electronic voting, Adler

said. Besides being equipped with the computers and communications capabilities

needed for online voting, surveys show they want to vote. Last year, 75

percent of military personnel voted, compared to about half of other eligible

Americans.

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