Kentucky and New Mexico authenticate political campaign sites

The Kentucky and New Mexico secretaries of state will implement new technology that will verify the authenticity of political campaign Web sites through a certified digital seal program.

The technology is a first step toward helping protect candidates, organizations and voters against individuals who create fraudulent Web sites that provide false information about a candidate, scam supporters into donating money intended for the candidate or ridicule candidates with parody. The fake sites are often designed to resemble their genuine counterparts and fool voters.

Developed by Washington, D.C.-based Election Mall Technologies, the Election Security Seal Program creates an online registrar directory of legitimate political Web sites, including candidates’ sites and those created by political action groups or other organizations. The public can view that list to determine the authenticity of a suspect site.

When political candidates, officials or groups register through their secretary of state offices, they will be asked whether they would like a secretary of state seal to appear on their Web sites verifying their authenticity. After the secretary verifies the candidates’ identities and their sites’ authenticity, the candidates are listed in the official registrar directory.

Visitors to a candidate site that has a seal can scroll over it and view the certification in real time from the secretary of state’s office.

Nationally, the Internet is playing a larger role as a source for campaign information. According to Ravi Singh, the company’s chief executive officer and founder, more than 75 million Americans said they used the Internet to get political news and information last year.

But he said there’s more opportunity for scammers to defraud Internet users and candidates. He said President Bush and Sen. John Kerry lost millions of dollars to fraudulent campaign and fundraising Web sites during last year’s presidential race.

Trey Grayson, Kentucky’s secretary of state, said his office has not received any complaints about fraudulent Web sites.

But it’s “a matter of time before it happens in Kentucky,” he said today during a press conference introducing the technology. “I’m confident this will become a problem, and I don’t want to wait.”

Rebecca Vigil-Giron, New Mexico’s secretary of state, said candidates would be foolish not to register and have that authentication process available to them.

Both state officials said the service would be free to candidates registering on the directory and that it would be voluntary for them to put a seal on their Web sites. They added that they would also try to make their sites more user-friendly so visitors could easily look for the registrar directory.

Singh, who said the program has been in development for five years, said he didn’t think this capability existed in other nations and is planning to add more functions in the future. However, he said the revenue stream from this technology is limited because the market is limited.

“Basically, we’re helping to promote democracy,” he said.

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