Arizona Dems to Build E-Mail Lists With Online Primary

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The Arizona Democratic Party will conduct part of its presidential primary election on the Internet - marking the first time a legally binding election for a publicly held office will be held online.


While most of the attention surrounding the March 11 election has focused on the event as an advancement in election efficiency, two political veterans said the biggest im-pact could be its value as a list-compiling and data-gathering tool for political direct marketers.


"This is a huge party-building opportunity for us," said Mark Fleisher, chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party. "We'll be able to collect a very valuable list of e-mail addresses that can be used for grass-roots organizing and fundraising."


Eligible Arizonans can cast their votes at traditional polling booths around the state or from anywhere in the world at a site created by Votation.com, Garden City, NY, an election services company. Bill Taylor, vice president of Votation.com, said the entire online voting process will take only a few minutes. For voters without Internet access, the Democrats are setting up 40 polling stations across the state with Internet terminals.


On the same site where Arizonans cast their votes for Al Gore or Bill Bradley, the state Democratic Party also will target potential activists by prominently highlighting action steps for interested Democrats. Fleisher said he's not sure if the party will solicit contributions on the site but will urge voters to join a state party e-mail list and ask them to participate in a voluntary survey on campaign issues. Fleisher expects the convenience of being able to vote from a home or office computer to have an enormous impact on turnout, boosting the number of voters from 10,000 in the 1996 primary to 50,000 this year. "We haven't seen that kind of increase since the repeal of the poll tax 35 years ago," he said. Moreover, Fleisher predicts much of the expected voter increase to come from the computer-savvy 18- to 34-year-old demographic, a key block of swing voters for Democrats in a state long dominated by Republicans.


Anil Mammen, a Washington, DC-based political consultant who specializes in voter contact through direct mail, said a sharp increase in turnout in March will be a huge boon to the state party's efforts in the fall general election. "It will greatly expand the universe of primary voters for them to target through direct mail and telemarketing," he said. But, like Fleisher, Mammen said the greatest by-product is the e-mail list it creates. By building a massive e-mail list of primary voters, the state party will be able to cultivate and mobilize its core voters with e-mail messages and solicitations at virtually no production cost.


Mammen added that the e-mail list could galvanize the Arizona Democratic Party's base vote and play a potentially crucial role in the November election. "If this works, you'll see the Republicans holding elections online soon."


Sidebar:


Votation.com Helps Secure Online Votes


Votation.com conducted more than 10 Internet elections last year for private corporations and organizations, the largest being the 600,000 member Sierra Club. The Arizona primary will be the company's first publicly held election.


To ensure election security, Votation.com - in partnership with VeriSign, a provider of digital certificate services - will assign a personalized digital certificate through each voter's computer. This certificate, which is the digital equivalent of a passport or driver's license, contains information that will uniquely identify the voter. Bill Taylor, vice president of Votation.com, said the process is more secure than traditional paper-ballot and polling-machine elections.


Votation.com cites cost-savings as one of the key benefits of holding an online election. Votation.com president, Mel Schreiberg, said most private companies who move to online elections save 33 percent to 50 percent on expenditures. In the case of the Arizona Democratic Party, however, Mark Fleisher, its chairman, said, there will be no cost-savings in their efforts because of the need to provide Internet-equipped polling booths for people without Net access.
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