*Online Voting Sites: No Chads Here

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After endless reports of a presidential election mired in alleged fraud and miscounts, a number of online voting sites are calling for the U.S. voting process to come out of the Dark Ages.


While the Internet is an unproven method for casting votes, it passed its first test in March when the Arizona Democratic Party allowed online voting in its primary. Voters were able to cast their ballots at home, work or at computer stations set up at polling locations.


It was the first legally binding online public election and resulted in a 600 percent increase in voter participation compared with the 1996 Democratic primary in Arizona.


Considering the success of this test and the failures in Florida, online voting might become the norm in no time, said Mark Fleisher, state party chairman for the Arizona Democratic Party in Phoenix.


"There's no question that we're moving forward with Internet elections," he said. "It will be the standard whether it's two, four or six years from now."


Election.com, the site that conducted the Arizona primary election, could have helped to prevent the problems that occurred in Florida, said Bill Taylor, vice president of sales at Election.com Inc., Garden City, NY.


The butterfly ballot problem, for example, would have been a nonissue, Taylor said.


"There is a double-check page where you have a chance to confirm your vote," he said. "They would have seen that they were about to cast their votes for Buchanan instead of Gore and could have corrected it. You can click cancel to go correct your vote."


The instances where people accidentally double-voted would have been impossible.


"We set it up so you can only have one vote live for a position at a time," Taylor said.


Still, the acceptance of Internet voting has a long way to go. "There are the security issues. Those need to be worked out," said Bill O'Field, public information officer at the Board of Elections and Ethics for Washington, D.C. "There are the hackers. There's that concern. The integrity of the process can't be jeopardized."


Fleisher disagreed. "People were worried about [the] security and integrity of the [Arizona primary] election," Fleisher said. "And I said, 'If there ever was a spotlight put on the regularly run election process, people would see how poorly run they actually are.' Clearly [our election is] a step up from Florida."


A greater hurdle will likely be funding on a county-by-county basis, said Craig Smith, vice president at Voter.com, Boston.


"In order to have online voting, county governments will have to invest in the machinery," he said. "Then there's the legal hurdle. Each state has a process where voting equipment is authorized. The vendors will have to go into these counties to get it authorized."


There are also many rural counties that are not wired yet, Smith said. "There are still counties, and not an insignificant amount, that vote by paper. They never even bought the machines that are antiquated today."


Regardless of these obstacles, Smith said the likelihood is high that some counties would introduce online voting. "My sense is, by 2004 some will," he said.


The first step, however, likely will be to use the Internet for absentee ballots, Smith said. This is happening already. Election.com fielded 700,000 online requests for help with voter registration and absentee ballots.


A solid example of the potential of Internet voting was the unofficial Youth-e-Vote.com election, Taylor said. This campaign asked students to vote on who they believed should be president. The site tallied more than 1.3 million votes. George W. Bush was the winner with 56 percent of the vote. Election.com also ran this site.


The bottom line, Fleisher said, is, "If you can take democracy and bring it to the living room, people will vote."
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