13 July 2003

Thousands to Cast Ballots by Web in 2004

Thousands of people serving in the military and Americans living abroad will have that option next year in the nation's most extensive Internet voting experiment, viewed by some as a step toward elections in cyberspace.

The Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment, which began as a tiny demonstration project in the 2000 general election and involved just 84 voters, could give 100,000 voters the chance to cast absentee ballots online in next year's presidential primaries and general election.


Security remains the top concern for the system's coordinators and fodder for critics.

"I think Internet voting is a good idea for this population if you can assure security, but I'm not confident that they can do that," said John Dunbar, a project manager at the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan government watchdog group. "It wouldn't take much for some smart hacker to send around a virus that lays in wait for someone to issue a vote."

Other computer security experts call the project an open invitation to election tampering.

"We're opening up a whole host of opportunities for voter coercion and voter fraud," said Rebecca Mercuri, a research fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government who specializes in studying electronic vote tabulation.

Mercuri said even the most secure systems can be cracked, hacked or left vulnerable to Internet viruses, leaving the ballot contents and the identity of the voter open to perusal.

"If we have this going on in commerce and all other transactions on the Internet why would people think we can avoid it in voting?" she said. "This is just an experiment that's doomed."

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