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Uncle Sam Seeks a Few Good Voters for 2000 Polls

By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 13, 1999 – DoD's Federal Voting Assistance Program is looking for 350 volunteer service members from five states to take part in a pilot online voting project during the year 2000 presidential election.

Volunteers will cast their absentee ballots over the Internet instead of using the mail, according to FVAP director Polly Brunelli. To participate, a member's legal voting residence must be in: Okaloosa and Orange counties, Fla.; Buchanan and Jackson counties, Mo.; Dallas County, Texas; Weber County, Utah; or any South Carolina county.

Volunteers must have access to the Internet at home or work if stationed in the United States, or at a military installation, embassy or consulate if stationed overseas. The computer system must be IBM compatible with the Microsoft Windows 95 or 98 operating system and the Netscape Communicator 4.05 or higher Web browser. Online voting software will be provided to volunteers.

Brunelli said the program is primarily aimed at making absentee voting easier for service members. She pointed out that a 1996 post-election survey showed about one-fourth of all military voters had said they didn't vote because their ballots didn't arrive in time to be counted.

She said voter confidentiality is a key concern being tested in the pilot. The provided software will give participants access to the Pentagon's "public-key infrastructure," a system the military uses to send encrypted messages worldwide.

All voting transactions will travel through the secure "pipeline" to election officials in the voter's home state and jurisdiction. The voter's ballot will arrive in what Brunelli referred to as an electronic "security envelope." Local election officials will use software that separates the ballot from the voter's identification, which should guarantee the same privacy as all voters receive.

Brunelli characterized the test as another of the initiatives during this decade to make absentee voting easier for service members, their families and civilian employees. For example, in 1990, during Operation Desert Storm, FVAP worked with the states to allow voters to receive and submit their ballots by fax. Forty-four states now allow absentee voting by fax.

The success of that effort, she explained, prompted the current pilot project using the Internet.

Following the 2000 elections, DoD and the five states involved will examine the results of the pilot project. Among the issues to be studied are the integrity of the process -- what Brunelli referred to as "one person, one vote" -- ease of use, response time, and overall security of the process.

"We'll be compiling data from the voter's point of view and from the local election official's point of view as well," Brunelli said. The findings will be compiled in early 2001 and shared with all states.

Interested volunteers should contact the FVAP directly by fax at DSN 425-0108, or commercial at (703) 588-0108. FVAP will need the following information: name and rank, mailing address, home or work phone, e-mail address and fax number, if available.

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