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Say Goodbye to Chad, DoD Tests Internet Voting

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2001 – Therell be no more chads -- hanging, pregnant or dimpled -- if a test program using the Internet is expanded.

The Voting Over the Internet pilot project was conducted during the 2000 election cycle. The Federal Voting Assistance Program sponsored the test in association with state and county governments. In the test, volunteer service members from around the world voted using the World Wide Web.

The effort grew out of our voter survey following the 1996 elections, said Polli Brunelli, director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program. The cycle saw eligible service members being allowed to register and, in some cases, vote by faxing their voting materials to their home counties. The fax program proved very successful, she said.

In the survey, some people asked when they would be able to vote via the Internet, Brunelli said. We started researching it immediately.

But "Vote by Internet" is easier to say than to pull off. Ballots must be secret. They must be secure and protected from tampering. There must be a way for them to mirror the requirements of paper ballots -- including signatures.

Brunelli's office built on initiatives already afoot within DoD. At the time we started looking at this project, DoD was developing the Public Key Infrastructure, she said. PKI allows for secure transmission by use of digital signatures. Voting officials used this to mimic the steps required of the paper ballots.

Voting program officials also had to get their state and county partners to buy into the program. They were most enthusiastic about the idea, Brunelli said. (County and state officials) were a part of this from the very beginning.

Counties in South Carolina, Texas, Utah -- and Florida -- participated in the 2000 program. Officials were looking for about 50 eligible voters from each site to participate. This was a proof-of-concept demonstration, Brunelli said. We werent set up for mass voting. This was simply to demonstrate that this could work.

Officials set up the system and had third-party testers go through the process. The testers passed the system, and state and county officials accepted the results. Voters came from all five armed services.

This system would be great for our seagoing personnel, Brunelli said. Participants received directions on how to download the necessary software and how to get their digital signatures via the DoD Public Key Infrastructure. Voters could send in their electronic ballots any time after the ballots were made available. The first vote came from a Marine on Oct. 12, 2000, and went to Weber County, Utah.

I was in Okaloosa County, Fla., on Election Night, Brunelli said. The Internet ballots came in and were printed out. It worked flawlessly.

She said a quick after-action review indicates the system worked well. There was no tampering and the ballots remained secret. Comments from the participants showed they were satisfied with the process, with one voter calling it a snap.

Brunelli said her office would work with state, county and federal officials during the next election cycle if voting by Internet receives the OK. She said some changes would have to be made.

We would have to adapt the program to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and we could modify the program so there would be no need for counties to print out the ballots, she said. The ballots could go straight to tabulation.

Brunelli said the Federal Voting Assistance Program will prepare a report about their Voting Over the Internet pilot project and it should be available in March or early April.

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