In California, a task force predicts that voting via the Internet is at least two years in the offing

In California, a task force predicts that voting via the Internet is at least two years in the offing

California residents will eventually be able to vote from their home PCs'but not any time soon, according to a report outlining roadblocks to Internet voting.

California's Internet Voting Task Force, a team of more than 24 specialists in data security, elections and voter participation convened by Secretary of State Bill Jones last year, released A Report on the Feasibility of Internet Voting in January.

'It's possible to use the Internet for some voting applications,' said Alfie Charles, assistant secretary of state for electronic government and the task force chairman. 'But sitting down at your home or office computer to vote is still several years away.'

The report outlined some of the obstacles to remote Internet voting, which it defined as 'the unsupervised use of an Internet voting machine to cast a ballot over the Internet using a computer not necessarily owned and operated by election personnel.' In other words, voting from a home or office PC.

System insecurity

Perhaps the biggest hindrance to Internet voting is the possibility of criminal electronic attacks on the software, such as destructive viruses or Trojan horse software, the report said.

Another major impediment is the problem of authenticating voters. Until voter registration rolls contain a digital signature or biometric identification for all registered voters, requests for remote Internet voting ballots must be made on paper with a manual signature, the report said.

Another stumbling block is the secrecy of voter ballots. The analogy of electronic voting to electronic commerce breaks down over the question of privacy, Charles said.

A vote is valuable and secret, like credit card information, but it requires a higher level of trust, Charles said.

No trace

'With amazon.com, you can go back and say, 'You sent me the wrong book,' and they can trace your steps. With voting, you can't do that. You've got to remove that traceability feature that's built into e-commerce,' he said.

In the short term, however, Internet voting makes sense from county-controlled computers in polling places that can be protected from viruses and Trojan horses, Charles said.

So for the 2000 general elections, Californians will be trooping to polling places the same way they have for decades.

'Internet voting should be viewed only as a supplement to, not a replacement of, traditional paper-based voting,' the report said.

Officials hope Internet voting will entice 18- to 24-year-olds and people with disabilities to vote.

Only 22 percent of the young voters and 33 percent of disabled voters cast ballots in the state's 1996 general election.

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