Net Buzz

FRAMINGHAM (01/31/2000) - Those experts will probably be proven correct, of course, which would be an awful e-shame. Just because something can be done over the Internet, doesn't mean it should. And choosing government leaders -- be they national, state or local -- shouldn't be done over the Internet.

Why might an Internet columnist, of all people, hold such an opinion?

Because there's far too much potential downside for far too little potential gain, unless you happen to be an executive whose company stands to benefit from the advent of Internet voting, or a politician who wants to appear technologically hip by supporting the notion. A gab-fest on the issue in Washington, D.C., last week featured cheerleading from the likes of Jim Adler, founder of VoteHere.net, Cisco Systems Inc. CEO John Chambers and California Gov. Gray Davis. They are typical of the self-interested parties driving the Internet-voting movement at the moment, and may well carry the day before those who should know better even find their voices.

The case for Internet voting boils down to this: People don't vote because they don't have the time or can't get to the polls. Make voting easier and more people will vote. If more people vote, we'll get a better class of elected official.

Well, you can feed that slop to the hogs in earnest, Iowa.

People are not staying away from the polls in ever-larger droves because getting to them is too difficult or time-consuming. They are not voting because they simply do not care to participate in the process, whether out of apathy, laziness, ignorance, disgust with today's politics, or some combination thereof.

Internet voting will change none of that.

As for the shut-ins and traveling businesspeople who genuinely want to vote but can't get to the polls, absentee ballots work just fine with a bit of forethought.

What Internet voting would do, however, is jeopardize the public's faith in the integrity of the electoral process, no matter how secure and reliable such balloting is. Moreover, the first time a major ISP outage keeps thousands from voting in a razor-close race or a hacker beats the best security that election officials can muster, you'll need earplugs to drown out the howling of antigovernment conspiracy theorists.

The risks outweigh the rewards. Federal election commissioner David Mason acknowledged as much at that forum last week when he compared Internet voting to scaling a mountain: "We're going to climb it whether it's good for us or not."

That's too bad. Given what's at stake here - the very foundation of our society - the burden of proof ought to fall squarely on the shoulders of those who would lead us down the path to Internet voting. Let them demonstrate the tangible, substantial benefits of electronic balloting. Let them prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the risk of a security breach and/or an undermining of public confidence are not only low, but practically nil.

Then maybe they'll get my vote.

How'd it happen? Doing the math right doesn't matter if you read the calculator wrong.

Kind rebukes, Internet news tips and gossip items should be sent to buzz@nww.com.

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