Remote Alaskans to Vote Using Internet

Republican voters in three northern territories of Alaska will have an opportunity to warm up their fingers on Monday by voting from their home PCs in a straw poll to determine their favorites in the party presidential nomination.

About 3,500 registered Republican voters in the remote areas will be eligible to vote over the Internet in the statewide poll, which is not binding on party delegates, but gives voters a chance to state their preferences among the Republican candidates running for the nomination of U.S president.

Supporters of Internet voting say the chance to cast ballots over the Net opens up the democratic process to Alaskans who have difficulty getting to the polls, especially in January, when it's dark up to 20 hours a day. Many voters also live in such remote locations they would have to travel hours by dog sled to get to the nearest polling station.

In the straw poll, voters in the three territories will be able to cast their ballots either from their own Internet-enabled PC or a Net-enabled PC at a polling station by going to VoteHere.com's Web site and clicking on an icon, said Nathaniel Clevenger, a spokesman for VoteHere.net, whose Internet voting software is being used to facilitate the straw poll.

The VoteHere.net's Election System software authenticates the voter's registration, verifies that the voter hasn't already voted and records that the voter has cast a ballot. When the system turns the results over to the election authority, the voter's identity and the data recording his or her vote are locked up separately so that he or she remains anonymous and no one can find out for whom he or she voted, Clevenger said.

Over the past year VoteHere.net has tested its technology at polling stations in several states, including Washington, Iowa, Illinois and Virginia, and the response from voters who tried the system after casting their votes on standard voting machines was very favorable, Clevenger said. The system does not play the role of a trusted authority, or a third party that collects the votes and the voters' identity before turning them over to the voting authority, he said.

"We do not know and can never know how an individual voted because we give the keys away to the voting authority," Clevenger said. The system also uses 1,024-bit encryption to deter hackers.

Alaska's Republican party is paying "a very nominal fee" for using VoteHere.net's system, Clevenger said. He declined to be more specific about costs, but he said proponents of Internet voting contend that the cost to government voting authorities can be as little as US$6 per vote. That figure compares with as much as $20 per vote to run an election using paper ballots and mechanical voting machines.

"Right now, (election authorities) buy election equipment that costs $2,500 to $7,000 per machine, and they are warehoused all year and pulled out on one day," Clevenger said. "What we are saying is why not spend $1,500 per PC and let them be used 364 days a year, and on one day a year they could be used for voting."

VoteHere.net is collaborating in the straw poll with GoVote.com, which runs a Web site where voters can find out information about candidates. GoVote.com's sponsorship of the Alaska poll is part of the company's push to make politics more accessible, GoVote.com said in a release issued today. People who visit GoVote.com's Web site can discover the latest news about the presidential candidates and the campaign, and they can find out which candidate most closely matches their political views.

Similar projects aimed at testing the viability of Internet voting systems are scheduled to take place this primary season, including a pilot program in Arizona.

VoteHere.net can be found on the Web at http://www.VoteHere.net/. GoVote.com can be found at http://www.GoVote.com/.

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