Arizona Democrats and Online Voting Just Click

PHOENIX (03/11/2000) - Arizona Democrats, victims of bad timing, are holding the first politically irrelevant primary of the 2000 election season. Under the best of circumstances, Arizona - land of Barry Goldwater and John McCain - is no hotbed of Democratic activism.

This year, with Bill Bradley officially out of the Democratic race, the lack of enthusiasm for the March 11 primary is palpable. Signs for Al Gore or Bill Bradley are as hard to find in this desert town as a natural body of water. But even if there's no contest among candidates, there is excitement about the first statewide, legally binding election held over the Internet. The virtual polls in Arizona have been open since 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, March 7, even though the brick-and-mortar voting booths will not open until the morning of March 11.

As of midday Friday, more than 30,000 votes had been cast - all over the Internet. Is that a lot? No one has a definitive answer. Thirty thousand votes is significantly more than the total number of votes cast in Arizona's 1996 Democratic primary. But Bill Clinton ran that year unopposed by any major Democrat; in 1992, the party held a competitive contest, but it was a caucus rather than a primary. Executives at Election.com Inc., the New York-based company providing the technology for Internet voting, are undaunted at the lack of precedent: They're declaring victory.

Although there are anecdotal accounts of glitches, and although a planned voting-and-photo opportunity at the Grand Canyon was snowed out earlier this week, no serious challenge to the security of Net voting has yet emerged.

National Journal columnist Howard Mortman actually enlisted the aid of an experienced hacker in an attempt to disrupt the election, and failed. "I think it's a success, based on the phone calls we've been getting," said Election.com VP Mark Strama in an interview. Even those calling in with technical problems, Strama observed, are trying to vote from their homes in a contest with only one remaining candidate.

"That shows how much people want to vote over the Internet. My feeling is that people voting over the Internet now are going to want over the Internet in every election." Election.com has a lot riding on this race - more than Bill Bradley or Al Gore. The company is barely 13 months old, and is trying to prove the viability of Internet voting - public and private elections - as a business.

The company declines to reveal how much it charges for the service of running an Internet primary. Some observers believe that Election.com is footing the bill for the Arizona primary, hoping that publicity will generate future contracts in the U.S. and abroad. (And indeed, on Friday morning, representatives from both Japan and Mexico attended an Election.com briefing, curious about how the service might translate to their countries.) Even if the election comes off glitch-free, a few difficulties remain. In late January, some Arizona voters affiliated with the Voting Integrity Project, or VIP, filed a lawsuit charging that the Arizona Democratic Party's method for Internet voting discriminated against voters without home Internet access - who tend to be disproportionately non-white.

On Feb. 29, a judge turned down those voters' request to halt the primary, but the lawsuit is going forward. Timothy Casey, an attorney for the VIP-affiliated voters, said Friday that he will request that the Department of Justice review the results of the Democratic primary to test whether or not turnout is skewed in favor of those with home Internet access. Casey, a Republican who says that he favors Internet voting in the long run, declined to say whether or not he thought the department would actually review the primary.

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