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Voting: Too Far From Online

fresh talk: WILL VOLET

Editorial By Courant

November 23, 2007

Why is it when more and more Americans spend more and more of their time at a computer, we still having a voting system that doesn't incorporate online capabilities?

The system we use today, whether it has digital scanning technology or not, is basically the same system we've used for 200 years. Although we used computers in this month's elections to count the votes in each polling place, we might as well be dropping pieces of paper into an old-fashioned ballot box.

It could be that the sought-after 18- 24-year-old voter block is turned off by the seemingly ancient voting method. College students everywhere are finding that using the Internet is the most essential tool for many majors. The truth is, as students, we use our computers constructively for homework, research, news and e-mail.

The amount of time students spend on computers doing extracurricular activities is almost incalculable. We spend our days on Blackboard, Facebook, MySpace, Google, YouTube, whatever. We buy our music online, our movies, our textbooks.

Most students prefer errands or shopping online rather than in person. It's not that we're lazy. It's simply that this is how our world works. We are glued to the computer screen not only by our interests and shopping, but by an educational system that expects technological proficiency.

To me, it seemed absurd that I should have to get up from my computer, drive to a voting station, sit down at another computer, vote, then go back to my computer and continue with whatever it was I was doing before.

I began to wonder: Couldn't there be some way that I could simply click my mouse and vote? Is it any less secure to vote online than it would to use a credit card? If I can buy that new iPhone on the Web, so I can use the Internet from anywhere, shouldn't I be able to vote in between MySpace sessions while I have my coffee and muffin at Starbucks?

Unfortunately, the answer is no.

The real problem with establishing an online voting system is security. Several computer scientists took part in 2004 in federally funded program called the Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment, or SERVE, and concluded that a online voting system would create insurmountable security risks.

The study concluded that unless there is some unforeseen or radical change in modern PCs and the Internet, it would be impossible to guarantee a safe and secure system for large-scale online voting. SERVE recommended that the project be scrapped until a secure system is created.

This unfortunate news leaves little hope for online voting in the near future. While the SERVE project was successful in Arizona and Alaska, a large-scale system would be too tempting for hackers across the globe.

Unfortunately, there is a limit on what I can do from my keyboard at home.

Voting is the basic element of democracy. I suppose the right to choose leaders doesn't mean that the choice, or the process of choosing, should be easy.

Voting online may not be possible, but the Internet can still be used to increase voter turnout. It can inform voters about candidates and remind citizens of coming elections and the issues that are involved. Some websites allow voters to compare candidates according to their beliefs on larger issues. These kinds of sites can demonstrate that there is a difference between politicians that may help to motivate disenfranchised voters.

While online voting seems inevitable, it isn't a reality yet. This means that we still have to somehow find time either before or after work to get up from our computers and go vote.

Will Volet, 24, of New Canaan is a senior at the University of Hartford, where he majors in history. He is currently an intern with The Courant's editorial board.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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