State Looks at Online Voting Systems

Published: Jun 23, 2008 1:00:00 AM
Media Contact: Jenn Rowell,

Source: Electronline, The PEW Center on the States

Online voting is inevitable, Alabama's Secretary of State Beth Chapman says. Given that fact, she poses a question.

"Are we going to be on the front end of that or the back end of it?"

On Thursday, Chapman hosted the third meeting of the recently created task force on military and overseas voting. Chapman chairs the group founded by Gov. Bob Riley at her request.

At the meeting, three vendors briefed task force members, military members, state officials and residents on the capabilities of their systems. Currently, they are the only companies facilitating state and national elections worldwide. It was the first time they had assembled in one place, Chapman said.

She wants to have online voting available for military members and residents overseas in time for the 2010 election cycle.

The task force will review the three companies -- Every-oneCounts, Election Systems & Software Inc. and Scytl: Secure Electronic Voting -- and present the pros and cons of each to the Legislature.

Armed with options from the three companies, detailed information and answers to lawmakers' questions, Chapman said she hopes she and the task force will be able to sell lawmakers on the idea in the next session.

House Majority Leader Rep. Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill, said he is skeptical that a secure system can be developed. Guin is a former member of the Alabama Help America Vote Act Committee.

"I'm concerned about the paper trail," Guin said, adding that the Help America Vote Act requires a paper trail that can be traced if vote totals are challenged.

Currently, residents overseas request absentee ballots by mail, the ballots are mailed back and then the completed ballots are mailed again.

That mailing time hinders overseas voting considerably, Chapman said, since it takes about six to eight weeks for mail to get to troops, even longer to reach those in remote locations.

"It's our civic duty to protect the right to vote," she said.

In the River Region, there are about 50,000 military members, retirees and civilian defense employees. Some are here, but some are deployed.

The Department of Defense also is working to make it easier for military members to vote absentee, especially when they are deployed overseas. Several Web sites and foundations have been established that compile voting information from each state and put it in one place to make it more accessible to absentee voters.

Simplified voting processes or online voting likely would increase participation, Chapman said.

In one election, participation jumped 70 percent when online voting was an option, she said. She didn't specify which country or which company saw those numbers, since the fact-finding mission she's on could lead to a contract with one of the companies in the future.

Increased voting among troops could affect elections significantly since the military is already a highly active voting bloc.

In 2004, the voting participation rate among service members was 79 percent, compared with 64 percent of the general public, according to figures from the Federal Voting Assistance Program.

"Our heart's in the right place, our head's in the right place and now we've got more information about what's out there," Chapman said.