February 9, 2004 4:10 PM PST

Michigan Net ballots get vote of approval

The only U.S. presidential contest in 2004 to use Internet voting was completed over the weekend without a hitch, the Michigan Democratic Party said Monday.

Michigan's caucus, in which nearly one-third of the votes cast arrived through the Internet, gave presidential contender John Kerry another early victory over rivals Howard Dean, John Edwards and Wesley Clark.

"I think it was a success," said Jason Moon, a Michigan Democratic Party spokesman. "We, the Democratic Party here in Michigan, look for any way to bring voters to the polls."

Of the nearly 163,000 votes recorded in the caucus that closed Saturday evening, about 46,000 were made online. Of the total, Kerry garnered 84,214 votes, or 52 percent of the total. Dean, the former Vermont governor whose name was once synonymous with Internet campaigning, came in second with 26,994 votes, or 17 percent.

In addition to the online voting option, Michigan residents could vote in person or through the mail. Moon said the Michigan Democratic Party would release a more detailed breakdown of what type of voter chose which candidate later this week.

Michigan's experiment comes as Internet voting is drawing both interest and criticism. Four computer security experts recently warned that methods of Internet voting cannot be secured against fraud and other security risks. Last week, the Pentagon scrapped plans to permit service members and other Americans living oversees to cast their votes online.

But Michigan had begun accepting online votes weeks before the Pentagon's announcement, which would have complicated any efforts to halt it. "It was a different system from ours," Moon said. "I don't know the specifics of their system, but our system was secure."

To run the election, the Michigan Democrats hired a private contractor, Election Services Corporation (ESC) of Garden City, N.Y. Because the state party had decided on a caucus instead of a primary, the Michigan secretary of state was not involved.

ESC is a 6-month-old company that coalesced around portions of Election.com, which conducted the March 2000 Arizona primary. Other Election.com assets were purchased by Accenture, which had planned to run the Pentagon's balloting system, called Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment.

To vote remotely, Michigan residents were required to apply for a paper ballot that could be returned through the mail or used to vote online through a username and password included on the ballot. In addition, the ESC Web site asked voters for personal information to verify their identity, such as a mother's maiden name, birth date or driver's license number.

"The link between your computer and your Web server, the network--we ensure that network is secure," ESC Chairman Mel Schrieberg said. "We use different technologies to ensure that happens. When you vote, that's totally encrypted. I'm not going to tell you the encryption. There are associated firewalls that prevent people from breaking that link."

By a 23-to-2 vote last November, the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee said Michigan could proceed with its caucus, despite objections that it would negatively affect poor and minority voters and be subject to fraud.

 

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