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Electro-disenfranchisement?

There is no agreement about the number of Americans with Internet access. Mediamark Research pegs it at 64.2 million while Nielsen cites 76 million. 50 One hopeful provider of Internet voting systems claims that by the year 2000, half of all Americans will use the Internet daily. 51

But studies continue to reflect that Internet users are predominantly male and under 35, earn substantial salaries and are college graduates. Web-savvy Democrats have a slight edge in numbers over Republicans on the web, according to a study by David Dulio, Donald Goffa and James Thurber. And, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, more hate groups than ever are "engaged in racist behavior," on the Internet, counting 537 such groups - an increase of 13% in one year. 52

"Falling Through the Net III" a report on the Telecommunications and Information Technology Gap in America, cites, "...the persistence of the digital divide between the information rich (such as Whites, Asians/Pacific Islanders, those with higher incomes, those more educated, and dual-parent households) and the information poor (such as those who are younger, those with lower incmes and education levels, certain minorities, and those in rural areas or central cities." 53

This raises the concern that Internet voting will increase access for only particular population sectors. For evidence of similar self-selection, we need look no further than the progressive election policy of "selective early voting." In Texas, for instance, early voting has been used to shape election outcomes, because local election officials are free to open whatever polls, at whatever times, they wish, provided there is no overt injury to racial minorities. 54

In a case The Voting Integrity Project studied in Bastrop, Texas, the Bastrop Independent School District (BISD) was so determined to pass a multi-million dollar school bond, that it opened its early polling places only in schools at hours when parents were likely to be attending school events. The outcome? The bond measure passed on the strength of the early votes cast in this fashion.

An additional unknown is the developing debate on e-commerce taxation and tariffs that could impact already uneven access among certain population sectors. The first historic meeting of the federal Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce (ACEC) met recently to study federal, state, local and international elements of the issue.


50. NetPulse, Volume 3, Number 11, June 2, 1999.

51. Worldwide Election Systems, Inc., www.Internetvoting.com.

52. NetPulse, Volume 3, Number 9, May 12, 1999.

53. United States Government Electronic Commerce Policy release, July 13, 1999.

54. Texas is one of several states which, under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, must obtain pre-clearance of its elections from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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