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January 19, 2000

Go slow on Internet voting, Calif. panel recommends

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - An official California panel recommended Tuesday a go-slow approach to voting over the Internet, saying ``e-voting'' could help expand the democratic process but was still too fraught with security problems to be useful now.

Online voting should be phased in slowly, the joint task force concluded -- first by wiring traditional polling places with Internet terminals, and then gradually moving toward the goal of ``point and click'' voting from home.

``The Internet has the potential to bring a record number of low propensity younger voters into the democratic process for the first time,'' California's Secretary of State Bill Jones said in a statement announcing the report.

``Unfortunately, the threat of computer virus and other technological attacks on personal computers make Internet voting from the home or office an unsecure and unwise practice at this time.''

The California panel's report, produced after some ten months of study, had been awaited as one sign of how quickly the Internet might be harnessed to improve U.S. voter turnout.

A number of companies are developing online voting software, saying they can protect against fraud and abuse, and a number of demonstration projects have been run in an effort to show that ''e-voting'' is no more treacherous than allowing people to vote with absentee ballots.

Officials at one of these companies, Garden City, N.Y.-based Votation.com, said the California report overlooked recent technological advances that made e-voting safer, noting that they had already secured a contract to help run the Arizona Democratic presidential primary on March 11.

``Votation.com makes elections more secure than existing election systems currently do,'' company Chief Executive Officer Joe Mohen said.

``The security techniques and technologies than we use are far more secure than those that are used to transfer millions of dollars out of bank accounts over the Internet today.''

While urging short-term caution, the California task force, which included election officials and data security experts, said the longer-term outlook for e-voting was good, and that Internet voting could prove particularly attractive to 18-24 year olds, one group of potential voters with a poor turnout at the polls.

According to a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, voters under age 24 were three times more likely to support the idea of e-voting than those aged over 65.

``The prospect of delivering the voting process directly to younger Californians is an exciting one that holds much promise for our effort to improve statewide voter turnout,'' Jones said.

19:38 01-18-00

Copyright 2000 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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