Restoring Voter Confidence

Every vote counts. Or does it? One of the big lessons from the Florida vote fiasco is that the US must commit dollars to fix out-dated voting systems. The world's oldest modern democracy deserves better than punch-cards and mechanical levers as the means to choose leaders.

The closeness of the Nov. 7 vote has already provided an impetus for several states to reform their voting process. Experiments in voting by secure e-mail (used by the Pentagon in the last election) or computer touch-screens (like an ATM) hold more promise of reducing confusion and controversy than the less desirable process of counting ballots by hand.

In the Pentagon experiment, 350 soldiers and sailors from five states, including Florida, cast ballots on the Internet. Military encryption technology was used to prevent fraud and keep the confidentiality of the cyber-votes. The cost was high: $1.9 million.

Such a method builds on recent improvements made by e-tailers to use the Internet, such as in transmitting credit card numbers or even proxy votes by stockholders. In fact, studies by the secretaries of state for California and Arizona and the Internet Policy Institute show that Internet voting can be a fact of life within five to 10 years, once issues of access and security are resolved.

All people don't have access to the Web. And flaws will likely persist in even an improved system. Still, moving in the direction of higher accuracy can't be avoided, post-Florida.

Any improvements in recording and tabulating votes will need money and expertise. Many states have not focused resources on such reform, mainly because voting problems have not been much of an issue.

But with voters nationwide wondering if their state might face the same legal quagmire as Florida, state legislators should act. While they can be offered advice and money from Congress, the final reforms should be theirs to choose.

Then, instead of fumbling with dangling, pregnant, or dimpled chads, votes will be precisely and confidently recorded, and counted.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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