Monday is the deadline to register to vote in the March 7 California primary election. | NevadaAppeal.com

Monday is the deadline to register to vote in the March 7 California primary election.

Lauren Theodore

Prepare yourself for cyber-voting. And after technology bugs are worked out it could create greater voter participation.

Internet popularity and accessibility is growing every year and California is taking notice. Secretary of State Bill Jones assembled the California Internet Voting Task Force to study the feasibility of voting via the Internet.

The panel of experts studied Internet voting as an additional method of voting.

“It allows vacation spots and rural areas a greater opportunity to participate and vote,” said Task Force Chairman Alfie Charles.

South Shore could use a voter participation boost. Less than half of the 8,500 registered voters out of a population of 22,000 bothered to go to the polls at the last election.

The technology to implement online voting through a PC in public voting terminals is available today, but the system needs government approval.

“The big problem is the vulnerability with home computers and their operating systems,” Charles said.

Home and office Internet voting is the biggest hurdle, Charles said.

Computer hackers, “viruses”, and “Trojan Horse” software threaten database systems. An individual could tamper with a home computer and vote in an election without the legitimate user’s knowledge.

Criminal electronic attacks could also reveal citizens’ voting records.

A conclusion was reached that voter privacy can be protected through the use of a digital signature and encryption while ballots transmit over the Internet. But it will take time to perfect.

The private sector would need “clean operating systems” and new Web browsers to ensure their safety.

Pat Frega, El Dorado County’s representative for the Executive Board of the State of California Democratic Party, thinks the subject of Internet voting requires more investigation than has been conducted.

He said online voting could help increase low voter turnout, which he partially attributes to poor weather at the South Shore.

Frega is more concerned, however, about voter privacy. “The secret ballot is extremely important,” he said.

To avoid potential invasions of privacy, Frega would prefer more voters to participate through the vote-by-mail system.

Sidebar

Wealthy voters and the ‘Net generation could have a greater influence on elections if ballots are conducted online.

The Public Policy Institute of California reported just 20.3 percent of California households with an income under $20,000 had frequent access to the Internet.

The January task force report also indicated households in the $20,000-$39,000 bracket had an average access of 31.2 percent.

Seventy-two percent from households with incomes exceeding $80,000 had Internet access.

Growth projections from Dataquest and the Yankee Group reported American households will be involved in a rapid-growth phase spanning the years 1999-2003.

Internet access percentages are projected to increase from 30.2 percent in 1999 to 58.4 percent in 2003. The 2003 percentage reflects a 102.3 percent increase in growth.

Alfie Charles, the California Internet Voting Task Force chairman, said young people are “the ideal target” for the online voting system. The 20-something age group is Internet-educated and less inclined to vote in the current system, he said.

American voters aged 18 to 34 were polled in July by an ABC News poll to find out how many would vote if the Internet were to become secure. The results showed 61 percent of potential voters would vote compared to 42 percent of the overall population.

The 18 to 34 age group revealed that 60 percent believed it would take several years, if ever, for Internet voting to implemented.

Charles said Jones is reviewing a public polling system, which, if approved, could be used in counties by the 2001 election.