THE ARIZONA EXPERIMENT

By: Jason Williams

A Look At Last Week’s Online Election



Sitting in an apartment near the campus of the University of Arizona,
Jessica Maucione, 22, uses her friend’s laptop, pointing and clicking,
trying to cast her cybervote in the Arizona Democratic primary
election.



Arizona made history last week as the first state to allow voters to
cast their ballots over the Internet in the state’s Democratic
presidential primary, and if other states catch the online-voting bug,
cyberdemocracy could change the way journalists cover elections.



Online voting began March 7 with state Democratic Chairman Mark
Fleisher casting the first cybervote at 12:01 a.m. Citizens were able
to vote online until March 11, using a personal identification number
(PIN) sent to them via snail-mail.



Voting also was conducted at Arizona’s paper-ballot polling places on
Saturday, and authorities expected over half of the votes to come from
those locations around the state.



Journalists from The Arizona Republic in Phoenix and the Tucson Citizen
could still lie in wait to pounce on voters as they left the curtained
booths at those polls. But for how much longer? The relative ease of
voting via the Web may spur more citizens to ‘rock the vote’ online,
instead of in line at the local high-school gymnasium.



Lisa Chiu, a reporter covering the primary for the Republic, said that
online voting will force journalists to work harder to find stories by
going into the community and seeking out voters rather than waiting for
them to come to the polls.



‘It’s hard to judge if people are going out to vote because they can
vote anywhere,’ said Chiu.



Arizona officials predicted that online voting would most likely boost
voter turnout, but were less optimistic after former U.S. Sen. Bill
Bradley pulled out of the presidential race.



And the digital divide may keep the number of online-voting minorities
relatively low, said Joseph Garcia, city editor for the Citizen.



The Arizona Democratic Party set up online community polling places for
people without Internet access, but there didn’t seem to be many using
those places, said Chiu.



The early results, however, suggested that many people were pulling the
lever online in impressive numbers. ‘People are voting now probably
more out of interest in voting over the Internet than [out of] interest
in the candidates,’ said the Citizen’s Garcia.



‘How else would you explain 14,500 people voting, when in ’96 in the
Democratic primary only 12,800 Democrats voted? And this is still early
on [March 7],’ said Garcia, who planned to vote online himself.



While Garcia thinks the new era of online voting is exciting, the
future is not without its share of roadblocks. Both Arizona dailies ran
stories on the myriad problems facing online voters. Several people
have reported that they never received the required PIN that was
supposed to be mailed to them, noted Garcia, who added, ‘One woman said
she received four [PINs].’ Even U.A. student Jessica Maucione,
supposedly a member of the ‘Internet generation,’ gave up after
encountering busy signals and error messages aplenty.



Election.com – handling the voting system administration and working
closely with the state Democratic Party – played down the early
problems. Election.com boasts on its Web site that its security systems
are the ‘same technology used to protect nuclear missile codes and
credit card transactions.’



As for the remote possibility of conducting the general election via
the Web, Garcia said, ‘Al Gore says he invented the Internet, so he’ll
probably win.’


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



Jason Williams (jwilliams@editorandpublisher.com) is a reporter for
Editor & Publisher magazine.









(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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