SAN FRANCISCO (02/06/2004) - The Internet has erased waiting in line for shopping, and is now ending the queue to vote--at least for Democrats in Michigan.
The Midwest state is the only one to offer online voting for its Democratic primary this election cycle. Michigan's caucus is this Saturday, February 7, but voters are already casting their votes online.
"People have been very engaged in (Internet) participation," says Adrianne Marsh, communications director for the Michigan Democratic Party. She says response has been strong.
By Friday, more than 42,000 absentee votes were cast, half of them through the Internet, according to Marsh. In Michigan, 123,000 registered Democrats requested absentee ballots. That's an enormous jump over the 2000 presidential primary. That year, Michigan's vote took place in March after a number of candidates had dropped out, and about 19,000 requested absentee ballots, party officials say.
Several of the state's Democratic leaders have supported the party's leap into the digital age. Governor Jennifer Granholm cast her vote online Thursday.
"The governor was very supportive of the party's extending the Internet option to voters who wanted to participate," says Granholm staffer Elizabeth Boyd. Michigan Senator Carl Levin voted online as well.
While proponents say online voting can increase overall turnout, security concerns remain. Earlier this week, the Department of Defense canceled plans to allow citizens living overseas to vote online, citing concerns about possible vote fraud.
Marsh is quick to point out the measures taken by the Michigan Democrats to ensure security. All eligible voters received a unique voter registration number and password. Internet voters had to enter four pieces of information: an identification number, the password, their city of birth, and their date of birth. Marsh also says the network is secure and has a redundant security system with two sets of firewalls.
"All voter data is encrypted during the transmission to secure the integrity of the voting process," Marsh says.
Security isn't the only concern, however. Several of the Democratic presidential candidates have come out against online voting, calling it unfair to low-income voters who don't have computers. Marsh says the party doesn't believe offering online ballots will skew the vote in favor of more technology-savvy candidates.
Though Michigan is the only state to offer an online voting option this year, it isn't the first state to try it. In 2000, Arizona was the only state--and the first ever--to accept online votes in the Democratic primary.
Newell writes for the Medill News Service.