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If you’re a lawyer in the state of Georgia, odds are you will receive a ballot in mid-December from the State Bar of Georgia for its organizational elections. All 24,200 practicing attorneys in the state must be members of the state bar. But, fewer than half bother to vote in those elections. The highest rate of participation the state bar has ever received in its elections was 39 percent. It’s a number that doesn’t sit well with state bar officials. “We would like greater participation,” says Joe David Jackson of Goodman, McGuffey, Aust & Lindsey, who is also the elections chairman with the state bar. “For some reason, people don’t normally vote unless there’s a contentious election.” This year, the state bar will allow members to vote via the Internet using a Web site called Election.com. Members will still receive paper ballots in the mail but they can opt to use the electronic balloting system instead. “We’re hoping it will help raise that percentage,” says Gayle Baker, membership director at the state bar. “Hopefully, in the long run, it will reduce costs and staff time and make it easier for members.” Baker says the state bar has spent $5,000 more on elections this year because it will use both paper and electronic balloting. But he anticipates the transition to Internet voting will mean eventually cutting out the printing and mailing fees associated with paper ballots and therefore make the elections less expensive. Each attorney will receive a unique Personal Identification Number (PIN) with their ballot. After logging on to the website, they will punch in the PIN, which will be compared with information in Election.com’s database. No special software or downloads will be required. The vote will be digitally encrypted and then split into two parts. One message will go to an Election.com database that will tally the voters’ selections. The other message will go to a separate database that prevents people from voting twice. “We’re committed to making the elections as secure as possible,” says Bill Taylor, senior vice president of Election.com. The concept of voting online is not new. The Florida Bar has been holding online elections for five years. Non-profit organizations, labor unions and credit unions have used the method for several years. ONLINE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS If Election.com has its way, electronic balloting will be familiar to all Americans in the future. The Garden Hills, N.Y.-based company, which is supplying the technology for the state bar’s elections, is hoping to one day introduce the nation to online voting for presidential elections. Last March, the 20-month old company conducted the first legally binding political vote for Arizona’s Democratic Presidential primary, paving the way for future U.S. presidential elections to be held online. The Arizona election has been scrutinized from all sides. A record-breaking 85,970 voters, or 10 percent of the 843,000 registered Democrats, participated in the Arizona primary. Of those, 35,768 of the votes cast came from the Internet while a surprising 32,159 came through the regular mail and 18,043 exercised their rights in person. Some critics say the digital divide diluted Arizona’s minority vote. A lawsuit contesting the primary’s results filed by an Arlington, Va.-based organization, The Voting Integrity Project, claims the election violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Deborah M. Phillips, chairperson and president of the Voting Integrity Project, says the structure of the election put minority voters at a disadvantage because Internet users, who according to Census figures are predominantly white, had four days to log on and vote. By comparison, those voters without Internet connections, who tend to be lower-income minorities, had 12 hours on election day to cast their ballots at traditional polling sites. The lawsuit will go to trial against the Arizona Democratic Party in the U.S. District Court in Arizona in April. Phillips says only after her organization filed suit did the Arizona Democratic Party expand the number of polling places and add a mail-in ballot option. The organization will study what effect these actions had on the election during discovery. However, Election.com and the Arizona Democratic Party say they tried to make it easier for unconnected voters to vote online by establishing dozens of computer facilities in community centers and libraries around the state. Election.com’s Taylor disputes claims that minorities did not have equal access to Internet voting. “We know that’s not the case because we tracked it carefully,” he says. Two Arizona counties with large minority populations saw 900 percent increases in voter participation, he says. If the judge rules against the Arizona Democratic Party, Internet votes cast in the election could be set aside. That won’t matter since Bill Bradley had already dropped out of the race by the time Arizona held its primary. IS IT SAFE? What will matter, says Hans Von Spakovsky, an Atlanta attorney, is that it will make it difficult for states to establish Internet voting in elections. Spakovsky, who is a member of the Voting Integrity Project’s advisory board, a member of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s New Technology Initiative and a member of the Fulton County Registration and Election Board, says there are also tremendous security problems with Internet voting. Spakovsky says a hacker could disable the Election.com Web site by overloading it with e-mail. Or, a hacker could design an e-mail virus to infect computers and change votes. “It would be easy for hackers or someone else who wants to influence the election to do that,” he says. “I’ll guarantee you the computers used to receive the votes will become targets of hackers or people outside this country who want to affect the vote.” Taylor says a newspaper hired a group of hackers to influence the Arizona election but they failed to infiltrate. “We employ state-of-the-art intrusion detection systems,” Taylor says. “We are very mindful of security concerns and watch the system 24-hours a day, seven days a week.” Georgia lawyers, despite being able to vote in the bar election, shouldn’t expect to vote online in a political election any time soon. The Georgia General Assembly must approve the idea before it could even be tested, says Kara Sinkule, spokesperson for the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. But before it takes that step, Sinkule says, security issues would need to be addressed. “These are issues that would need to be resolved prior to any test program,” Sinkule says. “But it’s certainly something we are looking into for the future.” Steven H. Pollak is an Atlanta writer. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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