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New Digital Voting Option For District Residents Living Abroad

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By Tara Nelson

D.C. is set to launch a new digital ballot alternative for military and district residents voting overseas. The pilot program slated for the upcoming September election aims to improve the security and speed of absentee ballot delivery abroad.

In November 2008 just under half of oversea absentee ballots received counted, according to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBEE) The other 1,460 either arrived late or damaged. The largest chunk, 1099 ballots, was never received.

“We can send man to the moon, remotely control crawlers on Mars…Surely then, we can bring together the talent to figure out how to protect voter privacy and secure ballot transactions in a digital manner,” says Gregory Miller Co-Executive Director and Chief Development officer of the Open Source Digital Voting Foundation. ??

Alysoun McLaughlin, spokesperson for the DCBEE, says the pilot “Digital Vote by Mail” project looks to improve and provide voters with more privacy than traditional methods of ballot delivery, such as e-mail or fax.

“We are not doing ‘online voting’ where anyone who is able to successfully log in can cast their votes online and have them automatically counted,” says McLaughlin. “In our case, we are only using the Internet for ballot delivery.”

Voters will be given a personal pin number they will use to access the site. Voters will also be able to track their vote and verify that the vote is being counted. They will submit a PDF form on the encrypted site twice to confirm the authenticity of the ballot and identity of PIN holder.

The DCBEE is working with OSDVF, which collaborates to create open source voting software. Allowing for transparent voting systems.

“Open source means that the software code is published on the Internet for anyone to examine,” says McLaughlin. “The system is open for inspection by computer security experts and anyone else who wishes to view it.”

McLaughlin says this is the first time open source software is being used in an election. Experts and laymen will have access for a window of time to evaluate and offer feedback on the existing digital voting software before it is launched in August.

According to Miller the D.C. pilot is unique in its evaluation of a secure web-based method of returning a ballot from an overseas stationed voter.

The price tag of the current D.C. pilot program is $300,000 and is paid for with federal funds the District received under the Help America Vote Act.

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