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Digital Voting—Coming To A Tablet Near You

In this Friday, Nov. 4, 2011, photo, Lewis Crew, 75, receives help from a member of a voter assistance team while voting on a iPad, in Beaverton, Ore. Voters in five Oregonian counties are filling out and returning their mail-in ballots for a Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011, special primary election to replace former Congressman David Wu, who resigned following a sex scandal. Using an iPad, disabled voters will be able to call up the right ballot and tap the screen to pick a candidate. The voters then can print the completed ballot and stuff it in an envelope to sign and drop in the mail.

CREDIT: AP/Rick Bowmer.

Few would disagree that the U.S. voting system could use a technological update.

Moves to digitize the process have been slow, mostly due to a perceived lack of faith in the security and privacy of a computer-based system.

However, some states and counties are moving forward with high-tech voting systems in time for the 2014 midterm elections .

No state currently offers a completely online voting experience, but many use digital tools in degrees. Most states have electronic voter rolls at polling places.  Fifteen states have online voter registration, and five more are likely to pass legislation implementing it before the 2014 midterm election.

There are also pilot programs to get new technology into voters’ hands. Oregon has seen positive results from sending out tablets to disabled Americans, and voters in Pima County, AZ, used tablets at all polling stations last year.

“The average voter loved them,” Lori Steele said, CEO of Everyone Counts, a private company that develops electronic voting tools used worldwide. “The general population is finding using tablets or PCs, or mobile devices, is far more convenient and easy to do than either vote by mail or voting machines in polling places.”

South Dakota has also taken a major step for its citizens serving overseas.

While 32 states allow military members to return their vote electronically, soldiers from South Dakota can now register for an absentee ballot and complete it online, a process that used to take up to 60 days now done in a matter of minutes.

The U.S. lags behind other developed democracies in access to Internet voting.

Nine countries, including Australia, Canada, Mexico, France, and Switzerland have Internet voting in at least some regions. The U.S. was actually the first to pilot online voting for overseas citizens, but discontinued the program for security reasons.

While the steps toward confidence in a secure online voting system may be small, the gains could be great. “Internet voting has a lot to offer,” Ben Goldsmith said, an Election Technology Adviser for the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. “With increasing levels of access to the Internet, the most obvious benefit is the ease of access to the voting process. This is especially important in the context of declining turnout in elections in many democracies around the world.”

Whitney Allen covers voting rights and civic engagement. Follow her on Twitter @abbyabroad.

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