Plan shelved for overseas voting online

Pentagon official notes concerns over security

February 06, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Citing security concerns, the Department of Defense yesterday canceled plans to use an electronic voting system that would have allowed Americans overseas to cast votes over the Internet in this year's elections.

The system, the Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment, or Serve, was developed with financing from the Defense Department.

The decision was announced in a memorandum from Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to David S.C. Chu, under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

Paraphrasing the memorandum, a Department of Defense spokeswoman said: "The department has decided not to use Serve in the November 2004 elections. We made this decision in view of the inability to ensure legitimacy of votes, thereby bringing into doubt the integrity of the election results."

The memorandum says efforts will continue to find ways to cast ballots electronically for Americans overseas and to use Serve for testing and development purposes.

The Defense Department move is a significant setback for proponents of various electronic voting initiatives. Efforts to move the nation beyond the problems with paper ballots and hanging chads in the 2000 presidential election include the increased use of touch-screen voting systems and experiments like Saturday's Democratic caucuses in Michigan, which will allow Internet voting.

But those initiatives come at a time of increased public distrust of high-tech voting. Critics of touch-screen voting machines, for example, argue that the technology creates a "black box" that allows no independent verification of votes unless a validation tool such as a paper receipt system is used.

Serve was to be put into use in a few weeks by the Federal Voting Assistance Program, part of the Defense Department. Seven states initially signed up to participate.

The decision to cancel the project, which was developed under a $22 million contract by Accenture, a consulting and technology services company, was announced two weeks after members of a panel of scientists recommended that it be canceled because any system based on off-the-shelf personal computers and run over today's Internet is inherently insecure.

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