02/06/04 — Internet voting scrapped

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Internet voting scrapped

By Staff and Wire
Published in News on February 6, 2004 2:02 PM

From staff and AP reports

The Pentagon has scrapped plans for an Internet voting system for overseas U.S. citizens, including Wayne County residents, this fall because of concerns about its security.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz made the decision to cancel the Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment, or SERVE, because Pentagon officials were not certain they could "assure the legitimacy of votes that would be cast," a military official said Thursday.

Wayne County was one of five N.C. counties that had been selected as a pilot program. Elections Director Gary Sims and other staff members had taken part in planning sessions in Virginia.

Although Sims had not received official notification as of this morning, he assumes that SERVE will not become a reality, at least not this year. The Pentagon was underwriting the entire cost of the project.

"I'm a little bit disappointed, because I do think this is the wave of the future," he said.

Although the Pentagon's interest has been to make voting easier for servicemen overseas, SERVE would have been available to any Wayne County resident working or traveling abroad, Sims said. The voter would have signed into a secure Web site with a digital signature and then voted on a Web site.

People who will be overseas during the election still will be able to vote via mail-in ballots, Sims said.

Concerns were raised about SERVE last month. Computer security experts urged the Pentagon to scrap the system, saying it was too vulnerable. The experts said the system could be penetrated by hackers who could change votes or gather information about users.

"Internet voting presents far too many opportunities for hackers or even terrorists to interfere with fair and accurate voting, potentially in ways impossible to detect," the experts said in a statement Jan. 21. "Such tampering could alter election results, particularly in close contests."

Despite the concerns, Pentagon officials had said they still planned to use the system this fall and would test it during Tuesday's South Carolina primary. But the day before the voting the Pentagon called off the South Carolina test.

About 6 million U.S. voters live overseas, most of them members of the military or their relatives.

The other N.C. pilot programs were to have been in Cumberland, Craven, Onslow and Pasquotank counties.