Soldiers fighting for their country find it hard to participate in the elections that choose leaders back home, say supporters of letting them vote by e-mail.
Authorization for overseas voters to send in their ballots by e-mail or fax is headed for its final steps in the Legislature, over the objections of those who worry about online voter fraud.
Secretary of State Sam Reed is pushing the change and says there is little security risk in having tens of thousands of voters all over the world send e-mails to Washington.
“Any system we use, paper balloting, punch card voting, there are ways of people perpetrating fraud,” said Reed. “So what you do is you set up all kinds of ways of checking it and monitoring it.”
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In this case, that includes a signed affidavit that voters would have to scan into a computer and attach as a file to their e-mail.
The House unanimously passed a bill that won approval from a Senate committee last week and is moving toward the Senate floor. But not everyone likes it.
“I think it’s a terrible idea,” said Barbara Simons, a San Francisco computer scientist who is retired from IBM Research and has studied voting technology, “because we really don’t want to make it easy for people to rig our elections.”
Simons said the Internet is a dangerous realm where not even global corporations such as Google are safe from virus attacks. An advanced virus under the control of a criminal or a foreign power could show you a screen that looks right, she said, while actually casting your vote for you.
Holly Jacobson, executive director of Seattle-based Voter Action, said the current system provides good access to the ballot box by overseas residents.
Military and other overseas voters are supposed to be able to obtain a ballot via e-mail if they choose, but they must send it back by traditional mail. And it must be signed by Election Day.
The Secretary of State’s office said in 2007 that the federal government estimated 52,500 members of the military, 39,400 of their dependents and 72,400 overseas residents claim Washington as their voting residence.
“We feel like we owe it to them to make sure their vote is secure and not jeopardized, and their privacy is not jeopardized,” Jacobson said.
But supporters said many remote areas where troops go lack regular mail service.
State Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw, a sponsor of the measure in the House, said his son served in Afghanistan with a unit that went months without mail. Airplanes approaching their location would be shot down, he said.
But Internet was always available by satellite.
Hurst said soldiers told him they agonized over whether their ballots made it home.
“There is no greater civics lesson than being in combat and seeing the soldiers around you killed for our right to vote,” Hurst said.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826