June 95

Level of Govt: State, Local

Function: Voting

Problem/Situation: Low voter registration and turn-out continue to be a problem in the U.S.

Solution: Online voting system designed to increase participation in elections and make it easier to learn about campaign issues.

Jurisdiction: Humboldt County, Calif.

Vendors: America Online, THX, Epicenter Research, National Voter Outreach, Aristotle

Contact: Lindsey McWilliams 707/445-7503

By Lindsey McWilliams

Clerk of Humboldt County, Calif.

It's a cool, early morning in the year 2008, and I'm getting ready to leave for work and arguing with my children. "Dad, why do we have to go to school when we can videoconf with the Princeton kids on multiprocessor array systems?"

I remind them that interacting with other children is not only fun, but also important for developing social skills. They can videoconference with their friends any time. A chorus of "Right, Dad!" flames me from all sides as I get a call from Don Quixote, my personal digital assistant now plugged into my home network. Quixote's job, among others, is to acquire and process information, articles and Internet transactions for my personal and professional needs.

DQ, as I call Quixote, has lit up my 37-by-17-inch flat panel screen in the dining room to show that we missed the school bus and present my "to-do list" for the day. Before I notice the visual display, DQ begins a verbal account of what needs to be done. It starts with a reminder that I need to transfer money into my checking account to make the car and house payments on time, then asks for approval to use the savings account.

It goes on to say that it's election day and rambles on about my appointments at work. I interrupt DQ and tell it to access the "election web" and get me a portfolio on those candidates who are in line with my political beliefs and personal feelings. While I'm fumbling for a latt? from the coffee machine, DQ displays the candidates and their pictures on my screen.

I sigh, exclaiming how inefficient government is and how a private company could do it cheaper and better, and opt to scan the political ads of the candidates I have chosen to get the latest dirt and state-of-the-art cybertisements. In the middle of the scan, DQ interrupts to tell me that it's my turn to vote and the county clerk asks me to confirm my security key. I agree and enter the code. The screen clears me for my vote and I tell DQ to upload my ballot.> I ask for candidate statements and their position on the concept of direct democracy through a political forum called the Internet Congress. The replies, previously recorded, are replayed through the THX Home Sound System. I call up the electronic ballot, make my decisions and ask DQ to connect me to the County Clerk's Office to vote. DQ tells me it will be a three-minute wait due to the volume of people ahead of me.

Twilight Zone? Science fiction? Not really. Some of it has already happened. California Voter Foundation's Online Voter Guide worked with America Online and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Political Participation Project to put California candidate information on the Internet for the November 1994 election. Companies like Epicenter Research, National Voter Outreach and Aristotle are currently working on providing voter registration and election information over the Internet. With that task completed, I am contacted on a separate channel to again verify my transmission point, voter registration and security key. I re-enter my private security code, which the County Clerk's Office verifies with its public code. The codes agree again and my vote is tallied. I sign off and