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Expatriate Democrats able to cast votes online

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2008

MEXICO CITY (AP) — This year, for the first time, expatriate Democrats can cast their ballots on the Internet in a presidential primary for people living outside the United States.

Democrats Abroad, an official branch of the party representing overseas voters, will hold its first global presidential preference primary from Feb. 5 to 12, with ex-patriates selecting their candidate by Internet, fax, mail or in person at polling places in more than 100 countries.

Democrats Abroad is proud of the online voting option, which provides a new alternative to the usual process of voting from an overseas location, a system complicated by voter-registration paperwork, early deadlines and unreliable foreign mail service.

"The online system is incredibly secure: That was one of our biggest goals," said Lindsey Reynolds, executive director of Democrats Abroad.

U.S. citizens wanting to vote online must join Democrats Abroad before Feb. 1 and indicate their preference to vote by Internet, rather than in the local primaries wherever they last lived in the United States. They must promise not to vote twice for president, but can still participate in non-presidential local elections.

Members get a personal identification number from Everyone Counts Inc., the San Diego-based company running the online election. They can then use the number to log in and cast their ballots.

Their votes will be represented at the August Democratic National Convention by 22 delegates who, according to party rules, get half a vote each for a total of 11. That's more than U.S. territories get, but fewer than the least-populous states, Wyoming and Alaska, which get 18 delegate votes each.

Everyone Counts has been designing elections software for a decade, running the British Labor Party's online voting since 2000 and other British elections since 2003, Chief Executive Officer Lori J. Steele said.

Online voting can give absentee voters more assurance their ballots are being counted, since confirmation is not available in some counties. The Everyone Counts software lets voters print a receipt.

"We've had no security breaches. We do constant monitoring," Miss Steele said.

Some 6 million Americans living abroad are eligible to vote in U.S. elections, but only a fraction do so. Until recently, the only option was to mail absentee-ballot request forms to the last U.S. county of residence.

The system is so unreliable that of 992,034 ballots requested from overseas for the 2006 general election, only 330,000 were cast or counted, and 70 percent of those not counted were returned to elections officials as undeliverable, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission found.

Republicans Abroad has operated independently of the Republican Party since 2003, and therefore can't hold in-person or Internet votes abroad. But it is organizing to get more overseas Republicans registered at home before the primaries, Executive Director Cynthia Dillon said.