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CNN Today

Arizona Democrats Cast Ballots On-Line

Aired March 10, 2000 - 1:08 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Arizona holds a Democratic primary tomorrow, and turnout is already higher than last time. For days now, Arizona Democrats have been casting ballots on-line, a first in U.S. politics.

Boosting participation is the whole idea, but CNN's Rick Lockridge reports some worry about who's turning out and who's left behind.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICK LOCKRIDGE, CNN TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Melinda Mills (ph) made history from her friend's bedroom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can scroll down now.

LOCKRIDGE: Roberta Jensen (ph) did it from her den. And with a quiet click of a mouse, quadriplegic Ben Rolph (ph) cast the first vote of his life without physical assistance.

It is the Arizona Democratic Party's grand and controversial experiment: a six-day on-line primary. Party officials were looking to increase voter participation. And by the end of first day, they had already succeeded dramatically, collecting 14,000 ballots, 2,000 more than were cast in all of the '96 primary.

MARK FLEISHER, CHAIRMAN, ARIZONA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: We had to find something that would increase participation because it has gone down year after year. And I think this is the key to the future.

LOCKRIDGE: But there were glitches. While Melinda Mills was successful, her friends, April and Kylee, were blocked by mysterious bugs.

(on camera): Disappointed?

KYLEE JACKSON, UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA STUDENT: Not really. I'm sure -- I mean, there's computer geniuses out there who are figuring out the problem.

BILL TAYLOR, ELECTION.COM: There've been all sorts of little glitches that have come along, but they're bumps in the road when you're on a path like this.

LOCKRIDGE (voice-over): Taylor says most problems were caused by old browser software and unexpectedly heavy traffic.

TAYLOR: It was one of those cases where you planned for a big party and the party was bigger than you planned for.

LOCKRIDGE: But is everybody getting equal access to the party? Opponents say e-balloting will penalize minority and low-income voters with limited computer access, those on the far end of the so-called digital divide.

DEBORAH PHILLIPS, VOTING INTEGRITY PROJECT: Think of it as a subway train. The Internet voters get to run on the train unimpeded. The non-Internet voters have to push through a creaky old turnstile one by one. When the train leaves that station, there will be a disproportionate number of white voters on that train.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOCKRIDGE: Now, Arizona's on-line voters all end up at this page where they are reminded, among other things, that cheating is a felony. They click on "I agree," the "I agree" button. And that sends them to a page where they enter a seven-digit alpha-numeric pin that was sent to all 843,000 registered Arizona Democrats in the mail. Once they enter that pin, they can go cast their ballot.

The company that's handling the Internet side of things, Election.com, has implemented a three-fold system to try to keep things secure. One, they have secret service -- they've kept the location of the servers themselves a physical secret.

Also, they've scrambled all the data going to and from with encryption they say is 4,000 more powerful than the Internet standard.

And, thirdly, they split up you and your votes. So, they send to one computer the fact you voted, so you can't vote more than once. And they also send your vote to another computer, and, that way, they can never again connect who voted for whom and that's as it should be.

As of this morning, they had collected 27,000 on-line votes in the Arizona on-line Democratic Primary. And that is more than twice as many as were cast in the entire 1996 primary.

Reporting live from the CNN Interactive newsroom, I'm Rick Lockridge. Back to you.

DONNA KELLEY, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Rick, thank you.

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