Editorial | High-tech sign of the times: Online voting

If necessity is the mother of invention, then the military helped raise one of her biggest children.

The Internet evolved from Cold War competition between the U.S. and former Soviet Union. Experimentation by the Department of Defense was instrumental in pushing and shaping the Internet’s development decades before “online” became a household term.

The Internet’s next step in revolutionizing modern life will include the way people cast their ballots. With the military as a guinea pig, Washington state may join a new nationwide movement: Online voting.

Signed into law in 1986, the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) allows U.S. military personnel, as well as citizens residing overseas, to vote by absentee ballot.

Secretary of State Sam Reed will introduce a bill to the 2010 Legislature in an attempt to simplify and speed up the process for these voters. The bill would allow overseas and military residents to return their ballots by fax or e-mail. Last year, a similar but unsuccessful bill included a provision for casting ballots online.

Under the current setup in Washington, faxed and e-mailed votes are not counted until the state receives the original ballot. If this new proposal passes, procedures are available to protect the secrecy of ballots, according to the state elections division.

So far, 20 states are exploring the concept.

In 2008, Arizona granted an online voting option to its registered military and overseas residents. In Missouri, a new law for electronic military ballots will take effect in 2010. Earlier this month, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin signed the Online Voting Pilot Program for its 42,000 eligible military and overseas voters.

In Washington state, there are 36,372 registered military voters, along with 2,864 residents working or living abroad, according to data from the secretary of state’s office. In 2009, about 19 percent of UOCAVA voters participated in elections. If the secretary of state’s proposal passes, expect a higher turnout in future elections from this demographic.

Despite the untested waters and dilemmas associated with online voting, the masses will eventually follow suit — as soon as the military figures it all out first.