JEFFERSON CITY - If a Pentagon project proceeds smoothly, 100 overseas Missourians will be able to cast their votes via the Internet in the November 1998 election. Missouri is one of three states participating in a pilot program designed to make voting easier for military personnel overseas, Missouri Secretary of State Bekki Cook announced at a press conference Monday.
"They should not be disenfranchised because they are defending our country," Cook said. "We want our service personnel to participate in the vote."
Military personnel posted abroad and other citizens overseas may encounter difficulties voting, Cook said. Under current procedures, overseas citizens must request absentee ballots weeks before the election. Ballots are sent and returned through the mail.
More than half the citizens who did not vote in the 1996 election said they did not receive absentee ballots in time or at all, according to a Federal Voting Assistance Program survey cited by the Secretary of State's office.
The defense department is now identifying overseas citizens from Howell and Texas counties who are eligible to vote by absentee ballot. Fifty voters will be chosen from each of these southern Missouri counties. Florida and Utah will provide an additional 150 voters. A mock election is planned for September to check for glitches before the November general election.
Missouri may have been chosen to participate in the pilot program because the state's county clerks are familiar with Internet technology, Cook said. Missouri has nearly completed a voter registration project that gives county clerk offices access to the a statewide database through the Internet, according to Jim Grebing, Cook's communications director.
The defense department will provide the hardware and software necessary for the project, including protection from attacks by hackers. Encryption should protect the ballot during transmission and numerical codes are designed to allow access only to the voter. Only local election authorities should be able to view the ballot.
"We are under the protection of the very best programmers from the National Security Administration," Cook said.
Legislation allowing Missouri to participate in the pilot program has been introduced in both the House and Senate.