Oregon Senate approves Internet voting study

Oregon Senate approves Internet voting study
Oregon State Capitol.

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - The Oregon Senate on Thursday set the wheels in motion for studying the possibility of Internet voting, with proponents arguing the state could become a national pioneer as it did with vote by mail.

Doubters pointed to the troubles of Cover Oregon's website as an argument against tackling large Internet projects.

Lawmakers approved a bill that would order the secretary of state to name a work group to examine issues surrounding a possible statewide Internet voting system. It gives the group until Dec. 1 to report its findings, including any estimated costs or savings and what would be needed to comply with federal elections laws.

Sen. Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland, said Oregon could become a pioneer with online voting just as it was with voting by mail. She noted accountability measures in Oregon's vote-by-mail system as part of a process that she said "has become a model for other states around the country for increasing voter participation."

"This bill is one more step that we can look at," Rosenbaum said. "We already allow people to register to vote electronically. That has worked well, and I think that this will provide a healthy discussion."

In November 2000, Oregon became the first state in the nation to move to mail-only voting in an effort to improve voter turnout, with Washington following suit in 2012. Several states currently allow no-excuse mail-in voting as an option.

Sen. Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro, sponsored the bill and said that a presentation in Estonia on that country's e-voting system prompted his interest in online voting. Though he acknowledged some opponents "absolutely believe this is the worst thing ever," he said it's simply "a quest for information."

Internet voting was first used in 2000 in the U.S. under a test program allowing military voters to cast ballots in the November election. At least 13 other countries have used online voting in some form since then, with Estonia and United Arab Emirates using it nationwide, according to a 2013 report by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, based in Washington, D.C.

While some states and the military have conducted online voting pilot programs, none currently allows direct Internet voting.

Critics of the bill passed by the state Senate on Thursday said they respect the effort to increase voter participation, but they pointed to the state's struggles with Cover Oregon as an argument against tackling another large and complicated information technology project. They also cautioned that online voting would not be secure, citing as an example, the recent online intrusion that led to parts of the secretary of state website being shut down.

"The point is that we have technology now that we, the state of Oregon, cannot make work and now we're looking at some other process," said Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby.

Stayton Republican Sen. Fred Girod said simply, "bad idea."