Lawmakers like Web votes for troops

Published 1:02 am Saturday, January 31, 2009

MONTGOMERY — A bill to allow Alabama residents living overseas to vote over a secure Internet connection has the support of a majority of the members of the Alabama Legislature, but some say they are concerned the system might be susceptible to voter fraud.

In an Associated Press survey of legislators, 63 percent of senators responding said they support the bill that’s being pushed by Secretary of State Beth Chapman, while 17 percent said they oppose it and 20 percent are undecided.

In the House, 70 percent of representatives responding said they favor allowing overseas voters, including military personnel in combat areas like Iraq and Afghanistan, to request ballots and cast their votes over the Internet. Seven percent said they oppose the bill, while 23 percent were undecided.

Responding to the survey were 70 percent of House members and 94 percent of senators. The Legislature opens its regular session Tuesday.

The bill was endorsed earlier this week by a bipartisan task force appointed by Gov. Bob Riley to study the issue of military voting. The measure is being introduced in the Legislature by state Rep. Jimmy Martin, D-Clanton.

Currently, military personnel and other Alabama voters living overseas must request ballots from their counties, wait for the ballots to be mailed to them, and then return their votes to the county. The whole process must be done by U.S. mail and the ballot must be witnessed.

A recent study by the Pew Center on the States listed Alabama among 25 states that need to improve the voting process for overseas voters. The report said the process of casting a ballot can take as long as 88 days for a military voter from Alabama, the slowest time among all states.

Martin’s bill would allow overseas voters to receive their ballots in several different ways, including by fax, the Internet, e-mail and private delivery services like UPS and Fed Ex. The voter could also return his or her ballot through a secure Internet hookup or by fax or private delivery service. Voters would not be able to use e-mail to return ballots.

A similar bill died in the Legislature last year, but Chapman said Friday she is encouraged by the support the measure is receiving as the 2009 session is about to begin. She said she hopes some form of Internet voting is available to overseas voters before the 2010 elections, when Alabama residents will elect a governor and other constitutional officers.