The Arizona Democratic 2000 Primary

One of the first major political elections in the U.S. that allowed Internet voting was the 2000 Arizona Democratic primary. Arizona state Democratic Chairman Mark Fleisher boasted: “This will be the first thing to come along to motivate people to vote since the repeal of the poll tax.” [1]

The enthusiasm for Internet voting, however, was not universal. Deborah Phillips, President of the Voting Integrity Project, warned of hackers, voter fraud, loss of privacy, and lack of access for some communities. [2]

All aspects of the Arizona election, including Internet voting and poll site voting, were run by, the same company that ran the ICANN election, in partnership with VeriSign Corp. Registered voters had to express interest in voting via the Internet by January 24, 2000. A potential Internet voter was sent a PIN for use in the voting process. Voting could be done from the voter's computer between March 7 and March 11, prior to Election Day. Election Day voting was possible from one of 124 polling sites in the state., which provided both the machines used at the polling sites and the voting software, was quite secretive about the election. The software was never examined by independent experts, web logs that might have shown evidence of an attack were never released, no outsiders observed the processes, and even the budget was never made public. It is impossible, therefore, to know if Internet voting reduced the cost of the election. In fact, there was so little oversight that the state never received a complete accounting of the final vote totals from

Before being allowed to vote, the voter had to provide her PIN, as well as correct answers to a number of personal questions. The vote transmission was protected by the same form of encryption used in electronic commerce. Of the more than 86,000 people who voted in the Democratic primary, almost 37,000 voted over the Internet. The contested nature of the 2000 primary, as compared to the uncontested 1996 primary, makes it essentially impossible to determine if Internet voting increased voter turnout.

As with the ICANN election, there were a number of problems with the Arizona primary. Three of the polling stations, all in minority communities, did not open. Many voters with outdated registration information did not receive their PINs in the mail. In addition, it was very difficult to reach the help desk, which had only twelve active phone lines.

An October 2000 article about the Arizona primary warned of denial-of-service attacks, such as those that had recently crippled Yahoo and eBay, as well as risks of attacks by foreign powers. The authors also cautioned: [3]

The fact that Internet voting is already possible doesn't make it advisable, given its vulnerability to security breaches -- unless the goal is to deliberately weaken the American electoral process .... No amount of technological tinkering can transform electrical impulses into a tangible paper trail.

[1] CBS News. Arizona to Try Internet Voting, March Presidential Primary will be Guinea Pig, December 1999.

[2] Scott Thomsen. Arizona to Pioneer Internet Voting. The Associated Press, December 1999.

[3] Kurt Hyde and Steve Bonta. Voting on the Web. New American, 16(21), October 2000.