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Apple's iPad: Seeding a next-gen voting machine?

A handful of iPads are being used in Oregon to help citizens vote for their favorite candidates.

A handful of voters in Oregon are using iPads to help them place votes today as part of a plan by the state to determine whether the tablet could eventually be used as a voting system.

According to the Associated Press, which first reported on the effort, Apple donated five iPads to Oregon to help workers in five counties make it easier for voters with disabilities to place their ballots. Election officials are visiting nursing homes, community centers, and other locations to find voters that need some assistance.

The process to place a vote seems quite simple. The election officials bring up an application that Oregon developed for $75,000 that lists all the candidates in the primary election to replace U.S. Rep. David Wu. Upon making their choice, the voters then print out the ballot on portable printers, sign it, and send it off to the board of elections for counting. So, while the iPads aren't being used as voting machines, they are facilitating the act of voting.

Oregon's decision to rely upon the iPad to help voters will inevitably bring up concerns over the security of electronic-voting machines.

In 2007, computer scientists successfully hacked California e-voting machines, allowing them to change votes however they saw fit. During the 2008 election, concerns cropped up among both politicians and security experts over the reliability of e-voting machines, prompting some states to abandon touch-screen voting systems altogether.

Those concerns were bolstered earlier this year when the U.S. Department of Energy's Vulnerability Assessment Team at Argonne Laboratory found that a simple radio frequency remote control can intercept a vote placed through an e-voting machine, and allow the hacker to change the ballot to whatever he or she would like. Worst of all, the issue appears to affect all e-voting machines.

The stakes are high. According to the latest estimates, as much as 25 percent of the voting population next year could be marking their presidential ballots with e-voting machines that are susceptible to that hack.

Whether the iPad might be able to address that issue is not even being considered at this point. However, Oregon told the AP that if its test works well, it could roll out iPads across all the counties in the state. Granted, that rollout will be designed to help voters with disabilities, but could Oregon break down barriers and bring iPads to the broader electorate? If so, it wouldn't be the first time the state has taken a risk with voting: in 1998, Oregon became the first state to conduct its elections by mail.