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Electronic ballot box a step closer

Americans got one step closer to voting on the Internet today with a new voter registration Web site.

It's not possible to vote on the Internet yet, but Americans got one step closer today with a new voter registration Web site sponsored jointly by MCI and Rock the Vote, an online organization that provides political information to young people.

Using a nationally standardized form created by 1993's National Voter Registration Act, also known as the "Motor Voter Law," registrants submit information through MCI's NetVote '96 Web site.

It's not quite 100 percent electronic, however, because the registration process requires a signature. Once the voter registers online, a paper version of the form arrives in the mail--already stamped, addressed, and ready to sign and send to the local registration office.

The registration site is an example of new interest in using the Web both to promote and facilitate citizen involvement in the political process. Bipartisan leaders of the newly formed Congressional Internet Caucus applauded the NetVote '96 program, especially the appeal that the Rock the Vote site makes directly to the "MTV generation."

The Motor Voter Law replaced all the different state registration forms with a single standardized document. The availability of the standardized form in more public places, such as Post Offices and the Department of Motor Vehicles, has already generated close to 15 million new or renewed registrants, according to Jo-Anne Chasnow, associate director of Human Serve, a non-profit voter registration advocacy group in New York City.

Online registration is especially valuable for people away from home--such as college students--because it gives them convenient access to their home state's forms. "But we shouldn't forget about the rest of the young people who don't have access to the Web," Chasnow said.

Could this be the precursor to online ballots?

"I would hope so," said Rock the Vote media director Pam Barta. "If the technology continues to become more accessible, I would hope that the government would wake up and take advantage of it."

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