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ICANN prepares to tally votes in Web election

The online global elections of five board members for the governing body that oversees critical functions of the Internet closes as several advocacy groups keep an eye on the proceedings.

The online global elections of five board members for the governing body that oversees critical functions of the Internet closed Tuesday as several advocacy groups kept an eye on the proceedings.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a private organization that was chosen by the Clinton administration in 1998 to coordinate the network's addressing, or so-called domain name, system.

Since its inception, the group has endured heavy criticism and accusations of being secretive and out of touch with the Internet public.

Under pressure from these advocacy organizations, ICANN decided to open to the public the election of five of its 19 board members. More than 76,000 computer users around the world registered to vote. Results will be posted on the ICANN Web site within the next two days, a staff member said. The election closes at 5 p.m. PT.

The hope is that the elections will make ICANN more democratic and less controversial. Though it is billed as a governing body responsible for the technical underpinnings of the Internet address system, it is generally believed that ICANN holds the power to decide how people and companies gain identities on the Net.

For instance, one of the first tasks for the newly elected group is to decide which new domain name suffixes will be added to the cyberspace address book. More than 40 individuals and organizations applied to control the new collection of domain names that would end in something other than the generic ".com," ".net" and ".org."

Among others, Jerry Berman, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, made a push to get Internet users interested in the ICANN elections. Anyone over age 16 with an email and postal address is eligible to participate in the elections.

Berman gave heavy importance to the election of new ICANN board members. In previous news accounts, he compared ICANN's role to one of being able to "rearrange the streets of a city. They are essentially effecting what is going to be a critical identity and property right of every person in the 21st century."

Berman fears ICANN might someday take on greater policy-making powers beyond its current technical role.

ICANN's 19 board members include nine appointees, representing general membership. The election involves five of the nine general membership representatives. The plan called for voting by continent to limit the influence of U.S. Web users.

On the ballot are three candidates representing Africa, five for Asia, seven for Europe, five for Latin America and the Caribbean, and seven for North America.

ICANN chose Election.com, based in Garden City, N.Y., to handle the online voting. Election.com conducted the Arizona democratic primary election in March.