By Chip Reid Correspondent
NBC News
updated 9/17/2004 8:03:28 PM ET 2004-09-18T00:03:28

Mail call for today's military often involves e-mail. Even for troops in Iraq, news from home is just a few clicks away. But when it comes to voting, they still do it the way their great grandfathers did in World War II — paper absentee ballots, sent through the mail.

"You never know what might happen to an absentee ballot traveling 12,000 miles; it could get lost in the mail or forgotten," says 1st Lt. David Markgraf.

So the Pentagon, as part of its effort to make every military vote count, is now giving states the option of allowing troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to vote by e-mail.

Here's how it would work: A soldier fills out an absentee ballot, scans it into a computer, and e-mails it to the Pentagon. It's then faxed to the voter's local election office.

So far, two states have adopted the plan — North Dakota and the battleground state of Missouri.

"I believe people who are defending our right to vote have the right to exercise that very right and cast a ballot in this important election,” says Missouri Secretary of State Matt Blunt.

But, this option comes at a cost — troops using e-mail would give up their right to a secret ballot. That has liberal critics worried about pressure to vote for President Bush.

"They e-mail something to the Pentagon, knowing that someone in the Pentagon who may well be their future leader may very well find out who they voted for,” says Elliot Mincberg of People for the American Way.

Critics also say using e-mail is an invitation to computer hackers and vote fraud.

"Relying on e-mail and fax to transport your vote is like handing your valuables to a bum in the street and asking them to deliver them to the bank," says Avi Rubin, a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

The plan's defenders say no one will be forced to vote by e-mail; they can still do it the old-fashioned way — and hope their paper ballots arrive in time to be counted.

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