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Democrats shift to support Web vote

/ Source: The Associated Press

After losing the fight over allowing Internet voting in Michigan, some Democratic presidential candidates are becoming big supporters of the plan. They are scrambling to offer computers and other help to urban areas where residents may not have easy access to the Internet.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s campaign last week offered computers to about 400 religious leaders statewide for use on Feb. 7, when voters choose a favorite for Democratic presidential nomination.

“Internet voting is an option that the party has made available and we feel very strongly, not withstanding the digital divide, that every voter should have access to that,” said Marcus Jadotte, Kerry’s deputy campaign manager.

Kerry was among opponents
Kerry was among seven presidential candidates who opposed the Michigan Democratic Party’s plan to allow Internet voting for the first time as one of three options on Feb. 7, along with voting by mail and at party caucuses.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark were not among them.

The Democratic National Committee’s panel on rules and bylaws decided last month to allow Internet voting, despite objections that it could exclude minority and low-income voters and be open to fraud.

Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina remains opposed to Internet voting, but is working to get companies to donate computers to minority communities that want them.

“We are against Internet voting in Michigan. However, we can’t be stuck behind the eight ball. We have to work diligently with this process,” said Derek Albert, Michigan state director for the Edwards campaign.

Mark Brewer, executive chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, says no one is being forced to vote using the Internet, and notes that voters still can choose to mail in a ballot or cast one in person at 576 caucus sites.

'All sorts of options'
“They’re going to have all sorts of options as to their comfort level on where they cast their vote,” he said.

Brewer said the party is working to identify places with Internet access where minority and low-income residents can vote. He welcomed the efforts by the presidential campaigns, but questioned how much they will help.

“I don’t think it’s necessary for a candidate to do well here to provide computers for their supporters,” Brewer said.

In addition to Kerry and Edwards, the Clark and Dean campaigns also are offering assistance. Ron Platt, state director for Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt, said the congressman’s campaign isn’t offering computers because most of the black leaders he’s spoken with have not asked for them.

Clark’s spokesman in Michigan, Jonathan Beeton, said the retired general wants to find a way to have groups independent of the campaign donate computers as well as the cost of Internet access.

Dean’s campaign, which state director Daren Berringer said is the only campaign that set up its Michigan strategy to take advantage of Internet voting, has spoken to Michigan NAACP President Wendell Anthony and others about making computers available.