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The voting booth in your pocket

In this file photo, Ben Paton poses with his phone inside the Apple store in central London. Researchers are studying the effectiveness of using smartphones as voting machines.
In this file photo, Ben Paton poses with his phone inside the Apple store in central London. Researchers are studying the effectiveness of using smartphones as voting machines.© Paul Hackett / Reuters / Reuters

U.S. citizens may soon reach into their pants to elect their next president, according to researchers studying the feasibility of using smartphone technology to enable online voting.

Reporters have spilled their share of digital ink covering the future of electronic voting since the botched U.S. presidential election in 2000. Casting votes over the Internet is fraught with security concerns such as ballot fraud and voter identification.

Despite these concerns, e-voting has made some inroads around the world. In 2005, Estonia held the first election where online voting was allowed and is planning to include mobile phone voting this fall. During the 2008 election, a few U.S. soldiers stationed overseas were allowed to vote over the Internet and 32 percent of voters used machines that recorded their votes electronically.

But e-voting technology has yet to really take off as envisioned in the U.S., in part because security concerns limited research efforts on the efficiency — or usability — of such systems. And usability — think the poorly-designed butterfly ballots — was a primary cause of the 2000 election debacle.

While security concerns will continue to be of paramount importance for future e-voting schemes, researchers are beginning to study the usability of smartphones, which more and more of us carry around in our pants and purses, as the voting machine of the future.

The gadgets "could increase voter participation, reduce election administration costs, and allow voters to interact with familiar technology," write Bryan Campbell of Rice University and colleagues in a paper to be presented next week at the annual meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

In the study, the team asked 55 people to vote on two types of systems: an iPhone and either a traditional online voting platform or paper ballot. They found that voting with a smartphone takes a bit longer — about 90 seconds — but users committed fewer errors than they did on the other systems.

The results of the study, the authors say, should help guide efforts for designing mobile voting platforms of the future, a platform that could one day be used to elect our future leaders. For now, though, elections will continue to be won or lost, for the most part, the old-fashioned way.

More on e-voting:

John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com.