May 06, 2004

Even before I heard about the Madrid train bombings, it crossed my mind that March 11 was the semi-anniversary of our own encounter with evil on 9/11. Unusual as it may sound, the calendar has become a weapon used against us in the war on terror.

Now that a cruelly timed attack has been shown to have influence over the course of free elections, we're likely to experience more such events in the years to come. That is, unless we figure out how to neutralize the calendar.

Consider this: You can go onto your Internet banking site and schedule any number of activities to occur in the future. So if you can schedule a loan payment for Nov. 2, why can't you schedule your vote in advance as well?

For authentication and confirmation of online ballots, voters could be asked to visit, say, a bank branch. Then, the same identity-verification processes could be used for voting as for payments. As an added benefit, universal suffrage would translate into universal participation in banking networks.

The banks could profit from offering value-added voting services. For instance, online financial calculators could demonstrate how each candidate believes his or her proposed budget and tax proposals would impact a family's savings and retirement plans. Plus, each time a wavering voter wanted to certify a changed ballot, that's an opportunity for the bank to cross-sell life insurance or retirement accounts.

Of course, nobody should be able to count the citizenry's secret ballots until the polls close on Election Day. But it might be a useful deterrent to electoral terrorism if we could publicize that, for instance, 75 percent of the eligible votes have already been scheduled (if not cast) by August.

Who's going to pay for all this? Over time, candidates for elected office should find better value in sponsoring financial calculators on banks' Web sites than in supporting the TV networks' salacious garbage with expensive 30-second spots destined for TiVo-enabled oblivion.

All it would take is the development of an open-source voting protocol and the political courage to use it.

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