DENVER POST 10/13/93

(front page photo: "Let Your Fingers do the Voting")

"Vote-by-phone measure on city's November ballot. System would be 1st of its kind in U.S."

By Mary George, Denver Post Staff Writer

Boulder: City voters could be casting ballots by push-button telephone next year, depending on what happens at the polls Nov. 2.

Question D on the city's ballot, if approved, would allow phone voting in all future Boulder city elections. It would make Boulder the first U.S. city with telephone voting.

Proponents say phone voting would boost voter turnout by providing one more, very convenient way to vote. Opponents counter with doubts about whether phone voting is economical, fraud- proof or even feasible.

"Everyone trusts their money to ATMs (automated teller machines), all international banking is done by phone, people collect unemployment by hone, so why not vote by phone?" said Evan Ravitz, who has championed he idea since 1988.

Since spring, Ravitz has sidelined his career as a tightrope walker to lead he Voting by Phone Foundation. The campaign is run out of his bedroom, where a computer, printer, fax, phone and answering machine occupy almost as much floor space as his futon.

Voters would secure their votes by correctly entering their Social Security, voter registration and personal identification numbers in city elections. They still would have to vote conventionally in other elections.

Ravitz said phone voting could expand to other elections, and citizens could register their votes on individual issues ordinarily decided by elected representatives. Backing him are telecommunications experts with the University of Colorado, as well as managers of two Denver software companies, who say phone voting would cost 50 cents a voter, or one- quarter the current cost.

Detractors, including some city staffers and elected officials, cite their own cost estimates of up to $1 million and worry that hackers could subvert security. Ravitz calls the concerns "a smoke screen....The real reason incumbent politicians are opposed is because they're experts at targeting their supporters and getting them out to vote."

Boulder attorney Karl Anuta envisions an election disaster akin to the city's 50,000 voters stuck in a voice- mail loop. Phone voting's potential future doesn't reassure him, either.

"We have a representative democracy, not a theoretical democracy where everyone gets to vote on every issue," Anuta said.

Having citizens vote on every issue would foster "tyranny of the majority," Anuta said.

"I know that before the elected representatives make a decision, they've listened to Chicanos, businessmen and farmers," Anuta said, "where when I vote for or against the school bond, I'm voting just for my pocketbook."

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