IT and business consulting firm Accenture today launched a business that will deliver electronic election systems to the federal, state and local governments in the United States and to foreign governments.
Accenture officials say that, among other things, they hope the eDemocracy Services unit will cash in on new federal regulations that require states to modernize their electoral processes. The Help America Vote Act of 2002, which Congress passed in the wake of the 2000 presidential election, requires states to build electronic voter-registration databases and replace punch-card and lever systems with electronic systems in time for the November 2004 general elections. To date, Congress has authorized $1.5 billion in funding to subsidize state efforts to comply with the legislation.
Accenture is also working with the Department of Defense to build a system that will allow military personnel stationed overseas to vote over the Internet. Accenture says such a system will be in place for the 2004 elections. The company will use technology developed as part of a pilot program with the French government, under which French expatriates were able to vote online.
Accenture acquired much of the software and personnel that it will use to deliver its electoral services through its purchase earlier this month of Elections.com for an undisclosed sum. The company absorbed about 50 staffers from the dot-com, as well as applications that automate the voter registration process and election logistics such as the monitoring of ballot supplies. Accenture is working with Hart InterCivic Inc. and Verisign Inc. to develop authentication and security tools to ensure the integrity of online voting.
Still, officials at the company say the Internet won't become a standard medium for voting in this country anytime soon. "There's still a lot we need to work on, so it will be an evolutionary process," says Accenture partner Meg McLaughlin, who runs the company's new electoral business.