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State hopes to register young voters online

Computer junkies too busy surfing the Net to register to vote lost even that excuse Tuesday.

Anyone in Florida with access to a computer and modem can now fill in the registration form without leaving the keyboard and mouse.

The state Division of Elections will print out the information on an official form and mail it to the registrant's home to be signed and returned to the local supervisor of elections.

Secretary of State Sandra Mortham said registration is possible at libraries, social service offices, license tag offices, driver's license offices and now at every personal computer, too.

"Citizens of Florida now have absolutely, absolutely no excuse not to register to vote," she said, announcing the Internet registration program.

Florida law requires a registration form be printed on a standard form, so letting people print out completed applications at their own homes was not practical, state elections director David Rancourt said. Typical printer paper also would crumple and tear when collated with the stiffer registration forms in elections offices, he said.

Because the method still requires a signature declaring under oath that the information is true, online registration would be no more susceptible to fraud than mail-in registration, he said.

Rancourt said the online registration effort _ found at http://election.dos.state.fl.us _ was aimed at younger people, those more likely to own computers and who also typically complain of not having time to register or vote.

Nationally, in 1994, only 37 percent of people age 18 to 24 were registered to vote, compared with 67 percent for all eligible voters.

"Young people are disproportionately unregistered relative to the rest of the populace," said John Phillips, president of Aristotle Publishing, a company that compiles and sells voter lists.

Rancourt said he didn't know how many people would register using the online method. Officials would check for new names each day, weeding out obvious pranks, and sending out forms the same day. The registration deadline for the September primary election is only two weeks away.

Margaret Conway, a political science professor at the University of Florida, said she didn't think the Internet registration site would bring in many new registrants.

"I think it'll have a marginal impact, not a great impact," she said. "Anything, however, that's done to make it easier to register to vote, I think, is a good idea."

A joint project between MCI Communications and MTV to register voters online has resulted in 17,000 new voters nationwide since its inception April 18, said "Rock the Vote" spokeswoman Jessica Tully.

That Internet site _ http://netvote96.mci.com _ provides a pre-stamped form that merely has to be signed and dropped in a mailbox. The postage is paid. "We want to make sure people do it," Tully said.

Rancourt said his office could consider paying for stamps _ if it had MTV's money. "If we could get some of their corporate sponsors, I'd be happy to do it," he said.

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