There are few aspects of modern life that haven’t been touched by information technology. One of them is the voting process for U.S. overseas military personnel. For the most part, it’s still done by snail mail. A soldier abroad receives a ballot by mail, marks it manually and returns it by mail.

“We’ve been doing this since the 1860s,” said Paul Lux, supervisor of elections for Okaloosa County in northwest Florida. But that’s in the process of changing.

Okaloosa and 12 other Florida counties have deployed a one-stop Web portal that lets overseas voters access their ballots online. They can mark their ballots on screen or print them out. While they still have to return the ballots to their voting districts by mail or fax, election officials are looking toward a time when absentee voters can return their ballots electronically.

“What I envision is system that will eventually be used to facilitate the electronic return of absentee ballots,” Lux said. “But I’ve got to build the bridge one piece at a time.”

In the recent Florida primary election, about 1,200 overseas voters from 40 countries retrieved their ballots online via LiveBallot, a portal launched by Democracy Live Inc., an Issaquah, Wash.-based company that specializes in voter information technologies. Democracy Live developed LiveBallot, its flagship product, in partnership with Microsoft Corp., which hosts the portal on its Windows Azure cloud-computing platform.

The system is aimed at voters covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), a federal law designed to ensure the voting rights of U.S. citizens residing overseas, largely members of the seven uniformed services. The law requires the states to mail out absentee ballots to UOCAVA voters at least 45 days before elections for federal offices.

I understand (people’s fears)–once it’s okay for overseas voters… to vote over the Internet, then everybody’s going to want to do it. And if someone could subvert the nation’s vote then we have a problem. But the reality is that (electronic voting) is what the people want.”

LiveBallot contains more than just a ballot. It also offers a multimedia environment that “makes a voter’s ballot come alive,” according to Democracy Live officials. Content includes audio and video candidate statements, campaign financial filings, a live chat feature, RSS feeds to up-to-date campaign news and social media buttons.

In addition to districts in Florida, election jurisdictions in Virginia, California and Washington are also using LiveBallot to make it easier for overseas voters to cast their ballots. In all, about 300 districts around the country are using LiveBallot, said Bryan Finney, president and chief executive officer of Democracy Live.

“It’s really picking up,” Finney told Breaking Gov. “The idea is to empower and enfranchise 6.5 million voters around the world.”

In Okaloosa County, 181 voters downloaded ballot packages from LiveBallot for the primary, Lux said. He expects usage to increase in future elections as voters became aware of the electronic system’s availability.

“I would like to build in [overseas] voters a habit of coming to our Web site to get their ballots so they know they don’t have to wait for me to mail to them 45 days prior [to an election],” he said. “They can log on, get their ballot and have on its way back to us the next day.”

At present, there is significant opposition to expanding voting systems to permit voters to return their ballots electronically, Lux said.

“Opponents say the Internet isn’t secure for transmitting ballots,” he said. “I’m not trying to dismiss their concerns but the reality is that the [Defense Department] sends classified documents via e-mail every day. Yes, they’re using their own private networks but the reality is they’re sending some very sensitive information.”

“Their fear–and I understand it–is that once it’s okay for overseas voters, who make up a small percentage of the voters in a national election, to vote over the Internet, then everybody’s going to want to do it,” he added. “And if someone could subvert the nation’s vote then we have a problem. But the reality is that [electronic voting] is what the people want.”

Lux suggested that full electronic voting, at least for overseas personnel, will come in due course. “I really do think we’re headed in the right direction,” he said. “It’s definitely baby steps because we have to do it in small increments and make sure we’re comfortable with the security of how this gets done.”

Finney predicted an increasing demand for electronic voting as a technology savvy generation reaches voting age.

“You will have this groundswell of Facebook generation voters that are growing up and at some point they are going to demand a new paradigm on how they access and return their ballot,” he said.

Lux concurred. “My daughter is going to turn 18 in another three years and if I hand her a paper ballot to fill in ovals on, she’s going to think I’m crazy,” he said.