A New Jersey congressman raised questions Thursday about a new military voting program that lets service members request and submit their ballots by fax or e-mail.

The Defense Department, however, said the program is as secure as possible, and any risks are detailed for the military members when they access the e-mail system.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Democratic Rep. Rush Holt said the electronic registration and voting service is well-intentioned, but could expose troops to identity theft, or allow hackers or others to tamper with the ballots when they are in transit.

"After the Defense Department was stopped from implementing a program like this two years ago because it was full of security holes, I'm angry and astonished that they're doing it again without review, scrutiny, and oversight,"said Holt.

He said that while U.S. military personnel should participate in the political process,"no one is served by introducing possibilities for error, insecurity, and fraud."

Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said the Defense Department has set up a secure absentee voter program that will allow military members to request and receive absentee ballots. The new program, she said, lets people vote without relying on the regular mail system.

As part of the program, many states allow military members deployed overseas to return their completed ballot via fax or the Internet. Those ballots, Smith said, will not pass through the hands of any government officials until they are received by a local election authority.

"The e-mail-to-fax operation does have risks, but we have taken every precaution to limit those risks,"said Smith. She said U.S. service members have been told of the potential privacy concerns with the system, so they can make an informed choice about whether to use the program.

On the Net:

Federal Voting Assistance Program:http://www.fvap.gov/

Defense Department:http://www.defenselink.mil

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