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E-Vote A 'High-Tech Poll Tax'?

Democrat Al Sharpton is protesting a plan to allow Internet voting in Michigan's presidential caucus and challenging rival Howard Dean to stand with him.

For the first time, the Michigan Democratic Party is planning to allow party members to vote for the party's presidential nominee via the Internet, as well as by attending the Feb. 7 caucus or mailing in a ballot.

Sharpton sent a letter to Dean Thursday, challenging the former Vermont governor to oppose the Internet voting plan. Dean's campaign has focused on building support from Web users.

"Perhaps it is due to the fact you governed a state with virtually no people of color living within its borders that you are unaware that this is a racially biased proposal," Sharpton wrote. Vermont is nearly 98 percent white.

In a telephone interview Friday, Sharpton said the plan would give an advantage to voters who are wealthy enough to have a computer and Internet access and can participate from home.

"A grandmother in a housing development is going to have to go downstairs and walk five blocks to vote," he said. "Who do you think is going to get more of the vote? Democracy is about equal access. This is not equal access. It really is a high-tech poll tax."

Dean and the Michigan Democratic Party did not immediately return calls for comment.

Dean's lack of experience with minority voters is seen by some as a weakness of his campaign, which has gained in fund raising and grabbed the lead in many key polls. Now that Dean is the front-runner, he has become the target of criticism from his eight primary rivals.

Sharpton said he only wrote to the former Vermont governor and not the other candidates because Dean said Tuesday night at a debate sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus that he speaks about race not only to blacks, but to white audiences.

"Here's where he can take a real moral stand to show that he wasn't just using one line at the debate," Sharpton said. "Since he's now posing as the guy who deals with race, this is his responsibility."

Some Michigan Democrats are challenging the plan to allow Internet voting with the Democratic National Committee. The party allowed Internet voting in Arizona's primary in 2000.

Sharpton said he called Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe to express his concern. McAuliffe is withholding judgment until the party hears the challenge later this month.

Democratic presidential candidate Bob Graham said Friday that the least the government can do for soldiers who are injured or get sick in the line of duty is let them keep their meal allowance.

Soldiers in the field get $8.10 a day for food, but since those who are hospitalized get free hospital meals, the military requires them to repay the allowance. Graham, a Florida senator, said he will introduce a bill next week that prevents them from having to reimburse the government.

Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Florida, sponsored a similar bill in the House after learning that Marine Staff Sgt. Bill Murwin of Nevada had been billed $243 for his meals while hospitalized due to wounds suffered in Iraq. Part of his left foot was amputated. Graham's bill would cover those who get sick as well as injured.

"How can we justify spending billions of dollars on no-bid contracts to rebuild Iraq, then turn around and charge an injured soldier $8.10 a day for meals while they are being treated for war injuries?" Graham said in a statement.

If Wesley Clark decides to enter the presidential race, he could end up in relatively strong shape in national polls, according to a CNN-USA Today-Gallup survey.

The retired Army general gets 10 percent support of registered Democrats and voters who lean Democratic in the poll released Friday. Nine Democrats are seeking the party's nomination.

Overall, the national survey found four candidates bunched at the top of the field — Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri at 16 percent, Howard Dean at 14 percent, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut at 13 percent and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts at 12 percent.

Those numbers were within the margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Carol Moseley Braun, Sen. Bob Graham of Florida and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina each had 5 percent. Al Sharpton was at 3 percent and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio was at 2 percent. Twelve percent were undecided in the poll of 407 Democratic or Democratic-leaning registered voters conducted Monday through Wednesday.