West Virginia to Experiment With Mobile-Phone Voting by Overseas Troops

West Virginia

In May of this year, West Virginia became the first state in the U.S. to pilot a blockchain-based smartphone voting app for USA troops serving overseas and their dependents from Harrison and Monongalia counties.

West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner told the network that the technology has been tested in smaller private elections.

The mobile voting platform, Voatz, will use facial recognition software to match each user's "selfie-style video of their face" to their government-issued ID, according to a CNN report. Commenting on the security of the voting app, the tech firm said that voter information and ballot data are encrypted and stored on a decentralized network.

Blockchain technology will be used to record the anonymized ballots.

However, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology Joseph Lorenzo Hall told CNN that "mobile voting is a horrific idea", and the president of the election integrity watchdog group Verified Voting, Marian K. Schneider, added that mobile voting could create "far more opportunities for hacking and meddling,". "It's internet voting on people's horribly secured devices, over our awful networks, to servers that are very hard to secure without a physical paper record of the vote".

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West Virginia's going to leave the decision about participating in this experiment (set to begin in November) to its counties.

Even if the technology is solid and the experiment so limited as to be relatively harmless (in all but very close elections), you have to figure there's a chance the hackers of the world might take this as a direct challenge to their skills.

Michael Queen, a public education advocate and Warner's deputy chief of staff, noted that West Virginia's election administration office will let each county independently decide whether they want to use the voting app for the midterm elections in November. Availability will be limited "largely" to troops serving overseas as an alternative to mailed absentee ballots, and individual counties can decide whether or not to participate.

Voatz is a Boston-based startup that combines internet-based voting with blockchain technology. She explicitly said, "The short answer is no".

Voatz co-founder Nimit Sawhney told StateScoop earlier this year his company's app will not function if it detects malware on a device.

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