In the recently held 2018 midterm elections, the U.S. state of West Virginia witnessed the first-of-its-kind remote blockchain voting system. The Secretary of State for West Virginia, Mac Warner, reported the success of the endeavor. He informed that around 144 military and overseas West Virginians from 30 different nations participated in the ballot using a mobile voting application secured by blockchain technology.
Incorporating blockchain to the voting system is part of the government’s plans to ensure a ‘meaningful and effective cybersecurity strategy’ to protect the state’s election systems. Mac Warner believes that the new system of remote voting powered by blockchain technology will restore voters’ confidence and enhance voter participation in all upcoming elections.
In the official announcement, Warner informed that West Virginia managed to raise $6.5 million in federal funding with the aim to upgrade the voting system of the counties with state-of-the-art technologies. This would go a long way in assuring West Virginians that their votes were ‘private, secure and properly counted.’
The Secretary of State’s Office actively worked to make the election process as transparent as possible and to resolve the issue of low voter participation among members of the military.
The first test-run of the new platform was done during the state’s primary elections in April. Blockchain-based ballots were then restricted to a select group of voters such as deployed military members and other citizens eligible to vote absentee under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) and their spouses and dependents.
The Voatz app works in a transparent and reliable manner characteristic of the blockchain. It records votes on a blockchain, and the facial recognition technology verifies the voter’s identity by comparing it to a driver’s license or other photo ID. All the votes are recorded on a ‘chain’ where each one is mathematically ‘proven.’ This process enables voters to vote from around the world and verify that their vote was recorded as intended, diminishing all possibilities of a human error.
Though thrilled at the success of the endeavor, West Virginia does not have plans to make it the default system or to expand the program beyond military personnel serving overseas, said Michael Queen, Warner’s Deputy Chief of Staff.
“Secretary Warner has never and will never advocate that this is a solution for mainstream voting,” stated Queen.
On this, election security expert Maurice Turner highlighted that casting the votes via the Voatz app was more secure than sending absentee ballots by email. However, it was ‘far less secure’ when compared to paper ballots.
Experts across the globe have expressed varied opinions regarding mobile voting based on blockchain technology. While Bradley Tusk of Tusk Montgomery Philanthropies who helped develop the Voatz app seemed quite optimistic saying ‘democracy will work a lot better.’ On the other hand, Joseph Lorenzo Hall, the Chief Technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology believes, “Mobile voting is a horrific idea. It’s Internet voting on people’s horribly secured devices, over our horrible networks, to servers that are very difficult to secure without a physical paper record of the vote.”