Some voters with disabilities will be able to cast their ballots on smart phones using blockchain technology for the first time in a U.S. election on Tuesday. But while election officials and mobile voting advocates say the technology has the potential to increase access to the ballot box, election technology experts are raising serious security concerns about the idea. The mobile voting system, a collaboration between Boston-based tech company Voatz, nonprofit Tusk Philanthropies and the National Cybersecurity Center, has previously been used for some military and overseas voters during test pilots in West Virginia, Denver and Utah County, Utah. Now, Utah County is expanding its program to include voters with disabilities in its municipal general election as well. The idea, according to Bradley Tusk, the startup consultant and philanthropist who is funding the pilots, is to increase voter turnout.
West Virginia will provide a mobile blockchain voting option, in addition to absentee ballots, for overseas military service members in elections this November, after receiving audit results this week from a pilot program. It will be the first state to offer this technology to improve voting accessibility for deployed members of the military and their families, according to West Virginia's secretary of state. Eligible voters will be able to cast their ballots through a mobile application that uses blockchain technology, which stores data on a decentralized database, meaning there's no owner, allowing for more transparent transactions. Information is stored publicly, but to ensure privacy, West Virginia voters' personal information will remain anonymous. Most U.S. citizens vote in-person or by mail-in ballots.
When news hit this week that West Virginian military members serving abroad will become the first people to vote by phone in a major US election this November, security experts were dismayed. For years, they have warned that all forms of online voting are particularly vulnerable to attacks, and with signs that the midterm elections are already being targeted, they worry this is exactly the wrong time to roll out a new method. Experts who spoke to WIRED doubt that Voatz, the Boston-based startup whose app will run the West Virginia mobile voting, has figured out how to secure online voting when no one else has. At the very least, they are concerned about the lack of transparency. "From what is available publicly about this app, it's no different from sending voting materials over the internet," says Marian Schneider, president of the nonpartisan advocacy group Verified Voting.
West Virginians currently living overseas began using a blockchain-enabled mobile voting app to cast absentee ballots for the midterms on Friday. A Boston-based startup called Voatz created the app using blockchain encryption so that people can vote remotely and securely if a polling place or dependable mail services are unavailable. West Virginia officials are particularly promoting the app for use among military members who have been deployed abroad. "There is nobody that deserves the right to vote any more than the guys that are out there, and the women that are out there, putting their lives on the line for us," West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner told CNN last month. The state ran a pilot program for the new voting option in two counties in May along with four independent audits, and it will now be available to overseas residents from 24 counties for the November elections.
West Virginia's decision to allow voters to vote through their smartphone raises serious security concerns. You can already trade stocks, find a new home or board a flight using your smartphone – perhaps it was only a matter of time before you could vote. West Virginia will be the first state to formally test this technology, allowing overseas residents to vote by app in November's general election. As part of an effort to simplify the absentee ballot process – and reduce the risk of votes not being counted – West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner approved the electoral innovation, which is meant for West Virginians living abroad or serving in the military overseas. "West Virginia is a really a leader in cybersecurity," Mike Queen, a spokesperson for Warner, told Fox News.