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.
Bradley Tusk has a plan to fix American democracy. A former high-level staffer for Chuck Schumer and Michael Bloomberg, among others, Tusk has recently been using his political wits to help tech companies sidestep red tape and clear regulatory hurdles. As he recounts in his new book, "The Fixer: My Adventures Saving Startups from Death by Politics," Tusk has--for better or for worse--convinced authorities across the country to let Uber operate in their cities, figured out how to get the San Jose City Council to allow on-demand home delivery for marijuana, and toppled regulations banning the sale of online homeowners and renters' insurance. When Uber, the first tech client of his fledgling consulting firm, didn't have enough cash to pay him, Tusk took half his compensation in equity. As a consequence, he said, "I just got more money than I ever expected to have."
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 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.
Nearly 140 West Virginians living abroad in 29 countries have cast their election ballots in an unprecedented pilot project that involves voting remotely by mobile device, according to state officials. The statewide pilot, which covers 24 of West Virginia's 55 counties, uses a mixture of smartphones, facial recognition and the same technology that underpins bitcoin -- the blockchain -- in an effort to create a large-scale and secure way for service members, Peace Corps volunteers or other Americans living overseas to participate in the midterm elections. West Virginia is the first state to run a blockchain-based voting project at such a scale, state officials say. And if adopted more widely, the technology could make it easier to vote and potentially reduce long lines at the polls. But many security experts worry that the technology may not be ready for broader use -- and could even contain vulnerabilities that risks the integrity of elections.