Blockchain technology is the voting future?


In 23 years of Mac Warner in the United States Army, he experienced first-hand obstacles to the vote from abroad. "On a hill in Afghanistan, it is difficult to receive mail, it is difficult to distribute it," he says.

As a secretary of state in West Virginia, Warner wants to help in-service service members release one vote more easily. 20. Percentage of foreign state military personnel voted in 2016. She also wants to strengthen electoral security.

In the state primaries in May, Warner expressed his wish. A pilot program that allowed the vote via a blockchain network allowed his son Scott, a first army lieutenant in Vicenza, Italy, to carry out a vote with his smartphone. "In the same amount of time I could pull up and watch a YouTube video," says Scott Warner, "I have to do my civic duty."

West Virginia is testing the new method, which uses blockchain technology to store and secure digital votes, at a time of greater concern over election interference. US intelligence officials warned that Russia could interfere with the congressional talks on November 6, and on July 31 Facebook Inc. said it was investigating interference on its social media platforms, similar to those seen during the 2016 presidential elections. At a conference of election officials in July, cybersecurity dominated the discussions. The West Virginia experiment could help determine if the blockchain, widely used in cryptocurrency, has a place in electoral security. But computer scientists say that voting on mobile phones is risky.

The pilot program was funded with a grant of $ 150,000 from Tusk / Montgomery Philanthropies Inc., a foundation created by the venture capitalist and former advisor to Uber Technologies Inc. Bradley Tusk. When he heard of Warner's interest, he asked one of his team to research startups for mobile voting. For the pilot, they chose Voatz Inc., headquartered in Boston

The broader goal of Tusk is to expand voter participation in the United States by enabling more mobile voting. (He worked as a campaign manager in 2009 for former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, who owns Bloomberg Businessweek .) "I am 12 years and 9 years old -Old, and they would find it crazy that you could not vote on a phone, "says Tusk. He wants to test mobile voting with groups like the military, then find officials "who are willing to try something different," he says, to make the practice mainstream.

Warner and his director of state elections, Donald Kersey, worked with Voatz to implement the app, which uses facial recognition software to confirm the identity of voters, in accordance with the laws of the West Virginia. The votes were archived on the blockchain, inside what Voatz executives call a "digital lockbox" on the cloud. On the main day, county employees used biometric authentication devices to unlock and collect votes.

Two counties, Harrison and Monongalia, managed the pilot on May 8th. Because it is so new, only a handful of voters abroad used the app, according to Kersey. Blockchain technology distributes and stores votes in 16 locations, including the cloud, using various providers. A hacker should enter all 16 locations to access any of the votes, according to Kersey.

Harrison County employee Susan Thomas says that because she could not transfer app ratings to her tabulator, she had to recreate ballot papers before counting them. "There's a lot that needs to be optimized," he says.

Skeptics say the vote on the blockchain will not improve security. It's "mostly hype", says J. Alex Halderman, a professor of computer science at the University of Michigan, known for hacking in voting machines. He says that there are still basic security issues with the mobile vote that the blockchain does not solve, like preserving anonymity and transferring votes from smartphones infected with malware. It is "worthy of research and study, but it could take decades until we arrive," says Halderman.

These mobile systems also lack a paper backup, making it difficult to check the vote counts, according to Audrey Malagon, a mathematics professor working with the advocacy group Verified Voting Foundation. "I hope they recognize that this is not ready for widespread use," he says. Some counties in West Virginia use only paper forms; others have voting machines that produce a receipt so that voters can confirm their selections.

Since May the Voatz app has passed the audits of five security companies, say Kersey and Tusk. At the beginning of August, blockchain technology was subjected to an external review; the results have not yet been released. West Virginia will make mobile voting available to foreign voters from all 55 counties for the November elections, despite criticism

. Tusk is contributing about $ 400,000 for this effort and talking to other states about piloting the program. He says he hopes the government will end up signing: "I can not pay for it everywhere".

State election officials are trying to reinforce security before November because of the increased concern about electoral interference.

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