West Virginia will provide a voting option for mobile blockchain, plus for absentee votes, for members of the military service to foreign elections this November, after receiving audit results at the beginning of this week from a pilot program.
It will be the first state to offer this technology to help improve access to voting for members of the army and their families, according to West Virginia secretary of state office.
Eligible voters will be able to cast their vote through a mobile application that uses blockchain technology, which stores data on a decentralized database, which means that it is not proprietary, allowing transactions more transparent. The information is publicly archived, but to ensure privacy, West Virginia voters will have their personal information anonymous.
Most US citizens vote in person or by correspondence. Members of overseas services and their families have traditionally voted absentee that they are printed or sent by post, and these usually have to reach electoral offices by election day.
"The difficulties that the military and overseas women have in voting and returning a ballot are much larger than what we see in the state," said West Virginia election director Donald Kersey.
Tusk Montgomery Philanthropies, part of the venture capital fund Tusk Ventures, has sponsored the West Virginia partnership with the technology company Voatz. Voatz and the state have worked to pilot a mobile voting app in May for voters deployed in two of the state's counties, Harrison and Monongalia. The same mobile platform will be offered to eligible voters in 55 counties in the fall.
West Virginia state officials have recognized that absentee votes are not as reliable as first-person voting. Voters have raised concerns about anonymity and the timeliness of their votes, according to West Virginia Secretary of State. In 2016, around 19,000 votes of absentees from foreign military voters or their families were rejected, with almost half that did not reach the electoral office in time, according to the US Election Assistance Commission .
West Virginia is only offering blockchain ballots to overseas military members and state officials remain wary of defending technology from internal voters or other state elections. "This is a solution to the problems of West Virginia [with overseas voters] specifically, we did not have the money to build a new system or buy a new one that has already been created," Kersey said. "I do not know if blockchain is the answer." It was only the answer we found here. "
While the vote on the mobile phone can help with the accessibility and convenience of the runoff, there have been doubts about its security. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has conducted research to find ways to improve foreign military voting with electronic technologies since 2008. Multiple studies by federal researchers have found that "Internet voting systems they can not currently be controlled with a comparable confidence level "at physical locations surveys, according to the site of the institute. The researchers cited the potential for malware on personal devices and concerns regarding voter authentication.
"There are a lot of voting security problems and blockchain addresses only one of them. It solves the problem of how to make an indelible record of cards after they were cast by voters," said David Dill, professor emeritus of computer science at Stanford University and founder of the non-profit non-profit Voting. Dill did not take part in NIST research. "[Blockchain] does not deal with the authentication of voters before the election … or about security problems with voter devices."
Voatz released information on security audits Monday, on what it covered and on which independent third parties performed the audit. The company has not issued any official document from the four organizations that conducted it, but wrote that it will continue to test the product.
"Security is not a destination but an ongoing exercise because of the ever-changing nature of threats, especially when it refers to our electoral infrastructure," according to the Voatz site.
Various individuals in the field of technology have openly criticized the pilot, including the Center for Technology and Democracy, Joseph Lorenzo Hall and the software engineer Buzz Andersen. These types of voting experiments are discouraged by many computer scientists, Dill said. Over 30 prominent computer scientists signed the Verified Voting statement recognizing the risks of the Internet vote since 2008.
With the West Virginia program, votes are recorded by the app on an authorized blockchain, which maintains the & # 39; anonymity of users and keeps track of incoming votes, said Voatz co-founder Nimit Sawhney. Anyone can view the blockchain, but only authorized users can interact with it, unlike public blockchains such as bitcoins and Ethereum. The votes are then recorded on a distributed ledger, a virtual database in which the stored information is decentralized. Sawhney said that the decentralized nature of the blockchain, which Kersey calls a "digital lockbox", guarantees the security of the system, since it makes the manipulation of votes more difficult.
While state officials have said technology is safe, blockchain voting has never been done before at the state level, and it was crucial for the pilot to be tested with a small group of people, Kersey said. "We wanted to make sure that what we were doing was a calculated and not irresponsible risk to us as an election manager," he said.
The results of the pilot were satisfactory and no critical problems were identified, according to the audit. Voatz said he will incorporate the suggestions of county clerks and auditors into his future plans. Harrison County Secretary Susan Thomas said her office had to recreate paper copies of blockchain ballots to examine the tabulators during the pilot at the start of this year, since the votes were not recorded automatically in the election registration system.
to print the paper with the vote of the voters and recreate the vote, "he said, calling the pilot a success otherwise, Sawhney said that the matter will be resolved by November, but what he mentioned Thomas is something on which the foundation Dill remains cautious.
West Virginia is not the first place to use blockchain technology in its elections – Sierra Leone, a West African country, used blockchain in the March elections, reportedly by Tech Crunch: The Swiss city of Zug also held a municipal blockchain vote in June, according to a Swiss news site.