West Virginia will leave members of the armed forces and their families deployed overseas to vote via smartphone or tablet using a blockchain app developed by a start-up in Salt Lake City, Voatz.
Voters use the app otherwise they would have to submit paperless votes by post or vote on a landline phone.
The move means that the state will become the first in the United States to use the blockchain in a voting system in a general election.
After being elected in January 2017, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner charged IT staff to investigate mobile voting options for 8,000 West Virginia military members abroad. Warner, a retired US Army officer with four children who are also all current or former army officers, cited his inability to vote when deployed in Afghanistan as one of the reasons for his efforts.
"The traditional absentee ballot process is not useful for military personnel in remote areas that do not have a reliable postal service or landline – both are mandatory if foreign voters participate in the absentee voting process "said Mike Queen, Warner's deputy chief of staff. "But everyone has a cell phone, right?"
After examining half a dozen options, Warner opted for Voatz. The company has declared that it has conducted over 30 successful pilot projects ranging from conventions of state parties to student government elections. In the most important elections, more than 15,000 votes were cast, declared a blog post.
families wishing to use the Voatz app will need only an Apple or Android smartphone and a state or Federal ID.
The Voatz application uses an authorized blockchain based on the HyperLedger framework created for the first time by IBM and now supported by the Linux platform. Eight validation nodes will be used in the general election, split equally between AWS and Microsoft Azure, each of which is geographically distributed, according to Voatz.
"We have done a lot of due diligence on this process and we" I took every complaint and concern for the blockchain seriously, "said Queen." The blockchain not only makes it safe, but Voatz also has a system unique biometric safeguard that includes facial recognition and fingerprints. "
To participate in West Virginia's Military Military Secure Voting pilot program, a qualified and eligible voter must first submit a federal mail request to his / her county clerk indicating that he / she wants to receive voting information by e-mail or online (this can be done via e-mail in West Virginia.) Once the voter receives confirmation from the registrar, he / she can download the & # 39; free mobile voting app from Voatz, authenticate and, upon receipt of vote, vote.
On the Voatz app, authentication is a three-step process that uses the camera smartphone and its biometric function (such as fingerprint or facial recognition). Firstly, the voter scans the driving license of the state or passport; then they snap a live facial snapshot (a "selfie" video), and then touch the fingerprint reader on the smartphone, which binds the device to the specific voter.
Once a voter is authenticated, the app corresponds to that of the "selfie" voter on the photo in the passport or driving license and confirms the eligibility for voting by checking the registration database. of the voters of the state.
The system guarantees the anonymity and privacy of the voter by storing personally identifiable information in a database separate from the distributed blockchain network where a hash table is used to create an encrypted online identity. The voter has control of the private encryption key.
In May, two out of 55 West Virginia counties tested the Voatz mobile app in primary elections, allowing military personnel deployed to use it. Three independent audits of the Voatz tool and the resulting electoral data revealed no problem, Queen said.
In July, West Virginia held a state-wide security conference involving all 55 officials and electoral officials in which the primary election data were presented and the Voatz app once again checked. After the conference, Voatz was asked to integrate the possibility of creating a verifiable paper trail for absent voters in the application.
For example, when a soldier votes in the November general election, as soon as he pushes the "send" they have received a snapshot of their ballet and are asked if it is accurate. If it is, they hit it again sending, and they were forwarded to the office of the competent secretary, Queen said.
Michela Menting, director of digital security research at ABI Research based in the United Kingdom, said that mobile voting applications have shortcomings on security concerns and concerns. For one, not everyone has a top-of-the-line smartphone.
"Also, that piece of hardware would need to securely store a hash of biometric information to use biometric modes on the phone to verify your identity," The mention is sent by e-mail.
On the back-end, the company that processes the biometric information must ensure that it is performed securely, so it can not be stolen for unauthorized use. "So a company like Voatz should ensure that it is applying the highest security standards to security and the management of that data," he said.
That said, Menting believes that the absentee vote is a good use of blockchain, which is a distributed register technology that creates an immutable record of any data entry. The pre-verified user behind any data placed on a blockchain is hidden by a hash key, so the identity remains anonymous except for the administrator of the distributed ledger.
"It provides a more transparent method for voters and also greater security from electoral fraud," he said.
Over time, similar blockchain applications could be used for other purposes, such as creating a governmental identity, obtaining a driver's license, paying taxes or credit rating, added Menting . "There are many potential use cases in which these could be tied together, for the benefit of the individual who maintains control of their data and gains visibility into what and how these data can be used," he said.
While blockchain for voting reasons is new, the mobile vote is not. Estonia, for example, has authorized electronic voting since 2001 and introduced remote internet voting in 2005. In 2017, about 25% of registered voters in Estonia used electronic voting, checking through a mobile ID, Menting said. The blockchain technology is also used in the program of electronic residence of the East for the forces of order and for the verification of information on patients in the national health system.
Voatz's mobile voting app has already been used by several universities, trade unions, state political parties and even church groups. At the start of this year, Medici Ventures led a $ 2.2 million loan for startup, according to Voatz.
West Virginia has no intention of extending the use of Voatz beyond the absentee military voters
"We are not advocating it as a means of voting for the whole country, we have tried to find a solution to tackle the problem of the military who could not vote, "Queen said.
Warner considered the use of the app blockchain from a "risk to return" perspective, where the risk to the safety of a relatively small group of absent voters earned him the reward of allowing them to vote , said Queen.
"If you use it nationwide, the risk of a theft rises," he said.