West Virginia officials state that a mobile voting app based on blockchain technology has allowed absent military members and their families living abroad to participate in the mid-term elections of this year using only their smartphones.
The office of the Secretary of State of West Virginia estimated that 144 absentee voters in West Virginia living in 30 different countries voted by scrutiny using an approved mobile application that records the ballots anonymously using blockchain .
The state has used the app, developed by the Voatz start-up in Boston, to allow the absent vote by the military members deployed abroad. Otherwise, absentee voters would have had to send paper checks by mail or vote on a landline.
The state now plans to conduct an audit of the results it expects to take two to three months; therefore it plans to publish the results of the audit.
West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner told State Scoop that the mobile voting app is not a trend but "the wave of the future".
"For the first time in the history of our nation, military and foreign citizens were able to cast votes in a federal election using a mobile device.If this technology was not available, many of those soldiers and citizens would not have had the opportunity to participate in our democracy, "said Warner in a statement.
"If our expectations are true," he said, "the biometric guarantees of application, coupled with blockchain technology and a digital track of the electoral vote verified by the voters, will prove a safe alternative to the burdensome voting processes. absenteeists traditionally available to men and women protect our freedom ".
After taking office in January 2017, Warner instructed the IT staff to investigate the mobile voting options for 8,000 West Virginia military members abroad. Warner, a retired American 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.
Only 6.9% of military personnel and eligible foreign citizens voted for the 2016 presidential elections, second a 2018 report from the Federal Voting Assistance Program.
"With his personal experience in mind and the statistics that showed that the problem is vast, one of Warner's first secretary challenges to his Elections division was to eliminate the obstacles in the overseas vote that contributed to the voters' participation rate. very low for our military deployed and overseas, "said Warner's office in a statement.
"Having led two pilots with this technology, all the facts indicate a common solution to the specific problem of absentee voting for military and foreign citizens: technology", reads the statement. "Secretary Warner intends to continue to improve the voting experience for our military citizens and overseas, while other states follow the leadership of West Virginia, we can expect to see technology evolve to improve our democracy without sacrificing the integrity of our electoral processes or results ".
Mike Queen, Warner's deputy chief of staff, said the state has no intention of expanding the use of the Voatz mobile app in addition to absentee voters.
"We have done a lot of due diligence on this process and we have seriously considered every complaint and concern for the blockchain," Queen said in a previous interview. "The blockchain not only makes it secure, but Voatz also has a unique biometric security system, which includes facial recognition and fingerprints."
West Virginia led two mobile voting application pilots before the general election. In May, a pilot was conducted in two West Virginia counties: Harrison and Monongalia. In that limited pilot, 13 voters from six different countries voted for a vote using technology. Subsequently, several independent post-election audits were conducted by several security companies, said the Secretary of State's office.
Following these audits, the Information Technology Division of the Office of the Secretary of State reviewed the reports and considered that the pilots were a success. Subsequently, a second company in charge of reviewing the results of the audit concluded that "the application, the votes, the blockchain and the general system were safe and no harmful activity compromised the integrity of the vote or the personal information of the voters ".
How technology works
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 Foundation. Eight verification nodes will be used in the general election, split equally between AWS and Microsoft Azure, each of which is geographically distributed, according to Voatz.
Military personnel and their families who used the Voatz app needed only an Apple or Android smartphone and a state or federal ID.
In the Voatz app, authentication is a three-step process that uses the smartphone's camera and its biometric function (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 you have authenticated the voter, the app combines the "selfie" of the voter to the image of the face in the passport or driving license and confirms the eligibility for voting by checking the database registration of state voters.
Voatz said he had conducted over 30 successful pilot projects of his technology, ranging from state party conventions to student government elections. In the most important elections, more than 15,000 votes were cast, the company said in a blog post.
Michela Menting, director of digital security research at ABI Research, based in the United Kingdom, said that mobile voting applications have weaknesses that affect both ease of use and security 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 your biometric information to use biometric modes on the phone to verify your identity," he mentally told via email.
On the back-end, the company that processes the biometric information must ensure that it is executed securely and 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 absentee voting is a good example for blockchain, which is a distributed register technology that creates an immutable record of any data entry. The user pre-verified behind any data inserted into 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 against electoral fraud," said Menting.
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, Menting added.
"There are many potential use cases in which these could be linked together to the benefit of the individual who maintains control of their data and gains visibility into what and how these data can be used," Menting said. .