Blockchain Voting Test Expands In West Virginia For November General Election

News | September 27, 2018 By:

A blockchain voting solution for military personnel in remote areas who want to cast a ballot is being tested in West Virginia.

The state Elections Division has recommended deploying a test pilot to offer military voters the opportunity to vote using a mobile application on their phones or tablets.  The Division recommended the use and testing of a secure mobile voting application that utilized blockchain and biometric technology. The mobile application was developed by Boston’s Voatz, Inc.

In an effort to explore safe mobile voting options, Tusk Montgomery Philanthropies founder Bradley Tusk funded the test pilot project in West Virginia. 

West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner approved the test pilot for the May Primary Election in two of the state’s 55 counties (Harrison County and Monongalia County).

Voters from six countries participated in the May test – which provided anopportunity for independent audits of the blockchain and biometric technology utilized by the Voatz app. 

After a thorough review of the Voatz audits, Secretary Warner has authorized a second and expanded test pilot to take place in the November general election.  In the second test pilot, 24 of the state’s 55 counties will participate.

Nimit Sawhney, CEO and Co-founder of Voatz, answered a few Block Tribune questions. 

BLOCK TRIBUNE: What do you expect the result of this will be on voting results?  There have been notorious incidents where dead people vote and other issues arise.

NIMIT SAWHNEY: This initial pilot is focused on military personnel, overseas citizens and their families, and is limited to the 24 participating counties in West Virginia. Our hope is that as many military and overseas personnel who wish to vote are able to, and that they find the process accessible, easy-to-use, and affirming. With regard to the actual numbers for turnout, we cannot anticipate. With regard to incidents where voter fraud is concerned, Voatz employs three tiers of authentication, using the smartphone’s camera and biometric feature, to verify the voter’s identity and match it against the State’s voter registration database. The voter (1) scans their state driver’s license or passport, (2) takes a live facial snapshot (a video “selfie”), and (3) touches the fingerprint reader on the smartphone, which ties the voter’s device to the voter. Once the voter is authenticated, the app matches the voter’s “selfie” to the facial picture on their passport or driver’s license, and confirms the voter’s eligibility to vote against the state’s voter registration database. In other words, only voters who go through this process, who are registered to vote and listed on the state database, and who submit their absentee ballot request forms to their county clerk are eligible to vote, making instances of voter fraud or ballots being cast on behalf of family members highly challenging.

BLOCK TRIBUNE:  If this is successful, will it be expanded to regular voting?  Or will there be too much opposition from those who want to preserve the status quo?

NIMIT SAWHNEY: After the election, there will be detailed analysis of the pilot, and eventually the goal will be to expand the initiative to other states with significant numbers of deployed military and/or US citizens living overseas. Beyond UOCAVA voting, Voatz has conducted 33 elections to date working with universities, municipalities, state political parties, unions and professional organizations. With focused scale, Voatz hopes to continue working with those curious about the technology to run their elections. With time and with certain regulatory changes, further explorations may also be possible.

BLOCK TRIBUNE:  What were the objections to implementing this?.

NIMIT SAWHNEY: We are operating at the cutting edge of technology in a space that, for largely 230 years, has experienced very little innovation. The toughest challenge has been trying to share the benefits of mobile voting, while simultaneously educating how that technology works in a space where trust is paramount. While no system is 100% “bulletproof” (including paper), we believe that Voatz combines a unique set of technological developments to create one of the safest systems available. Our hope has been that by continuing to demonstrate one successful election use case after the other, that trust will continue to grow and open the possibilities for broader-scale deployment.

  • Who will monitor it to ensure that the system worked and that all votes were counted and properly assigned?

Voatz is working in close coordination with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office and the County Clerks to ensure that all votes are properly assigned and counted. With each vote cast, a voter-verified paper trail is also generated, which will enable a post-election audit and analysis to help inform the best route for healthy expansion.