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WV Election Pilot Project Gets Thumbs Up

November 16th, 2018 by WCBC Radio

Secretary of State Mac Warner is very pleased with the completion of the General Election pilot project that allowed deployed members of the military and overseas citizens to participate in our democracy by using a mobile voting application to cast ballots secured by blockchain technology.

Warner is a 23-year veteran of the United States Army. While deployed in 2012 and 2014, Warner was not able to vote back home in West Virginia because reliable postal service was unavailable. Until now, absentee voters living out of the country have relied on paper ballot absentees or inconvenient electronic systems that require a printer, scanner or fax machine. Those processes are very difficult and nearly impossible for soldiers to take advantage of while stationed in remote areas of the world.

According to a 2018 report by the Federal Voting Assistance Program, only 6.9 percent of eligible soldiers and overseas citizens cast a ballot in the 2016 Presidential General Election. With his personal experience in mind and stats that proved the problem is vast, one of Secretary Warner’s first challenges to his Elections Division was to eliminate the hurdles in overseas voting that contributed to the very low voter participation rate for our deployed military and overseas citizens.

Prior to the May 2018 Primary Election, the State of West Virginia partnered with Tusk Montgomery Ventures (TMV) and engaged a technology developer from Boston, Massachusetts to pilot their revolutionary mobile voting application. The company, Voatz Inc., created a system that utilizes biometric identity verification and blockchain technology to offer voters a secure option to vote through their mobile application.

The May Primary pilot was conducted in two West Virginia counties – Harrison and Monongalia. In that very limited pilot, 13 voters from six different countries cast a ballot using the new technology. Following the pilot, several comprehensive independent post-election audits were conducted by multiple nationally renowned security companies. Following those audits, the Secretary of State’s Office Information Technology Division reviewed the reports and deemed the pilot a success. Then, for additional assurance, another company was engaged to review the audit results and concluded that the application, votes, blockchain and overall system were secure and no nefarious activity compromised the integrity of the ballots cast or voters’ personal information.

The results of the security audits encouraged Secretary Warner to expand the project into the November General Election by offering its use to all West Virginia counties. Twenty-four of the state’s 55 counties opted-in by volunteering to participate in the second pilot.

To help educate military and overseas voters on the mobile voting option available to them, the Secretary of State’s Office developed the following how-to video:

West Virginia’s General Election took place on November 6th.  A total of 144 voters from 31 countries participated. Specifically, voters from the following countries cast a ballot using this technology: Albania, Armenia, Australia, Bahamas, Belgium, Botswana, Cambodia, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Guinea, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, Uganda, UK & United States.

Just as in the Primary Election, comprehensive independent security audits on the second pilot are already being organized for analysis.

“For the first time in our nation’s history, military and overseas citizens were able to cast ballots in a federal election using a mobile device. If this technology were not available, many of those soldiers and citizens would not have had the opportunity to participate in our democracy. This pilot will provide actual voting transactions for the independent auditors to review and analyze the first deployment of blockchain technology in an American election,” Warner said.

He continued, “If our expectations hold true, the application’s biometric safeguards, coupled with blockchain technology and a voter-verified digital trail of their ballot, will prove to be a secure alternative to the burdensome absentee voting processes traditionally available to the men and women protecting our freedom.”

Because of the comprehensive nature of the audits, Warner expects the audit process to take two to three months. As soon as the results are available, Warner will publish a report to the voters and tech community to review.

“We commend West Virginia for leading the effort to make voting more convenient for military personnel, their families and for citizens living overseas,” said Voatz Co-Founder and CEO Nimit Sawhney. “We are honored to partner with Secretary Warner and his team for this pilot and are looking forward to partnering with other states to extend mobile voting to their UOCAVA voters.”

Having conducted two pilots with this technology, all the facts point to one common solution to the specific problem of absentee voting for military and overseas citizens: technology. Secretary Warner plans to continue improving the voting experience for our military and overseas citizens. As other states follow West Virginia’s lead, we can expect to see technology evolve for the betterment of our democracy without sacrificing the integrity of our election processes or results. 

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