Last week’s newsletter included the news that West Virginia will be the first state to allow voting by mobile devices for a U.S. election later this year. They’re partnering with Voatz to allow overseas voters to cast their ballots in the midterm elections.
Of course, there are already the obvious concerns about security and fraud, but I think the workflow they have in place — upload a photo ID and a selfie — goes a long way in verifying that a voter casting the vote is who they say they are. In fact, it’s more secure than the process in place for mail-in ballots.
They’re also using blockchain technology to ensure the voter’s choice isn’t changed in transmission to election officials.
But I think the most interesting challenge is how do you keep the voters and their votes as anonymous as traditional voting methods?
With mail-in ballots, you discard the outer envelope and then count the ballot and in-person voting you have some interaction directly with the vote counting machine, but I’m skeptical about this app’s ability to mashup two technologies with very different goals.
A photo ID and a selfie eliminates anonymity but the blockchain is a distributed ledger designed to guarantee anonymity.
There’s also the more likely concern that, without a paper record, the data is vulnerable to manipulation both in transmission or on election officials’ servers, although Voatz does seem to generate a paper record in the process.
As we learn every year from the DEFCON Voting Village, the machines most states use to count their ballots are rife with security issues and election officials’ websites and servers are easy targets.
I personally think it is inevitable that we will move to a system of online and mobile voting – over an indeterminate timeline – but we’ll start with limited applications like West Virginia’s experiment with certain groups of voters and have some bridge solutions in the meantime.
If we start with the understanding that voting technology should be designed to make voting more accessible to more voters, then we can imagine the arc of its implementation.
Mobile technology could be used to expedite and streamline the voting process, thereby making it available in many more locations. For example, voters could download their ballot on their phone, make their choices on the phone, then generate a pass similar to a mobile airline ticket. They’d then take that to a polling location as normal, verify their identity and scan the pass into the machine. The machine would generate a paper record and could even provide a confirmation to the voter that their ballot was cast as they wished.
This greatly streamlines the number of personnel needed to administer an election site, so you could open more of them or keep them open for extended hours. This would also make it possible for voters to vote at any location within a state they’d like – or even at facilities out of state.
It’s a great bridge from today’s status quo to a future of remote, mobile voting because it offers an analogous experience (voting at a designated location in person) while making voting more accessible to more voters.