West Virginia Will Be First U.S. State to Use Blockchain Voting Technology in Upcoming Election

On March 28th, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner announced in a press release the state will be piloting a secure blockchain voting mobile application for deployed military personnel and their spouses and dependents, which will allow them to vote in the upcoming May 8th primary election while they are out of the United States.

Beginning on March 23 and continuing until May 8, overseas military voters, other expatriates eligible under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), and their dependents and spouses from Harrison County and Monongalia County can use a “compatible Apple or Android mobile device” to access the blockchain-based voting application. Voters must possess an “approved, validated State or Federal ID.”

To qualify for the program, an overseas military voter, spouse, or dependent must first apply for the special absentee status by submitting a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) indicating the preference to receive their voting materials via email or online to the county clerk’s office. Once the voter’s FPCA card is confirmed, the voter will receive detailed instructions on the use of the application prior to receipt of a ballot. The ballot will be sent for the Primary when the voter’s identity is confirmed in the application.

FPCA details and instruction can be found at fvap.gov/west-virginia.

The Secretary’s office described the current absentee voting process as “cumbersome to complete” and underscored the goal of “finding solutions to ensure military personnel are able to vote” as one of Warner’s top priorities since taking office 14 months ago.

Secretary Warner anticipates that the new project will improve the accessibility and the transparency of the electoral system. The main purpose of this innovation “is to take advantage of technological advances and offer the most secure military mobile voting solution possible that is accessible, verifiable, transparent, and easy to use,” he expressed.

“West Virginia is taking the lead in providing safe, secure and accurate voting systems to encourage voter participation at every level,” the Secretary added. “We’re working hard to increase the level of confidence citizens have in our election process. Increased confidence results in increased participation.”

According to the voting project’s white paper, technological support for the project will be provided by the Office of the Secretary of State of West Virginia, Tusk/Montgomery Philanthropies, New America, the Blockchain Trust Accelerator, and Voatz, a Boston-based voting technology startup and a subsidiary of online retail giant  Overstock.com. Voatz recently garnered media attention for raising $2.2 million from Medici Ventures to prevent tampering in elections.

The white paper says:

“Absentee ballot systems previously offered to overseas military voters did not ensure anonymity, and many military voters were concerned their mail-in or faxed ballots may not be received in time, or may not be counted. The new mobile voting system resolves these concerns.”

The Secretary of State’s son, Scott Warner, who is currently deployed in Italy, is the first individual to test the app actively. He marveled at the ease of using the mobile application:

“The registration for this application was very easy to maneuver.  It included an ID verification process that matched me to my ID. That gave me confidence that this mobile voting process was secure.

“When the ballot was made available, I just clicked through the names of the candidates. I hit ‘vote’ for the candidates I wanted to support.  Then I used the thumb print Touch ID on my phone to verify who I was. That was it. Pretty slick!”

This move follows a legislative move by the West Virginia House of Representatives. This legislative body wants to form a special study group to research ways to adopt blockchain technology in the various departments of the government.

Warner has made a priority to help soldiers vote no matter where they are in the world since he has been hired approximately 1 year ago. He believes this blockchain project can help solve this problem.

“Whether a Soldier is without mail service in the mountains of Afghanistan, or a Sailor is in a submarine under the polar icecap, they deserve the opportunity to participate easily in our democracy. They should have a voice in choosing who sends them into harm’s way,” he said.

Further down the road, Warner said the plan is to extend the effort to all 55 counties in the state for the 2018 general election in November if the pilot launch proves to be successful.

The effort also coincides with a legislative move from the West Virginia House of Representatives seeking to form a special study group to research ways to adopt blockchain technology across different government services.

Blockchain technology is a decentralized ledger that allows for the autonomous storage of data in a transparent and systematic manner over a peer-to-peer network. It is the underlying technology driving all cryptocurrencies; however, blockchain technology has a number of uses in diverse areas. For example, it has been used by IBM to streamline its logistics business, and by the United Nations Food Programme to ensure that food is supplied to the poorest parts of the world.

Sierra Leone announced on March 8 that the previous day’s elections had been conducted using secure blockchain technology, boasting that it was the first country ever to utilize the method in a national election. However, this claim was later debunked by the country’s own National Electoral Commission:

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Moscow’s Municipal Government announced earlier this month that it will launch a blockchain digital voting application to enhance transparency in the electoral system. So far, their plans have not been disputed.