Following a pilot earlier this year, the state of West Virginia will become the first jurisdiction to allow its citizens serving in the armed forces overseas to vote using a smart phone application. The service provided by blockchain startup Voatz has already come under substantial criticism, however.
Is Online Security Good Enough to Allow Digital Remote Voting?
West Virginia will become the first state to allow voting using a mobile phone.
The service that will be used for the first time in the November election will be exclusive to those serving overseas in the armed forces. West Virginia’s Secretary of State Mac Warner, stated of the initiative:
“There is nobody that deserves the right to vote any more than the guys that are out there, and the women that are out there, putting their lives on the line for us.”
The service will be provided by a company called Voatz. Their application uses facial recognition software and blockchain technology to supposedly ensure that no falsifications of votes can be made.
Those using the Voatz platform must first register by taking a photograph of a government-issued form of identification and record a “selfie” video of their face. Once uploaded, facial recognition software should confirm or deny that the face on both photographs is that of the same person. Upon receiving approval, the registered voter can make their selection directly through the Voatz application. Each ballot is then recorded on a distributed ledger, or blockchain.
The service provided by Voatz was tested earlier this year during the primary elections. The pilot was conducted in two counties and has been audited a total of four times. These inspections reportedly revealed no issues.
However, not everyone is in favour of mobile voting. One technologist called it a “horrific idea.” Joseph Lorenzo Hall spoke to CNN via email. He spelled out clearly that security on devices, networks, and servers were just not up to task with something as important as voting.
A second opposition voice stated that she felt mobile voting is a bad idea. Marian K. Schneider of the election watchdog group Verified Voting acknowledged the much larger potential for “hacking and meddling.”
The fact that Voatz have only launched this year has also alarmed some commentators who think the mobile phone voting idea is flawed. Twitter user and cyber security expert @GossiTheDog posted a lengthy thread about his reservations about the mobile voting scheme.
This is going to backfire. West Virginia are moving to mobile phone voting for this midterm elections – software is a ‘Blockchain voting system’ by “Votez”, a 2018 startup with $2m of funding https://t.co/478mhg4CT6
— Kevin Beaumont (@GossiTheDog) August 6, 2018
He highlighted several technical flaws with the idea in a series of tweets, before amusingly summarising that there had been a general lack of analysis into the security of the Voatz platform:
“The United States needs some form of vetting process for online voting in elections. I’m a foreign dude with an avatar of a cowboy porg riding a porg dog on Twitter who appears to have done more investigation of the security implications of this than anybody. Bonkers, America.”
However, MIT professor of political science Charles Stewart III stated that the initiative by West Virginia would provide valuable information about how such solutions can be improved upon. Ultimately, however, he admitted that mobile voting wasn’t ready for “prime time.”
Featured image from Shutterstock.