West Virginia is gearing up to deploy a blockchain-based voting application for elections in November. The idea is being met with growing amounts of criticism from security experts and election specialists, but those spearheading the initiative are moving forward.
Earlier this year, Bitcoinist reported on West Virginia’s ambitious plans to bring blockchain to voting. In late March, state officials announced an initiative with a Boston-based technology startup, Voatz, that would allow those who fall under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act cast their ballots thanks to blockchain.
The state tested out the blockchain-based voting solution across two counties during the May 8th primary election. Those eligible were able to vote with their Android or Apple mobile device. Now officials inside of West Virginia’s government, and at Voatz, are preparing to make the system available for eligible overseas military personnel who want to vote digitally in the November election. As election day looms, a growing number of security specialists and election integrity advocates are now saying blockchain-based voting is a bad idea. Some are even pushing for a shift away from online voting altogether.
Blockchain-Based Voting For Citizen Benefit
An article from Politico noted that the shift towards a more digital voting system in West Virginia largely came from the efforts of West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner. Warner said he was not able to vote during elections in 2012 and 2014 while stationed in Afghanistan. In March, Warner remarked how the blockchain voting solution was an effort to “encourage voter participation at every level” through a safe, secure, and accurate system. Voatz said those who use the digital voting system must confirm their identity through a selfie and state ID. Then this information is “double-anonymized” by the blockchain’s server network, and by the smartphone. Voatz also collects a fingerprint scan, and scans the voter’s face and fingerprint once again before sending the completed ballot off to state officials. For the November election, officials hope 300-400 people will use the voting solution to cast their ballot. Mike Queen of the West Virginia’s Secretary of State’s Office said the program would be halted if evidence showed the voting process was compromised.
Blockchain Doesn’t Solve Issues With Elections
Still, a growing chorus of people think the entire idea is risky. Cybersecurity expert Matt Blaze wrote that blockchain voting can make it very difficult to maintain ballot secrecy. Blaze also said it does not solve any of the fundamental issues civil elections have.
Other seem to echo a similar sentiment. David Jefferson, a board member of Verified Voting, said internet voting systems have a range of potentially dangerous vulnerabilities. He believes there would not be a clear-cut way to figure out if technology like this was infected with some sort of malware. Others think malware on a voter’s device could change a vote before it’s recorded on the blockchain. This could render the purported immutability advantages of the technology all but useless. Other election integrity advocates are pushing for total shift away from online and digital voting models, especially amid concerns of alleged foreign influence into the American electoral process. Despite the criticisms, both Voatz and the government of West Virginia remain resolute on pushing forward. Warner said his office has been in touch with other states and officials across the world who are very curious in possibly replicating the voting system.
What do you think about West Virginia’s experimental blockchain voting system? Let us know in the comments below!
Images courtesy of Bitcoinist archives, Shutterstock.
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