West Virginia raises concern over smartphone voting for troops

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[Updated with Voatz’s statement at the bottom of this post]. Maybe a year and a half after Russian interference was believed to have a key impact on the election of a U.S. president isn’t the best time to be floating new voting technologies. Not if you’re looking to avoid some major skepticism, at least.

But West Virginia is going ahead with plans to allow some limited voting through a smartphone app called Voatz, nonetheless. The plan, spearheaded by West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner, will utilize the Boston-based startup’s technology to allow troops stationed abroad to vote in the upcoming November midterm.

Both Voatz and Warner, naturally, tout the security of the app. Indentification requires a user to take a selfie, which is matched with a state I.D. using facial recognition. Ballots are then anonymous and recorded with blockchain tech.

Naturally, not everyone is thrilled about the idea.

“Mobile voting is a horrific idea,” the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Joseph Lorenzo Hall, told CNN. “It’s internet voting on people’s horribly secured devices, over our horrible networks, to servers that are very difficult to secure without a physical paper record of the vote.”

Not a fan, apparently.

The state has been testing the tech, and Warner says that paper will still be an option for those serving abroad, even as it offers access to smartphone voting. The lack of paper trail for electronic voting, however, is generally considered a bit of a nonstarter, and recent events will likely only make security experts more wary of adopting new tech.

Update: In a statement sent to TechCrunch, a Voatz representative said,

“We are thrilled our efforts to make mobile voting a reality are sparking an engaged conversation around the nation’s first mobile voting pilot in a federal election. In our three years as a company, more than 75,000 votes have been cast on our platform, and we’ve administered more than 30 pilot elections. With each election we’ve learned something new, and we will continue to take the time necessary to ensure that the voting process is secure for voters. As with the implementation of all new election technologies, the implementation of mobile voting will be a process. It is not something that can, nor that we want to, happen overnight. We applaud the State of West Virginia for leading the charge in making voting more convenient for military personnel, their families, and for citizens living overseas. We are proud to be their partner. The initial pilot, conducted earlier this year, was met with enthusiasm and gratitude by those serving abroad. We are excited to continue learning and growing the platform to enable more overseas citizens to vote with greater convenience.”

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