West Virginian troops serving overseas will cast their midterm election ballots on the blockchain, making them the first to use the state’s new distributed ledger-based mobile voting app.
The newfangled system will see the U.S.’s first use of smartphones for federal voting, and is reportedly aimed to streamline the ballot process for overseas troops, according to CNN.
Developed by Boston-based Voatz, the app requires users to scan government-issued identification, a live “selfie” facial snapshot, and process their fingerprint on the phone’s touch-scanner before voting.
Under the hood lies a purpose-built blockchain—a permissioned instance of the open-source Hyperledger framework that utilizes up to 16 “geographically distributed” and verified nodes for validation.
While Voatz claims to have run more than 30 trials with great success, not all are sold on the idea.
Speaking to CNN, Joseph Lorenzo, Chief Technologist of the Washington D.C.-based Center for Democracy and Technology, painted a dystopian picture of what he described as “internet voting”:
“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.”
Lorenzo’s apparent misunderstanding may be dismissed as naive; yet as an influential technologist, his agenda will be troubling for blockchain advocates.
Voatz appears keen to reassure those uninitiated, however, posting on their site a clear explanation of their “simple, secure and anonymous” blockchain technology:
“Instead of being stored on a single, Internet-connected server, in this pilot, votes are recorded on redundant and geographically distributed servers running open source blockchain software.”
Paper Voting: Forever King?
Where some may be frazzled by the notion of blockchain technology, skeptics also appear threatened by the replacement of the status quo–paper votes.
According to Marian K. Schneider, president of election watchdog Verified Voting, paper may be more immutable than blockchain. When asked by CNN for her thoughts on West Virginia’s new initiative, Scheider stated that “undetectable changes could occur in transit.”
Voatz, however, seems to understand that improving a centuries-old process will be an easy undertaking. Offering an official statement on West Virginia’s move, Voatz philosophized:
“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.”
Cover Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash