As the United States gears up for its upcoming midterm elections, West Virginia is also doing some preparations of its own; the eastern U.S state has decided to offer a new voting option that relies on blockchain technology. West Virginia ran a pilot test phase for military personnel and their families back in May. Secretary of State, Mac Warner revealed that the test phase was only the tip of the iceberg and according to him, the aim of the project is to deploy a statewide version for the midterm elections in November. However, the individual counties will decide if they want to adopt this new technology or not.
A recent report by CNN seems to indicate that they attained positive results in their tests. The report states that Warner’s office has been able to complete four audits of the blockchain application after the pilot phase, and these audits “revealed no problems.”
This new voting option incorporates mobile app technology and blockchain to create a mobile voting app which will cater to all 55 counties in the state. Voatz, a voting technology startup has been charged with the development and deployment of this new technology. The application will collect, encode and store ballot data on a blockchain network, track incoming votes and maintain the security of the platform by encrypting voting data transactions.
Voatz believes that storing voting data on a decentralized public network will bring more transparency to the electoral process since there is no central figure or owner. Even though a public blockchain will be utilized for data storage under this new system, Voatz maintains that it will ensure the privacy of voters by making their personal information anonymous and granting access to only permissioned users. Voatz blockchain voting system requires biometric authentication before a user is cleared to vote. This authentication process mandates voters to upload a photo of their government-issued ID card, as well as a selfie video. The selfie will enable Voatz’s face recognition software to verify the genuineness of the user’s ID card.
Voatz co-founder Nimit Sawhney expressed confidence in the application and believes that the decentralized nature of the blockchain will secure the system by making it tamper proof. The company takes the matter of voting security quite seriously, seeing as the continuous evolution of technology causes new vulnerabilities to manifest over time.
Here is an excerpt from Voatz’s website addressing the matter of security:
“Security is not a destination but an ongoing exercise due to the ever-evolving nature of the threats, especially when it relates to our electoral infrastructure.”
Irrespective of these assurances, West Virginia’s blockchain voting system has been controversial from the onset. Many security experts have expressed concern over the use of a ‘hackable’ smartphone in the electoral process. Concerned security experts worry that blockchain although an innovative technology will bring new security vulnerabilities to the table which can be exploited. Moreover, they also claim that the anti-fraud perk touted by supporters of blockchain voting is redundant, as conventional voting systems already provide a much more straightforward method for securing votes.
It is not so difficult to see why these experts are skeptical about blockchain voting; with US intelligence report indicating that Russian hackers made attempts to hack voting systems in 21 states during the 2016 elections, and are planning another attack in the upcoming elections, it is of utmost importance that highly secure voting systems are deployed for voting. West Virginia will become the first US state to digitize its voting system by relying on blockchain technology, but whether the blockchain can become a tool for promoting democracy and guaranteeing secure and tamper-proof voting remains to be seen. The success or failure of West Virginia blockchain experiment could very well determine the fate of blockchain applications for the US electoral process.