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How West Virginia brought blockchain-secured voting to Election Day

The first test of blockchain-protected voting in a general election has been deemed a success by West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner. His office estimates that 144 voters in 30 different countries were able to cast their ballots anonymously using a blockchain-based mobile voting app.

Military personnel and overseas voters from 24 of the state’s 55 counties used the app from Voatz. Blockchain-based voting was expanded in West Virginia after a successful test in two counties during the primary election in May.  This election put West Virginia "in the history books for being the first state in the nation to deploy a mobile voting application," according to a statement from Secretary of State Mac Warner's office.

The Voatz app enables military and overseas voters who qualify under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Act to verify their identities by providing a photo of their driver’s license, state ID or passport that is matched to a selfie. Once voters' identities are confirmed, they receive a mobile ballot based on the one that they would receive in their local precinct. The distributed ledger technology ensures the votes cannot be tampered with once they've been recorded.

Tomicah Tillemann, who coordinated with West Virginia on the effort in his role as chairman of the Global Blockchain Business Council, also declared the effort a success. 

“It worked like a charm” in the general election, Tillemann said at a Nov. 7 blockchain event hosted by American University’s Kogod School of Business.  “I wouldn't recommend it as a voting solution for everybody,” he added, but “it's an indication of what's going to be possible with this techology.”

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Alex Tapscott, co-founder of the Blockchain Research Institute, highlighted the benefits of blockchain-based voting prior to Election Day.

“Blockchain voting achieves privacy for the individual and improves transparency for the system as a whole,” Tapscott wrote. “Voting systems will be less costly, more efficient, and more accessible while eliminating most, if not all, opportunities for suppression, fraud, or sham charges of fraud.”

However, J. Alex Halderman, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Computer Security and Society, expressed his doubts about blockchain-based voting to the MIT Technology Review.

"Blockchain doesn’t fix the hard parts of securing online elections,” Halderman said. “It’s just another form of recording votes. If attackers compromise voters’ devices or the servers that record votes and log them to the blockchain, they can still manipulate election outcomes. There are no easy solutions here.”

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at sfriedman@gcn.com or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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