West Virginia voters living overseas will have the ability to cast ballots this November using a mobile app that uses blockchain encryption. There's a catch, though. The rollout will limit the use of the Voatz app to troops serving overseas.
A hot potato: Even if the Voatz app is 100 percent secure, experts warn that other key cogs of the process - like smartphones and the networks they connect to - are not, thus jeopardizing the integrity of mobile voting. The West Virginia figures do not include overseas troops, yet as per data by Pew Research Center, the U.S. troops deployed abroad in 2016 amounted to 15% of the active duty personnel. A recent federal indictment outlined Russia's attempts to hack United States voting infrastructure during the 2016 presidential race, and USA intelligence agencies have warned of Russian attempts to interfere with the upcoming midterm election.
West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner and Voatz, the Boston-based company which developed the app, are confident that the system is secure. They can only cast their ballot once the information is uploaded and approved.
Warner was quick to point out that he's not looking to replace traditional voting methods with the blockchain voting app, but sees it as a viable alternative for those who wish to use it. The votes cast on the platform are anonymized and recorded on the blockchain.
"There is nobody that deserves the right to vote any more than the guys that are out there, and the women that are out there, putting their lives on the line for us", said Warner of the troops invited to use the mobile process, according to CNN.
If voting via mobile app can be pulled off effectively, this could be a great thing for prompting user engagement and lowering barriers that might otherwise stop people casting their ballot.
"Mobile voting is a horrific idea", Joseph Lorenzo Hall, the chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told CNN in an email.
CoinDesk previously reported that the state piloted the blockchain app in May for deployed military staff and their dependents from Harrison and Monongalia counties.
"It's internet voting on people's horribly secured devices, over our disgusting networks, to servers that are very hard to secure without a physical paper record of the vote", Hall said.