Civics: What Really Happened With West Virginia’s Blockchain Voting Experiment?

Yael Grauer:

Last year, West Virginia did something no other U.S. state had done in a federal election before: It allowed overseas voters the option to cast absentee ballots for the midterm election via a blockchain-enabled mobile app. According to Voatz, the company West Virginia worked with, 144 individuals from 31 countries successfully submitted ballots via the app for the November election. Before that, there was a smaller pilot of the system in two West Virginia counties that May.

West Virginia billed the experiment as a success and says it plans to use the technology again in 2020. Voatz has already made deals with other local governments in the U.S., most recently for Denver’s May municipal election.

But how secure and accurate was the 2018 vote? It’s impossible to tell because the state and the company aren’t sharing the basic information experts say is necessary to properly evaluate whether the blockchain voting pilot was actually a resounding success. With 2020 looming, that’s troubling, given what we now know about the extent of Russian incursions into our election systems in 2016.

State officials in West Virginia said the goal of rolling out the mobile voting option was to make voting easier for troops living abroad. But West Virginians overseas didn’t have to be in the military to take advantage of the process. All citizens had to do was register, download the app, go through a few verification steps such as uploading a photo ID and taking a video selfie, and make and submit their ballot selections on the screen. And all of it was said to be secure. With the blockchain technology it used, the firm insisted, the votes would be near-impossible to hack. (Blockchain is a digital public ledger that records information. It can be shared and used by a large, decentralized network, so it is theoretically more resistant to tampering.)