A new pilot program in West Virginia aims to take voting into the technological future. In doing so, the state has cast its eye toward one of the most popular tech buzzwords of 2018.
West Virginia has contracted the Boston company Voatz to enable voting via smartphone for troops overseas in the 2018 midterm elections, according to CNN. Members of the military will be able to cast their ballots using an app, with voting data recorded on a blockchain.
Troops will still be able to cast paper ballots if they prefer.
To use the app, voters will have to submit a photo of their government issued ID, as well as, um, a selfie video. Voatz’ facial recognition technology will ensure that the person voting in the selfie video matches the ID.
But the use of smartphone-, app-, and blockchain-based voting prompts concerns, because these technologies may not be consistent with the recommended way to secure an election. Joseph Lorenzo Hall, the chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, even told CNN that it was a “horrific idea” because of the security vulnerabilities it opens up.
The industry standard for election security is to use devices that produce a paper trail. That way, there is a non-digital, and non-vulnerable back-up, should anything go awry. Facilitating voting via a (hackable) smartphone, and aggregating that data digitally sans paper trail — whether on much-evangelized blockchain technology or not — opens up too many avenues for attack, Lorenzo Hall said.
And attack is nowhere near out of the realm of possibilities for the 2018 midterms. U.S intelligence agencies concluded that in the 2016 election, Russian hackers attempted to hack the voting systems in 21 states, and were successful at accessing voter data in at least one, Illinois (however, there’s so far been no evidence the data was altered or votes were changed).
Federal officials warn Russia is now attempting to interfere with the 2018 midterms. And while they do not see hacking election machines as the main vulnerability, they’re keeping an eye on it.
But the U.S. may not be doing enough to bolster the digital integrity of election infrastructure. Last week, the Senate voted down a bill that would provide $250 million to states to modernize and secure the voting process, because they said it was not clear how states had used the $380 million already allocated. Still, experts say the initial funds are nowhere near enough to fully secure America’s elections.
It might just be too soon to rest our faith in American democracy on the blockchain.