In Brief
West Virginians Abroad Will Vote by Blockchain in 2020

West Virginia will use blockchain voting in the 2020 presidential elections, the state’s elections director, Donald Kersey, has told LongHash. The operation will pick up where a pilot system left off in the 2018 mid-terms. It remains the only U.S. state to have used blockchain for voting.

The system is aimed at overseas and military voters, whose turnout is notoriously low year after year. Only 7 percent of overseas voters turned out for the 2016 presidential election, according to the Federal Voting Assistance Program, compared with 72 percent on American soil. The possibility of voting via a smartphone is thought to make an otherwise laborious process quick and simple, without compromising integrity.

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For the pilot, the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office worked with a platform provided by Voatz, a startup developing blockchain for voting. Voters downloaded the Voatz app on their smartphone, verified their identity, and checked that their county was signed up. He counted it a success and Voatz has retained the contract for 2020.

More than 340 overseas voters attempted to vote using the blockchain system in 2018. The number is large next to the small number of overseas votes cast in total, which was fewer than 1,000. The logic for expanding the scheme is clear, as most of those who tried to use the blockchain found that their county did not allow it.

Questions have been raised over whether the app could be hacked, or whether smartphones could be hacked and used to vote by unauthorised intruders.

The system drew some criticism, particularly questioning the role played by Voatz. Questions have been raised over whether Voatz could see who voted for whom, whether the app could be hacked, or whether smartphones could be hacked and used to vote by unauthorized intruders.

Some security questions have been addressed. The nodes of the blockchain are not run by Voatz, the company says. Nor are they regular computers owned by members of the public, as in the bitcoin blockchain. Instead, they are 32 servers belonging to cloud infrastructure giants Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure.

Anonymity is catered to, as well: The votes are divorced from their caster as soon as they enter the blockchain data structure. Even so, voters get a record of their votes. They are blind-copied into an email with a PDF of their ballot attached.

“We are not saying that blockchain technology is the best solution to storage of secure data. What we are saying though is that it’s better than what we have,” Kersey tells LongHash.