Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Is mobile voting empowering the U.S. election technology?

Voting mechanisms have come a long way since the days of Ancient Greece when casting stones was a way to choose Athenian politicians. Many simple but effective systems created thousands of years ago have been used right up to the present day.

The last few decades have seen a movement towards more computer-based voting systems, especially after the contentious 2000 U.S. Presidential Election. By creating these electronic systems, it was hoped that casting ballots would be easier and more secure for voters, and the results would be more accurate.

Nevertheless, as election methods in the U.S. are primarily left to the individual states, some are experimenting not only with electronic voting in the polling stations. They are also developing mobile options and new approaches designed to enhance the voting experience.

Two examples from the US

West Virginia is one such state attempting to roll out a new e-voting system. This pilot program, aimed to be an entirely internet-based voting experience, was tested during the 2018 midterm elections among military members serving out of the country. A company called Voatz developed an application that uses facial recognition and scans a sanctioned photo to confirm your voting status. The company claimed its blockchain technology was sufficient to guarantee the integrity of the vote tally. However, security experts have expressed serious reservations
According to its developers, the mobile app "uses biometric authentication to identify individual users before allowing them to mark an electronic ballot, and the votes are then recorded in a private blockchain." It began as a trial in May 2018 during the primary elections, targeting overseas voters in two countries. While the trials were successful, they also have raised much controversy.

Los Angeles County started developing an innovative voter-centered election system expected to launch by the 2020 elections. The Registrar-Recorder County Clerk has been working, since 2009, on an initiative called Voting Solutions for All People (VSAP) to replace its aging voting system. The non-proprietary, publicly-owned solution aims to be responsive to the needs and behavior of a diverse electorate and focuses on accessibility and human-centered voting experience. The County is working with Smartmatic in this project. The company will be responsible for the interactive ballot display, which will allow voters to mark their choices on their mobile device and then scan in their QR code in person for fast and easy voting at a vote center.

Ultimately, the concept of innovating in election technology with blockchain has shown to be worth more than mere experiments. Mobile voting with the use of a safer and verified interface is an opportunity for Election Commissions to eradicate voter fraud as well as boost turnout. The technology could enhance convenience for citizens even in the diaspora, notwithstanding the time and distance. It would as well be quite beneficial to convey transparency, minimize the electoral expenses, streamline the counting process, and guarantee that all votes are counted.