Voatz Partners with Utah County on Mobile Voting Pilot for 2019 Municipal Elections

We are delighted to announce the launch of a new pilot program today with Utah County that will provide mobile voting secured by the blockchain to deployed military personnel and overseas United States citizens during the 2019 municipal elections this year.

We commend the Utah County team for seeking new, innovative technologies to improve our election infrastructure and provide secure, auditable, transparent voting options for voters. With this pilot program, Utah County is leading the effort in the State of Utah to make voting more convenient and accessible for deployed military personnel and overseas US citizens. The latest developments in smartphone hardware, encryption and blockchain technology make mobile voting a reality. This is a significant stepping stone that we hope many other states and cities will follow.

Eligible deployed military and overseas voters from 21 cities in Utah County will have the option to vote with their smartphones from almost anywhere in the world. By using the Voatz application on their mobile phones, they will forgo the time-consuming process of mailing in an absentee ballot, will receive an auditable confirmation, and will be able to verify their vote within seconds of voting.

With each of these pilots, we learn valuable feedback and continue to integrate and build with forward progress. Utah County is learning from the recent experiences of the City & County of Denver and the State of West Virginia, and the lessons we learn from this pilot will inevitably produce valuable feedback that we will continue to welcome and integrate.

The Utah County mobile voting option will be offered in addition to the current absentee options (mail, fax, and email). For uniformed military and overseas citizens, jurisdictions are required by law to send the ballot to voters 45 days prior to the election, allowing sufficient time for the ballots to be returned and counted. Ballots sent to participating voters using the Voatz application will be received within minutes, rather than days or sometimes weeks, and can be returned to the jurisdiction the instant the voter submits their ballot. The ballots that the jurisdiction receives are formatted, printed, and tabulated per standard procedure, and contain an anonymous ID that can be used for a rigorous post-election audit.

To use the Voatz platform, eligible voters must submit an absentee ballot request to their election office indicating a preference for mobile voting, and then complete an authentication process on the Voatz application.

The pilot is a collaboration between Voatz, Utah County, Tusk Philanthropies, and the National Cybersecurity Center. To learn more, read the press releases from Tusk Philanthropies.

Why the Slate Story Completely Misses the Point

In light of a recent article focused on Voatz, we wanted to share our perspective and address some of the incorrect claims made about the 2018 West Virginia pilot. While the questions raised are not unique for a startup company like ours operating in this space, we want to make it very clear that there was nothing in the voting process or the post-election audit process that was a concern.

The article failed to accurately portray the added protections that the mobile blockchain infrastructure provides, or the fact that this pilot was a significant improvement to the current voting methods (fax, email, postal mail) offered to UOCAVA voters.

Delays in sending and receiving absentee ballots via postal mail for overseas military locations are well known, as is the unreliability of the process. Similarly, the return of marked ballots via unencrypted email or traditional fax is hardly a secure or privacy-protecting methodology by any standard.

West Virginia’s mobile voting pilot allowed UOCAVA voters to cast their ballots using the convenience of a personal smartphone after completing a strict identity proofing and verification process, while maintaining the secrecy of the cast ballot for the first time. Every voter received a voter verifiable digital receipt, and an actual, tabulatable paper ballot was generated for each mobile vote received. This is a significant improvement from the current options offered to UOCAVA voters (fax, email, postal mail), which often require manual transcription to tabulatable paper ballots on behalf of the jurisdiction, often revealing anonymity of the voter or inviting the potential for human error.

The county clerks were able to conduct a pre-tabulation audit (unprecedented in US election history) by comparing anonymized copies of the voter verified digital receipts with the marked paper ballots prior to feeding the paper ballots into the scanners for seamless tabulation alongside the primary voting system. There was a 100% match and no discrepancies were detected. Notably, the use of a blockchain-based infrastructure facilitated the security of the aggregate vote, provided unprecedented levels of tamper resistance from a data security perspective and enabled a post-election audit of the end-to-end voting process for the first time. For further detail, please visit our FAQ and refer to this article, which address several misconceptions about our technology.

The pilot was additionally audited by multiple independent security auditors (including former members of the FBI’s elite cyber division), which came back clean with no indications of any successful interference or hacking. Security is never static in time and multiple audits are conducted on a frequent basis as the platform evolves, as new features are incorporated and as new threat vectors emerge.

Voatz was also the first elections company worldwide to launch a public bug bounty program to further vet upcoming versions of its platform from a security perspective.

One of key learnings from the West Virigina pilot was the need to make the post-election audit process easier for a lay person to comprehend without needing to dive into the technical details around cryptography or the blockchain infrastructure. One such enhancement was implemented for the recent pilot elections in Denver, CO wherein a rigorous post-election audit was conducted to verify each submitted mobile ballot, and the audit met the requirements of the jurisdiction. Each submitted mobile ballot produced three records to facilitate this audit: (1) a voter verified digital receipt, sent to the voter at the time of voting (alongside an anonymized copy to the jurisdiction), (2) an actual marked paper ballot, anonymized, formatted for printing and tabulation along with the rest of the jurisdiction’s ballots on Election Day, and (3) the anonymous blockchain records for each marked oval. In Denver’s case, the general public was invited to sign up and participate in a public-facing audit to compare all three records, and to ensure that all votes were counted as submitted. For more information on this unprecedented and historic citizens audit, please read more here.

Lastly, the article fails to recognize the basic nature of how well-designed pilots are conducted (especially in highly regulated, contentious environments such as the elections industry), and the need for startups to protect their IP during this process. We have worked hard to strike a fine balance in this respect while staying committed to being transparent about our technology and the elections we work on as we continue to leverage innovative solutions to improve our election infrastructure.

For stories on how this new voting method facilitated UOCAVA voters to vote more conveniently and securely from their far-away locations, we invite you to read these voter testimonials from Africa, Europe and the Far East.

10,000 Miles from the Far East to Charleston WV

XI’AN, CHINA — Michael Graney lives in Xi’an, a large city smack dab in the middle of Shaanxi, China.

With bustling streets, air thick with pollution and mountains just visible through the haze, Xi’an is one of China’s oldest cities, an important cultural, industrial and educational epicenter.

Michael is in his third year as a graduate student, here, studying Chinese sociology and culture. He lives in a small studio with wooden floors, wallpapered walls, sporadic electricity and a humble, all-in-one bathroom with a laundry machine.

He spends most days on the move teaching, writing his thesis, or engaging with his community — air pollution permitting.

^Michael at a farm in Xi’an, China

Michael grew up on the opposite end of the world in Charleston, West Virginia. Raised in a small capital city, early on Michael witnessed the power of politics and local community engagement.

“Even if you didn’t know the decision-makers, you saw them in the community,” Michael says, slightly chuckling, “in West Virginia, everyone always says ‘you can talk about anything except politics — that’s personal.’”

These early experiences have clearly shaped Michael’s connection to community and civic duty, along with his parents’ dedication to taking him and his brothers on trips around the world as kids, valuing exposure to perspectives different than “American”.

“Understanding where other people are coming from and holding an appreciation for other cultures is something I’ve always valued, will always carry with me,” says Michael. “I’ve always been drawn to learn about people.”

^Michael with friends sharing tea in Xi’an, China

In an interesting way, Michael’s home turf in West Virginia mirrors his current reality in China: a capital city surrounded by largely rural communities, or, significant pockets of development surrounded by sprawling landscapes of relative poverty.

Despite this curious similarity, in other ways the two places couldn’t be more different: one is located in a country that prioritizes the individual, is shaped by political goings-on and an engaged community sentiment.

The other is directed by a deep-rooted tradition that places priority on the collective, is governed by hierarchy and an at-times opaque rank-and-file order.

“Here in China, power is pretty much top-down. They have elections at the very local grassroots level in villages, but from then on, people are appointed, work through the ranks, and apply to politics like you’d apply to any other job.”

The idea of citizens “rights” are also of a different flavor in China.

“A friend recently asked me whether we learned about our rights in school and I said yes. For him, that doesn’t happen. It made me appreciate the U.S. constitution, that we have rights, and that they’re even taught to us. It made me appreciate that so many years ago when the constitution was written there might’ve been an opportunity to take advantage of that, but people didn’t.

“In the U.S., if I get pulled over for going too fast, I have a process to contest that, if I want. There’s rule of law, even if I don’t like when I have to pay parking tickets.

“That sort of transparency is what comes from voting.”

^Michael with friends in the mountains in Xi’an, China

So when it came time to vote in the 2018 U.S. Midterms, this backdrop — China — served as an interesting setting for Michael.

“Voting is one of those things you always know is a privilege and a civic duty, but now living in a place where people can’t vote, it just means so much more. Not only is the government accountable, they’re accountable to me, to us.”

Despite being far away, Michael has remained closely connected to the issues happening back home.

“I read The Economist every week, I still read the Charleston Gazette, and I talk to my parents about what’s happening back home in West Virginia.”

^Michael with fellow students in Xi’an, China

As a “UOCAVA voter” — a voter classified as living overseas or a member of the uniformed military — Michael’s options to vote in the Midterms were either by mail, fax, or email.

These voting options required him to print a paper ballot, fill it out and entrust a nearly 10,000 mile journey to arrive in time, or to send a ballot via email for his County Clerk to replicate by hand, relinquishing his right to privacy.

“When I was in college in Virginia, I voted absentee by mail, and, you know, I’m fairly sure it got there from Virginia to West Virginia, but on time? From China to West Virginia, that concern increases.”

^Michael lives in Xi’an, China, nearly 10,000 miles from his home in Charleston, West Virginia

Just before the 2018 Midterms, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner announced a first-of-its-kind mobile voting pilot that would enable overseas voters to vote in a new way — with their smartphones.

Michael happened to live in one of the 24 participating counties and was eligible to participate. He let his County know, downloaded the Voatz app, and verified his identity against the State Voter Registration Database.

“The identity process wasn’t bad — it took my face, then my license — that part was easiest.”

^Michael voted using Voatz on his smartphone in his apartment in Xi’an China

From there, Michael received his mobile ballot.

“Every time I logged into the app it recognized my face right away. It felt good to be able to have the time to view my ballot and go and research my choices before voting — I did that for the City Council race.”

Once he was ready, “I voted pretty much right away. I was in my apartment, at the end of the school day, and I turned on my VPN, even though I probably didn’t need to just because you know — I guess I’ve always thought of voting as a private and I wanted privacy. That was my sort of 20th century version of a plastic booth with a curtain — a virtual curtain.”

“I felt secure because it was explained to me well before starting — with the blockchain technology and getting the ballot receipt to verify my choices.

“Mostly, having voted with Voatz, I know it got there more than on time, and that it was counted early.”

What about the future?

“In this global world where people live far and wide, I think it’s important that we can still maintain our civic duty. I’m very proud that West Virginia is the first — sometimes it is hard to get to the polls whether you’re at work or in China. It’s important we all have the opportunity to vote legitimately and safely.”

Michael Graney