We Cannot Afford to Dismiss Online Voting

Below is a letter from Voatz CEO to the editor of The Economist in response to last month’s article, “Why voting online is not the way to hold an election in a pandemic“.


Dear Editor of The Economist,

Allow me to begin by saying that I hold immense respect for The Economist, its well-researched content, and data-driven conclusions. I was surprised, however, to see an almost categorical dismissal of online voting in your article last month, Why voting online is not the way to hold an election in a pandemic.

Whether we like it or not, technology has permeated our lives in undeniable ways, including our vote by mail system (like online absentee requests, voter registration, and electoral rolls). According to Pew Research, an outstanding 75% of adults across the world’s advanced economies own a smartphone, and most of us perform critical work through our mobile devices (including consuming this article).

Without our devices, we have no essential services—banking, telemedicine, news, video conferencing, online faith services, and social interactions—especially in the midst of a pandemic.

Computer science academics who argue that “no electronic system can be fully immune to cyber-attacks and technical issues” are missing the inclusion of key technological advances in their findings: fingerprint and facial authentication, the immutability of a digital signature, cryptography, and the decades-long work championed by Bill Gates and others in the field of trustworthy computing. Remarkably, these advances are all now embedded within our current-generation smartphones and can be leveraged to secure our ability to vote remotely. These arguments against online voting also overlook the very real imperfections of the current system, and its lack of resilience—during the U.S. 2018 midterm elections, for example, nearly half a million mail-in ballots were not counted, and many of those voters were not informed.

These arguments rob our critical infrastructure of the nuance demanded for consideration, and they keep our country locked in the past, actively shutting out citizens from participation. They also ignore the multiple, successful pilots that began in 2018 to enable deployed military, overseas citizens, and voters with disabilities to vote more easily and securely from the safety of their mobile devices. 

If we can agree that online voting is someday inevitable, how will we get there without the support of pilots and testing? 

This pandemic has revealed, in plain sight, the glaring flaws in our current voting systems. They are not resilient. There is no room for contingencies or disruptions. In a COVID-19 world, we must consider all methods to secure access to the vote—and this includes safe and auditable ways to conduct voting online. 

The time for piloting and testing is now. I will champion any initiative that works in tandem with local officials to ensure the security and integrity of each vote. With all due respect, however, shutting down the conversation is not the way to get ready for voting during this pandemic—or even the next. 

Sincerely,

Nimit Sawhney
Co-Founder and CEO, Voatz

State-of-the-Art Security Performs First-Rate Threat Mitigation in Largest Mobile Voting Exercise

A few weeks ago, nearly 7,000 votes were submitted using the Voatz mobile voting platform. During the election, our advanced security threat detection mechanisms were able to detect, mitigate and thwart a handful of smartphones that had malware, were operating on insecure networks, or had insecure applications installed. The ability to detect, log and mitigate these types of threats is unique to the Voatz mobile voting platform. To do this, we combine widely-used threat detection software with our own technology to safeguard the voting process. This ensures that only voters with secure smartphones are permitted to cast a ballot, and if the system detects any threats on the smartphone, a voter will not be able to vote. In short, if a voter has a compromised device—whether they know about it or not—they’ll receive an error and will not be able to vote.

Threat Mitigation

In the election, a handful of voters had compromised devices and were prevented from voting until their device threats were mitigated. In some instances, voters were asked to remove malware on their devices. In others, some voters were asked to delete certain applications or functions they had installed which made their smartphones insecure. These voters were unable to vote until they did so. These cases reveal important, cutting-edge data that indicates the system is capable and successful in both detecting threats at a very granular level, and mostly, ensuring a secure vote. Below includes compelling statistics around the types of malware or applications detected, along with the device type. First, what’s interesting to note is that despite far more voters voting from an iPhone, far more threats were detected at the Android level:

Mitigated Threat: Network Security Threats

A network security threat means that a device is operating on a WiFi network that isn’t safe. Voatz doesn’t allow voters to vote from an unsafe WiFi network because it could lead to a “Man-in-the-Middle” attack, or a malicious attacker hijacking traffic, stealing credentials, or delivering malware to the device. If a voter tries to vote on an unsafe WiFi network, they receive error messages and are asked to switch to a different network in order to vote.
# of iOS devices detected with a network threat, over time
# of Android devices detected with a network threat, over time
Threat detected: Voatz detected (18) iOS devices and (17) Android devices to be operating on insecure WiFi networks. These voters were unable to submit their ballots as a result. Mitigation: These voters were asked to switch to a more stable cellular or WiFi network, reboot their device, and then they were able to submit their ballots.
1 Android device threat detected with ARP poisoning
Threat detected: Voatz detected (1) Android device to be susceptible to ARP Poisoning (meaning the device was operating in an insecure network environment, perhaps with an appliance that was interfering with the network traffic). Mitigation: After this cause was discovered, the voter was asked to remove the offending network appliance from the network and then was able to proceed.

Mitigated Threat: Device Pin Not Set

If a smartphone doesn’t have a device PIN set, that means that the person who owns the smartphone hasn’t yet setup their smartphone’s PIN or activated their biometrics to keep the phone secure (i.e. when they go into the phone, as a safety measure they have to enter the device PIN or use their biometrics to get inside).  Voatz doesn’t allow voters to vote from a device that doesn’t have a PIN set, because it leaves the device susceptible to easier access if an outside bad actor were to obtain physical access to the device. If a voter tries to sign up with Voatz and doesn’t have their device PIN set, the voter will receive an error until they set their device PIN or enable biometrics.
# of iOS devices detected with PIN not set, over time
# of Android devices detected with PIN not set, over time
Threat detected: Voatz detected (3) iOS devices and (89) Android devices that had not yet set their device pin. Mitigation: They were requested to activate their device pin or biometrics and after, were able to proceed with voting.

Mitigated Threat: Sideloaded Apps

Sideloaded apps are applications that have been installed on a device, typically by bypassing the device’s security protocols. Voatz detects any time a device has a sideloaded app installed, because some sideloaded apps can contain malware. Even if the the sideloaded app is benign, as an extra precaution Voatz detects this and then analyzes whether or not it is benign. If it is deemed benign, then the voter is able to proceed. If the sideloaded app contains malware, the voter is requested to remove the application from their device before they are able to proceed and vote.
# of iOS sideloaded apps detected, over time
# of Android sideloaded apps detected, over time
Threat detected: Voatz detected (15) iOS devices and (173) Android devices with sideloaded apps (apps that could potentially introduce a security threat on the device). Mitigation: After investigation, the apps were deemed to be benign and the voters were able to proceed.

Mitigated Threat: Sideloaded Apps with Malware

Malware detected on Android devices
Threat detected: Voatz detected (2) Android devices with sideloaded apps that contained malware. Mitigation: Voters were asked to delete the offending apps and reboot their phones, or to use a different device in order to proceed.

Mitigated Threat: USB Debugging Enabled

USB debugging enablement is a threat only associated with Android devices. It lets the device communicate with a computer, and allows access to specialized areas of the phone otherwise inaccessible. Voatz detects if a device has USB debugging enabled and whether or not that device is connected to a computer. If the device is connected to a computer, the Voatz system will not let a vote be submitted and the voter will receive an error.
# of Android devices detected with USB debugging enabled, over time
Threat detected: Voatz detected (11) Android devices with USB debugging enabled (which allows a smartphone to communicate with a computer). Mitigation: Because the mobile device was not connected to a computer at the time of voting, voters were able to proceed.
[Data provided by Voatz Security Operations]

First Female MA State Treasurer Speaks on Power, Voting & Changes Across Time

Below is the transcription of an interview conducted by David Cohen, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Techstars, the global platform for investment and innovation that connects entrepreneurs, investors, and corporations. 

David interviewed Shannon O’Brien on voting, elections, and changes throughout time.

Shannon O’Brien was the first woman state treasurer of the state of Massachusetts, and former Democratic nominee for governor.

(view full interview here)

David Cohen: You were elected to office for the first time in 1986, 30 years later, what has changed in how we vote?

Shannon O’Brien: Well, back in 1986, it was incredibly labor intensive. Everything was done on paper, getting phone numbers so that you could reach out to voters was an incredibly labor intensive process, getting absentee ballots, again took time and had a lot of rules and regulations about how you actually got those absentee ballots into the town clerk’s office. And so back then it took a lot of human beings to make this happen.

So a lot has changed over the years. But now, as we’re seeing that as technology and different issues are coming to the forefront, we have a lot of people thinking that it’s an important time to go back to those days where it’s just all paper. I think it’s sort of fascinating that you see a lot of people now calling for harking back to paper ballots, and I sort of shudder when I think about what that was like back in 1986.

I think it’s sort of fascinating that you see a lot of people now calling for harking back to paper ballots, and I sort of shudder when I think about what that was like back in 1986.

Shannon O’Brien, Former Massachusetts State Treasurer

David Cohen: In 2000 we were introduced to hanging chads. Today we’re back to talking about paper ballots. Kevin Roose from the New York Times says that he has decided that Americans should vote by etching our preferred candidates name into a stone tablet with a hammer and chisel. I think he’s kidding. What do you think about the evolution, and thought, and the perception? Why is it that people feel this way?

Shannon O’Brien: Well, obviously everyone is concerned about the possibility for compromise or hacking. I mean, I was working on the campaign back with the hanging chads. And we had something similar in the congressional district, where I live something similar in terms of how the paper ballots and the punch system did not work during a very heavily attended congressional race. So what we’ve seen over the course of the last number of years, we’ve seen the Equifax hack. We saw in 2016, that the Russians had attempted to, at least in 21 states, attempt to hack the voting machines in different jurisdictions there. So I think that there’s a heightened concern about technology whether or not it can be fully secure, and especially whether or not it can be fully secure for such an important right as placing your vote and expressing your opinion as to who should be leading the state or the country.

David Cohen: Most people like myself these days we do online banking, I just did my census online. As an investor, I transfer a lot of money around online, but today we’re hearing people say that mail-in ballots are really the only option. It seems crazy to me, but what do you think are their barriers to mail in ballots that people generally miss? Are states willing to bear the cost? When we need money in other places, are we justified in investing our resources here?

Most people like myself these days do online banking, I just did my census online. As an investor, I transfer a lot of money around online, but today we’re hearing people say that mail-in ballots are really the only option.

David Cohen, Co-Founder and Managing Director, TechStars

Shannon O’Brien: Paper ballots are not hackable, but they are not infallible. We’ve seen I think in this country in the last election, the last presidential election. Over 400,000 absentee ballots, either didn’t make it to get counted, were rejected because the signature on the ballot did not match a signature within the clerk’s office. So paper ballots, while the putting pen or pencil to paper and getting that done is not hackable, the process between getting that vote from your home or your office, or wherever you’re going to be, actually filling out the ballot and getting it in, and actually having it counted, there are many potential pitfalls that can happen, and we saw this just this past week in Wisconsin, where there were so many people who needed to send in absentee ballots because workers concerned about the Coronavirus did not want to show up and man the polls. And so I think they had something like 1/10th the number of in-person balloting locations, so people had to wait hours and hours. Those ballots that, you know, did not get in on time, they will not be counted.

But those people in Wisconsin, those 400,000 people whose absentee ballots didn’t count in the last cycle, their vote doesn’t get diluted, their vote gets stolen. And so for me, accessibility, if I have to determine between security and voter fraud and accessibility, I’m going to tip the scales in terms of accessibility, but I still think there is a way that you can do both. I believe that there is a way that you can balance many of the concerns that different people have right now, and do it in a way that’s reasonable that protects both the ability to access and have an opportunity to vote, but also promotes security and reduces voter fraud.

I believe that there is a way that you can balance many of the concerns that different people have right now, and do it in a way that’s reasonable that protects both the ability to access the opportunity to vote, but also promotes security and reduces voter fraud.

Shannon O’Brien, Former Massachusetts State Treasurer

David Cohen: I’m certain that with Coronavirus changing how we do business, you know some government services maybe licenses and IDs will move online, but what are the practical barriers to elections moving online?

Shannon O’Brien: The real issue is, I think right now, going to be cost. We saw that in the stimulus package approximately 400 million was put into that bill to help make sure that people can get to the polls during this Coronavirus crisis. So it’s going to cost money, but it’s also going to require a meeting of the minds between the left and the right, the Republicans and the Democrats, that they agree that making sure that voter access, especially during this just unusual pandemic crisis we’re having right now, is important, and I think that the most important thing toward making voting more accessible is to understand that making voting more accessible is an important civil and constitutional right, that we all have.

David Cohen: Sounds reasonable to me. You’ve sort of answered this one but I’m going to ask it again in case you have anything else to add, what are the political challenges associated with modernizing the voting process?

Shannon O’Brien: The political challenges are that right now you don’t have everyone in agreement about what the best process is for both securing the vote and making voting accessible, and I think that the most important thing that can happen is to take some very measured and rational steps towards testing some new technologies. But the fact is, you had people who weren’t trained, you had new rules that were brought to bear during those Iowa caucuses. So there were many things beyond the technology that made the Iowa caucuses a failure. And so understanding that any new technology, even going to mail-in ballots, there will be issues and problems that have to be dealt with. And so it’s making sure that we understand that whatever we do, this is not going to be a quick fix, and has to be part of a longer process, moving us forward where we can both use technology and maybe old fashioned technology to increase both accessibility and security, but do it in a rational well thought out, and hopefully, bipartisan way.

I think that the most important thing that can happen is to take some very measured and rational steps towards testing some new technologies.

Shannon O’Brien, Former Massachusetts State Treasurer

David Cohen: What needs to be done to make the changes necessary to improve access? What would you do if you could wave your magic wand?

Shannon O’Brien: I am a believer in taking a look at mobile voting platforms, looking at ways that we can enhance both the accessibility, but also the auditability. Because there are many voting machines out there that count the paper ballots that we cannot subject them to simple audit. So making sure that we understand that we can use technology to make these improvements. And so I think it’s just understanding that we’re going to be able to use technology, that we need to do it in a number of different facets that can help us as a state, as a nation, and so moving in that direction I think is going to be very, very important for all of us as citizens.

I am a believer in taking a look at mobile voting platforms, looking at ways that we can enhance both the accessibility, but also the auditability.

Shannon O’Brien, Former Massachusetts State Treasurer

David Cohen: Shannon, I hear you have a personal story about voting that is relevant to all this.

Shannon O’Brien: In 1976, my dad ran for the United States Congress in the post-Watergate era. And it was a year that many people thought that a democrat might win the seat. And my father ran against a very well qualified candidate Ed McColgan, and the primary, he won by something like 12 votes. And then during the recount process, there were votes that went back and forth, and he ended up losing by four votes. I think it was the closest congressional vote in the history of the state. I think it still remains.

But the real issue was, and this is the problem with paper ballots is that you can’t change paper ballots because they need to be printed, they need to be sent out. And so the problem that my father faced is that he actually thought he might be able to go to court and successfully challenge the outcome of that recount, but he couldn’t go to court because even if he won the court case, there would not have been enough time to print his name on the ballot. So he gracefully stepped back, and you know a lot of people thought that my dad actually won that primary. So it was one of those things that you understand the inflexibility of a paper ballot. Someone goes and they vote for Pete Buttigieg, he drops out or Bernie Sanders, he drops out. They’re not on the ballot anymore. And if you’ve already voted, you don’t get an opportunity to quickly or easily change your vote.

Republican Party of Arizona Drives Momentum for Mobile Voting in Virtual Convention


Voatz successfully completes another significant mobile voting exercise, confirming that mobile can be a viable voting option in these unprecedented times.

BOSTON, May 14, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Voatz, the Boston-based mobile voting platform, today announced the successful completion of the virtual Arizona State Republican Party Convention, the first of its kind to also incorporate visual live streaming and telephonic townhall components. This continues the momentum of mobile voting as an alternative, secure way to exercise the democratic right to vote. 

In order to ensure a smooth rollout of the platform, Voatz worked closely with Republican Party of Arizona officials to train voters and test the platform ahead of the May 9 convention. 

More than 1,100 delegates voted using the Voatz app on May 9, with a nearly even split of voters using iPhones (58.3%) and Androids (41.7%). 

Arizona builds on the success of the Utah Republican Party’s State and County Conventions, when roughly 7,000 votes were cast using the Voatz app. 

“This is a critical moment for our democracy, and we have to ensure that we have safe alternatives to voting in person. Voatz is proud to be able to meet this need and to ensure the safety and health of its voters,” says Voatz Co-Founder and CEO, Nimit Sawhney. “We believe deeply in expanding access to voting, and with many voters’ health at risk, we are proud to leverage our experience to support the Arizona Republican Party’s mandate to represent their delegates’ voices.” 

Commenting on the success, Republican Party of Arizona Executive Director Greg Safsten said “Voatz was a great partner in fulfilling our goal of being minimally disruptive to our convention procedures. After a careful vetting process, we were confident in Voatz’s ability to support secure and private voting with the added benefit of an immediate confirmation that each delegate’s vote counted. In developing the plan for this convention, we knew that we needed to provide the most reliable connection to it for all participants, and we were able to do this by ensuring everyone who wanted to vote could do so easily and from the safety of their home.”

About Voatz
Voatz is an award-winning mobile elections platform that leverages cutting-edge technology (including biometrics and a blockchain-based infrastructure) to increase access and security in elections. Since 2016 Voatz has run more than 60 public and private elections. Learn more here.

Press release issued from PR Newswire.

Hacking, Fear & Voting: Former NSA Director Speaks on Election Security

Below is the transcription of an interview conducted by David Cohen, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Techstars, the global platform for investment and innovation that connects entrepreneurs, investors, and corporations.

David interviewed Dr. Eric Haseltine on the security of our nation’s elections.

Dr. Eric Haseltine is an author, futurist and neuroscientist. He is former director of research at the National Security Agency, Executive Vice President at Walt Disney Imagineering, Associate Director at CTO for National Intelligence at the Federal Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and a director of engineering at the Hughes Aircraft Company.

(view full interview here)

David Cohen: Eric, in addition to your credentials at the NSA, I understand you were a psychologist, we do our research here. I’d love to get your read on our national psyche right now, how it relates to voting and security and I’m wondering if there’s a connection and maybe why people might be resistant to online voting today?

Dr. Eric Haseltine: The way I would assess the national psyche right now when it comes to elections, is lack of trust, lack of trust that someone isn’t going to try to mess with the election as they did in 2016, and we’re hearing reports from the intelligence community and elsewhere that that’s going on right now. Lack of trust that the voting system is secure from other issues. And then there’s the issue of disease. If I go vote am I going to pick up a virus? So I think people are very nervous about voting. And there’s a lot of concern about trust, can you trust the system?

David Cohen: So from your background of directing research at the NSA, I’m sure you’ve been privy to lots of conversations about hacking. We saw the misinformation campaign, in some cases, attempts to hack our voter registration list in 2016. In every tech category from finance to healthcare, we’ve managed to develop a system for managing that risk. Based on your background and what you’ve witnessed across critical infrastructure like this. Do you think there’s a solution for voting?

Dr. Eric Haseltine: I do believe that electronic voting can be secure. There is no system including our nuclear launch codes that’s 100% bulletproof. The key that modern security acknowledges is to operate under the assumption that you’ve been compromised, so that you can detect it quickly, isolate it when it does happen, and fix it quickly. And that’s really state of the art. And because of my knowledge about how these things are done, I’ve seen it done, it works very well. And I don’t have any concerns at all that we can vote securely, and I would go so far as to say that electronic voting is probably more secure than the paper ballot or the kind of voting we have right now.

“I would go so far as to say that electronic voting is probably more secure than the paper ballot or the kind of voting we have right now.”

Dr. Eric Haseltine, Former Director of Research, NSA

David Cohen: Before we move on to anything else let’s talk about Iowa. You and I know that wasn’t really a voting app that caused all this stir, but it really scared people obviously.

Dr. Eric Haseltine: That wasn’t so much a voting app issue as it was a reporting of the votes issue, as to do we know what happened and will we ever know? Absolutely. It’s the same thing that happens when you have any failure. It’s a human element, at some point in the chain, a human didn’t set it up right, didn’t specify the right thing, didn’t operate it correctly. So people tend to focus in the electronic realm on the technology. But having been what you think of as a bad guy or a burglar in this space, what we always focused on to exploit a target was the human element. And that’s the piece that gets under recognized. So I can say without fear of contradiction, that the problem in Iowa and all the other problems that we’ve had, at their root is a human vulnerability.

David Cohen: It would be a lot easier if it weren’t for those pesky humans, I guess. And I always thought of the NSA as the good guys, I guess.

Dr. Eric Haseltine: Well, we always like to think of ourselves that way. We aren’t always painted that way in the press, we’re hackers for God and country I guess you could put it that way. But because we do that, and we’re the best in the world, and we go up against the best in the world, we know what can be done and what can’t be done, what can be guaranteed and what can’t be guaranteed, and that’s why I say that the state of the art right now is to say, this system sooner or later probably will be compromised in some way. How do we set it up so that when that happens, and if that happens, we’re still going to be okay?

David Cohen: You were an op ed recently that said we should continue to do these tests and pilot things around voting. There’s not as much time for pilots now though. So should every piece of tech be considered and my peers in Silicon Valley are coming together like crazy and there’s, as you say, tech for everything. So do we just need to jump in headfirst here given the situation?

Dr. Eric Haseltine: Yeah, if I were in charge, I would say let’s find the best one or two, get the best white hat hackers we can, attack the heck out of it. Really beat it up, find its holes and get it working as fast as possible. And continue to do that. That’s the thing about penetration testing and white hat exercises. They can’t stop once they’re done with the initial attack, they have to keep it up 24/7 actually.

David Cohen: Do you think that ever gets politicized where someone that’s just against online voting for whatever reason tries to create that lack of trust or do you think that that’s just the default state that we’re in and we’ve got to work through it?

Dr. Eric Haseltine: I absolutely think it’ll get politicized, how can it not, and after all it’s about politics. And clearly, there are some who really are not going to benefit from electronic voting. Without mentioning any names, one party historically is underrepresented at the polls, because people in that party have other life issues and they don’t get to the polls, for any number of reasons. If we lower the barrier to entry, so that anybody could vote really easily, I think it’s clear that one party is going to benefit over the other and you can just bet your bottom dollar that is going to get fought tooth and nail.

David Cohen: So what’s the counter argument there if you’re in that other party, why do you think that this is a thing we shouldn’t do?

Dr. Eric Haseltine: I think that If I were in that other party and I actually am in that other party, the way I would look at it is to say, this is an opportunity, not a threat. And the key is since it’s inevitable, sooner or later it’s going to happen. Rather than fighting it let’s get out ahead of it and see how we can surf that wave rather than be drowned in that wave.

“[Electronic voting] is inevitable. Sooner or later it’s going to happen. Rather than fighting it let’s get out ahead of it and see how we can surf that wave rather than be drowned in that wave.”

Dr. Eric Haseltine, Former Director of Research, NSA

David Cohen: No one would know better than you, Eric, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.

Dr. Eric Haseltine: Well, you know what, it’s a really important subject I really appreciate being asked to weigh in.

Full Techstars interview viewable here.

Groundbreaking Virtual Convention Reveals Majority of Voters Prefer Mobile Voting

Last week, nearly 7,000 votes were submitted using the Voatz mobile voting platform in the Utah GOP’s virtual convention. This constituted a 93% turnout for the convention.

All submitted ballots undergo a public citizen’s post-election audit, in which anyone is able to participate as an auditor, hosted by the National Cybersecurity Center.

We wanted to share interesting data from this election. In addition to voting statistics, after voting, several Utah GOP voters voluntarily responded to a survey regarding their experience with mobile voting.

Highlights:

  • 90% reported being “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the convention
  • 87% reported being more likely to serve as a delegate if future conventions are online
  • 89% reported that their experience with Voatz was “positive” or “very positive”
  • Only 13% prefer to return to a traditional, in-person convention

[Data from a UT GOP survey with nearly 1,000 respondents.]

Additional highlights:

  • A majority of the voters prefer submitting their ballot via secure mobile voting
  • Nearly two-thirds of the voters felt secure submitting their ballot via mobile voting
  • Nearly all voters felt the instructions for completing verification were clear, that their ballot was easy to navigate and to cast

[Data from a voluntary survey specific to mobile voting with nearly 300 respondents.]

Below includes other highlights and data points from the election itself, as well as survey responses.

% RETURN RATE ON BALLOTS RECEIVED


This means that 99.6% of delegates who successfully verified in the Voatz app and received their ballot successfully submitted it.

BREAKDOWN OF VOTER SMARTPHONE TYPE

Q: Were the instructions for completing the verification clear?

Q: Was the ballot easy to navigate?

Q: Was it easy to cast/submit your ballot?

Q: How did you submit your last ballot, prior to this election?

Q: How secure did you feel submitting your ballot through this mobile voting project?

Q: What method do you prefer to submit your ballot?

State-of-the-Art Security Performs First-Rate Threat Mitigation

During the election, our advanced security threat detection mechanisms were able to detect, mitigate and thwart a handful of devices that had malware, were operating on insecure networks, or had insecure applications installed.

This is important data that indicates that the system is successful at ensuring a secure vote.

In these instances, voters were prevented from voting until the threat was mitigated. In some instances, voters were asked to remove malware on their devices and in others, some voters were asked to delete certain suspicious applications they had installed or remove certain appliances from their networks that could pose a threat to their smartphones. 

Stay tuned for some more details in a forthcoming blog post.

Utah GOP Sets the Standards for Mobile Voting in Groundbreaking Virtual Convention

Full press release issued here.

BOSTON and SALT LAKE CITY, April 30, 2020 — Voatz, the Boston-based mobile voting platform, today announced the successful completion of a first-of-its-kind virtual convention with the Utah Republican Party to narrow down key races in upcoming elections, including the race for governor and the 4th Congressional seat. 7,430 delegates were credentialed using the Voatz platform to participate across this year’s state convention, and five local county conventions. In the state convention, the party witnessed a record-breaking 93% participation rate, voting via the Voatz app using smartphones. This election also reflects the largest use of ranked-choice voting in Utah’s history. 

Voatz was engaged to work with the state at the end of March. Building upon its extensive experience with election pilots and testing, Voatz worked closely with GOP officials for alignment and training to ensure a smooth rollout of the platform. The platform was also built in cooperation with disability rights advocates, including accommodations for the visually impaired. Those who did not use the Voatz app had access to voting through a help desk. 

The elections, which opened on Thursday of last week, were completed just after midnight Saturday. To ensure the integrity of the election, the process will be audited by the National Cybersecurity Center with public participation from citizens. The results of the audit will be published in the public domain.

“We’re proud to have partnered with the Utah GOP during this challenging time,” says Voatz Co-Founder and CEO, Nimit Sawhney. “Voatz’s mission has always been to expand access to voting for those who cannot physically show up at the polls. We live in an unprecedented moment. This pandemic has significantly increased the number of those who face a risk in going to the polls, and no one should have to choose between their health and exercising their civic voice. Our platform provides another option to stay safe and healthy. We’re also proud to continue with our public citizen audits, where anyone can sign up to be an auditor of these elections. These are critical steps to continue demonstrating that auditing election results is both possible and necessary.” 

Derek Brown, Chairman of Utah Republican Party said, “The Voatz platform made possible the remote verification and voting processes for thousands of statewide delegates, allowing them to participate from the ease of their mobile phones. Using Voatz allowed us to digitally recreate our usual convention procedures, and implement technology in a way that made the process more convenient and secure. This experience was not only positive, but has opened our eyes to ways that we can operate in the future to ensure that more delegates are able to participate in the process. It has also helped us see new ways of integrating technology into our party’s operations.”

“I believe that, years from now, we will look back and see this moment, and our partnership with Voatz, as a turning point for our party,” Brown said.

About Voatz
Voatz is an award-winning mobile elections platform that leverages cutting-edge technology (including biometrics and a blockchain-based infrastructure) to increase access and security in elections. Since 2016 Voatz has run more than 60 elections with cities, universities, towns, nonprofits, and both major state political parties for convention voting. Learn more here.

About the Utah Republican Party
The Utah Republican Party is by the people and for the people. We affirm the worth of all individuals and seek the best possible quality of life for all. Learn more here.

National Cybersecurity Center Launches “Secure the Vote” Initiative

Voatz is honored to sit on the new advisory board for the National Cybersecurity Center’s (NCC) Secure the Vote initiative.

Secure the Vote seeks to advance the development of standards and best practices in mobile voting, and to scale efforts in support of a culture of security in small and rural jurisdictions.

The advisory board, made up of experts in cybersecurity and elections, will provide diverse perspectives on election security and growth at the intersection of technology and voting.

We applaud the NCC for forming this initiative and look forward to contributing to well-informed discussions on the opportunities with mobile voting technology that ensure greater safety and transparency.

Voatz Successfully Completes an Election in Utah County, Marking its Tenth Governmental Pilot in the Nation

Last week, Utah County, UT successfully completed its third mobile voting pilot using Voatz to enable remote voting for overseas citizens, deployed military and citizens with disabilities.

This marks Voatz’s tenth governmental pilot in the nation. The pilot saw great success, with 78 total submitted ballots, marking a 91% return rate on all ballots sent to these voters. This pilot was also available to voters with disabilities, including a voter who had just received a kidney transplant and was unable to travel to the polls.

“We are so impressed with how knowledgeable, supportive and professional the Voatz team is. I love how smooth and easy the application and process is, and we have had so many positive responses from our voters,” said one of the election officials in Utah County. 

Voters, too, had feedback to share.

“Thank you for making this so easy! I hope it ‘sticks’ for the fall election!” shared one voter.

Another voter shared, “Fantastic! Thanks again for your hard work and quick responses!”

All ballots will undergo a post-election audit hosted by the National Cybersecurity Center next week, open to the public for participation.

Valentine’s Day Myth-Busters

In celebration of this love-filled day, from the humans behind the screens, we take this moment to bust five not-so-romantic myths about us.

 

MYTH 1: Voatz doesn’t like cybersecurity researchers

TRUTH: Absolutely not! The Voatz team is staffed by cybersecurity experts and technologists – we wouldn’t be here otherwise. We are promiscuous though… we’ve worked with more than 100 other researchers to test and verify their claims on our public bug bounty program using the latest version of our platform.

If someone misled you to believe otherwise, please know – we love you. Slide into our DMs on Twitter @Voatz or out in the open on our public bug bounty program. We will make the connection! We’ve got nothing but love. 

 

MYTH 2: Voatz reported someone to the FBI

TRUTH: Nope! Voatz did not report anyone to the FBI.

The real story goes like this: during the 2018 West Virginia live election pilot, there was an unsuccessful attempt to gain entry into the live election system. We immediately saw the attempt and blocked it like a black hole on stardust. At the time, we had no way of knowing if the attempt was maliciously inclined or not, and protecting the system was most important to us (as it always is!).

Voatz shared the details of this attempt with West Virginia (as we’re obligated to do, helping to run their live election and all). Given the nature of the attempt, and because elections infrastructure happens to be classified by DHS under a fancy, very serious term called “critical infrastructure”, West Virginia felt it necessary to report the attempt to law enforcement. 

Again, the people who made this attempt were targeting the live system during an active election. They were not part of the bug bounty program, which allows you to test the replica system. Targeting a live system during an active election is a no-no because of that fancy “CI” designation, and requires reporting. Testing the replica system as part of the bug bounty program, on the other hand, is allowed. Therein lies the difference between what happened in West Virginia (not allowed: tampering with a live election), versus what could have happened (allowed: testing on public bug bounty program).

We think research is great – please keep researching. Truly. Our world is ever-evolving with security threats and we absolutely, fundamentally need people like you. And, by all means, please do it on our public bug bounty program. It’s free (!). You can access our latest versions of the platform and play with them all you want. And maybe even win money (!). And join nearly 100 researchers who’ve been important, collaborative researchers as part of the program. And, most importantly, you can help all of us, collectively, work toward building solutions rather than trying to tear them down. It takes a village, you know.

 

MYTH 3: Voatz hides its audits

TRUTH: No, we don’t. Voatz is an audacious experiment – not unlike finding true love. We are out in the open. Voatz has several public reports, including from the CISA Hunt and Incident Response Team (HIRT), along with our white papers, which are available on our website here. More reports are coming in the next couple of months – stay tuned. Also, it’s worth mentioning that our pilots are citizen-audited with the NCC, which is the National Cybersecurity Center. You can sign up to be an auditor, too – we all can, and make our elections more assured, and more transparent. Commitment does not get better than this.

 

MYTH 4: Everyone is voting on their smartphones — it’s widespread!!

TRUTH: This is very, very false. Across all of our governmental mobile voting pilots, less than 600 total voters have used our system. That’s an average of 66.66 voters per election — check out that equation.

We are always one of the first to say that mobile voting is far from ubiquitous. We’ve been building the technology for 5 years, now, step-by-step, piloting on a very small scale to test and iterate with church elections, universities, then both major political parties and then, for the first time two years ago, piloting with small numbers of overseas citizens in state and federal elections. These elections are the ones that suddenly threw us on the map with the media, but we’d been at it for 3 years before then.

It’s our belief that these very small pilots are what help us learn, test these technologies, and prepare – deeply – for election resilience for the future. You know, baby steps. Like first dates, then second dates, and so on.

 

MYTH 5: Mobile voting is less secure than what voters currently use

TRUTH: Did you know voters are currently voting by sending their ballots in an email? How about that for security? 

Email is how many of our overseas citizens and military are voting (think yahoo, hotmail, etc. 😱), because paper ballots don’t work for them (think about a village in the middle of West Africa). These voters have to relinquish their right to anonymity, and their jurisdiction has to hand-copy their emailed ballots, oval by oval, onto a paper ballot that can be tabulated. How about that for a long distance relationship – taxing on the jurisdiction, not very secure, and also prone to error.

So, in so many ways, mobile voting is actually a massive improvement to the current methods being used by these voters. It keeps them anonymous, it’s far more secure, it automatically produces a paper ballot for tabulation, and the voter gets a receipt to confirm their vote was counted correctly and to audit that their intent was tabulated. No ghosting, here.

 

Happy weekend, may your hearts be filled with nothing but joy and love for being alive!