Michigan Democratic Party Completes Successful Virtual Convention with the Help of Mobile Voting App Voatz


BOSTON and LANSING, Mich., Sept. 2, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Voatz, the Boston-based mobile voting platform, today announced the successful completion of a first-of-its-kind virtual convention with the Michigan Democratic Party. This year’s convention was the first to virtually nominate candidates for the state Supreme Court, among other elected positions, for the November ballot.

Forced to participate from their homes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 2,000 delegates both submitted signature nominations and voted for their preferred candidates on the mobile app downloaded to their smartphones. Besides the Michigan Supreme Court, candidates were nominated to the state Board of Education and boards at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University. Roughly 91 percent of 2,092 credentialed delegates participated. 

This milestone marks the fourth convention that the Michigan Democratic Party has completed in collaboration with Voatz, with the prior three conventions occurring on-site in Lansing and Detroit and using the Voatz tablet voting system. This prior collaboration contributed to a smooth transition to an all-virtual convention for the party without disruption, and marks yet another compelling case for the benefit of piloting technology options that make elections resilient. 

“There were so many unique challenges with this year’s convention because of the pandemic, but the Voatz platform eased many of our concerns,” said Christy Jensen, Executive Director of the Michigan Democratic Party. “Voatz enabled our delegates to be verified remotely and participate through their smartphones. The convenience, safety and accessibility of voting this way was eye-opening for everyone who participated.”

Voatz’s staff worked closely with the party to ensure voter education, training, and a smooth rollout of the platform for all users. 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. 

“We’ve always enjoyed working with the Michigan Democratic Party and this time, are proud to have helped them with their first-ever virtual convention,” said Voatz Co-Founder and CEO Nimit Sawhney. “These are such uncertain times in so many regards, including voting, and we wanted to ensure a seamless remote experience. We’re happy to have seen such positive turnout from thousands of voters, who were able to cast their votes safely and securely.”

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 70 elections with cities, universities, towns, nonprofits, and both major state political parties for convention voting. Learn more here.

About the Michigan Democratic Party
The Michigan Democratic Party fights for families, seniors, students and veterans, and works to elect Democrats across the state while holding Republicans accountable across the board.

Beyond the Pandemic: Has Voting Changed Forever?

Below is a transcription of a recent webinar involving a panel discussion moderated by Chris Stern (The Information), with presence from Amelia Powers-Gardner (Utah County Clerk), Emily Frye (MITRE Corp), Asia LaBrie (Haven Life Insurance), and Nimit Sawhney (Voatz).

The transcription has been repurposed with permission from the Chamber of Digital Commerce and has been lightly edited for clarity.

View full panel discussion here.

Perianne Boring: Our next session is moderated by Chris Stern. He is a reporter at The Information. Is COVID going to be the catalyst to change? We’ve been living amongst a really historic moment throughout COVID-19, and it’s really impacted so many conversations we’re having on the national and international stage. And will that be an opportunity to move the dialogue forward when we talk about voting and voting technology?

Our next session, we have an elections official, cybersecurity experts, voting technology experts from both the public and the private sector. Chris, thank you so much for leading this discussion, over to you.

Chris Stern: Thanks. Hi everybody, I’m glad to be here, and I think that that’s a great introduction. I wrote a story a little while ago saying, “Hey, we’re in this COVID crisis.” It was very early. It was March. If we can’t figure out e-voting now, when will we be able to do that? In order to discuss that and maybe go over a couple of the points that we heard about in the last 30 minutes, we have Amelia Powers-Gardner, Nimit Sawhney, Amelia Frye and Asia LaBrie. I’ll go through them. 

Amelia Powers-Gardner is at the heart of voting in the United States. She’s county clerk in Utah. She’s a former engineer and manager at Caterpillar, as well. Now she’s the county clerk. She was elected in 2018. And during her year in office, she’s pushed through a lot of election-related reforms. She piloted a mobile voting app that was powered by blockchain, and she also allows her voters to vote by mail.

Nimit Sawhney is the co-founder and CEO of Voatz. It’s a platform that allows e-voting, so we’re going to want to hear a lot about his point of view. They’ve run more than 67 elections at the state and county level, including the first mobile voting election in 2018 in West Virginia.

Emily Frye is the director of cyber integration at MITRE Public Sector. She practiced law, and she worked with a startup through several rounds of funding. Her expertise includes critical infrastructure, national resilience and economic impact of cybersecurity. 

Asia LaBrie is the head of information security at Haven Life Insurance Company. She’s a former VP at Goldman Sachs, also at Citigroup. She also spent some time at Citigroup where she led a team responsible for interbroker dealer connectivity and algorithmic trading. 

I want to get right into it with Amelia Powers-Gardner. You’re really at the center of how folks vote. You’re the valve that pushes votes one way or another in terms of how people can have access to democracy. Can you describe your experience with online voting, and why did you take that route?

Amelia Powers-Gardner: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me, and I’m excited to be here to talk about the future of voting. I’ve had the opportunity to really be a pioneer in this space and push things that some of the other people in my profession, county clerks from across the nation, have hesitated to do. I was put in office, to an office, that was literally called the epicenter of dysfunction by our governor. I was elected by a large majority because it was such a mess, which gave me a lot of freedom, because no matter what I did, it was going to be better than what they had before. So this gave me the opportunity to be a pioneer, and no matter what I did, it was going to be better. The reason we went with mobile voting is when I started looking at our overseas and military and our disabled population, the methods that they were given were unreliable.

They were given vote by mail, which we utilize for our domestic population, but when you start dealing with an overseas population, vote by mail becomes a lot more sporadic and really unreliable. The other option they were given was email. And when they utilized email, not only was it absolutely not secure, but it waived their right to a secret ballot. 

So now, we’ve got our military men and women serving us overseas, and they’ve got two options. One is unreliable and the other doesn’t afford them a secret ballot. So I really looked at the mobile voting as a way to provide our overseas and military citizens, particularly those serving in the military, this opportunity to vote for the freedoms that they’re preserving. Also in the disabled community, some of them can’t hold a pencil and vote by mail wasn’t working for them. So this really gave them the opportunity to cast their vote and to do so independently and with integrity. It was really a no-brainer for me.

Chris Stern: Can you describe a little bit about how you got to trust a particular e-voting system and how you became comfortable with it, that it would work and that it was safe for your voters?

Amelia Powers-Gardner: Yeah. So when I looked at those systems, what I was comparing them to was our current system. So what I really looked for was do you have better ways of identifying the voter to ensure that it’s really the voter casting that vote, and do you have more secure ways for them to transmit that vote than what we currently had? We looked at several different options, and I myself am a fan of blockchain. I’ve been interested in blockchain for years, and all things blockchain, whether cryptocurrency or utilized for the immutable ledger. 

And so, as I evaluated different products, I was naturally drawn to the blockchain product. I actually met Nimit. Nimit made an appointment with me, I think, my first week in office and came and showed me his solution. It checked all those boxes, more secure than we currently have, more reliable, [and] gave the people the opportunity to cast a vote anonymously and with integrity. And it utilized blockchain, which made me feel more secure knowing that we had an immutable ledger that I could audit against in the future to ensure that these votes really were being counted as they were cast.

Chris Stern: Did you audit?

Amelia Powers-Gardner: We did. We have done four pilots now. We did the municipal, primary municipal general, presidential election and the nominating primary here in Utah this year. And we have audited every one of those elections. Every one of those, we’ve had 100% clean 

Chris Stern: And how does that compare to say a mail-in or a rather physical voting, in-person voting in terms of a sense of security with it.

Amelia Powers-Gardner: So for mail-in voting and for personal voting, we typically will audit about 1% of those votes. With electronic voting, we’ve been able to audit 100% of those votes. Risk-limiting audits are very common in the election world. It’s something that we, as election officials, utilize to ensure that our vote is true and secure, and typically it’s a percentage of those votes. We’ve been fortunate with these electronic pilots to be able to audit 100% of those votes and give us that much more confidence in the results of those elections.

Chris Stern: Okay, I want to get back to you maybe a little bit later to talk about [how] those audits work, but Nimit, let me ask you. Could you briefly describe Voatz and what you all are trying to do and what the status is of the electronic-voting industry generally right now?

Nimit Sawhney: So [to] the first part of your question about Voatz, we are the youngest elections company in the country. And our focus from the very beginning has been on mobility, particularly focused on utilizing all the advantages which our smartphone-based ecosystem provides. We led that space of letting users use their technology, get remotely verified by scanning a government-issued ID, taking a selfie and then using the biometric security features, the trusted secure element-based features on the device to be able to submit a ballot, including if needed, signing on the screen. So we-

Chris Stern: Let me just be clear. You’re talking about people’s personal mobile device, right? You’re not talking about some device that is in a room somewhere. Just describe the process from start to finish about how one comes to end up voting over your Voatz system.

Nimit Sawhney: Correct. So this is personal devices. The process is very similar to other forms of absentee voting. Just like you would register for absentee voting by mail, instead of using mail, if you’re eligible for electronic option, and you decide to choose it, then you mark that in your application. Your county, your local election clerk, would have read that. 

Once they approve you, you then get an invitation to download the smartphone application on your iPhone or compatible Android device. You start with an email or a mobile number. And then, once you’ve passed initial onboarding, the system prompts you for an ID check. So you need to take a picture of a government-issued photo ID. You can use a driver’s license, state ID or US passport. If you don’t have any of those, you can use other forms of IDs, as well. And then, you take a live selfie, and what it does is firstly make sure that you are a real person. You’re not taking a video of another video or a video of another picture, and it matches your face to the picture on your ID, makes sure your ID’s valid, and it’s not fraudulent, and then matches the data on your ID with the data on the voter registration file for that election. 

And once all those checks pass, which takes about a minute, then your identity’s digitized, stored in the secure element on your phone, locked with the help of a biometric credential. It could be a fingerprint, a face ID or a variable. And then, all the documents you’ve uploaded are deleted. At this point, you are ready to receive the ballot. You get your mobile ballot, which is essentially the same you would get if you ordered by mail or if you went to the precinct to do it in person. You mark the ovals. And when you’re ready to submit, you may be asked to sign an affidavit, depending on your jurisdiction. Once you do that, you submit. 

You get a receipt. You can verify your choices were recorded correctly. And then, in the background, an anonymous receipt is also sent to the jurisdiction. On Election Day, a paper ballot is printed. Also, every oval in the background has been recorded on a blockchain-based infrastructure. Once the paper ballot’s printed, it has the ability to do an audit with the anonymous receipt, the paper ballot and the data on the blockchain. So end to end, that’s how the whole process works.

Chris Stern: Okay, great. Well, now that we’ve heard that explanation, let me ask Emily. Is that a safe system? Are you comfortable with that? Can we trust the phone? Can we trust the network? Can we trust all of the elements that make this into a voting system that democracy can trust?

Emily Frye: That’s a great question. Rather than talk about any particular system, I think what’s important to note is that regardless of how good any particular system is, and we have several nice candidates in this space now, we still are dealing with two obstacles for all of these vendors. So what we really need to do is find a way forward for all of these vendors through two particular obstacles. 

The first obstacle is that there’s a time-honored tradition of feeling like I carry my ballot, and I cast my vote in a personal way at a specific location. And there’s a weight of tradition that we carry as baggage. Now in other contexts, I might not call that baggage. I would call it an honored tradition, and the reason that I think it’s becoming more like baggage is that we’re dealing right now with a digital generation. These are people who they’ve grown up holding their whole lives on these devices, and they expect to be able to conduct all functions, including functions of dealing with the state, on digital devices. And so, we’re dealing with an influx now of a community that views that burden of taking time off of work and going to cast your ballot in person as actually something they want no part of. And so, within the next few years as that digital generation starts to [enter]  voting age, we actually need to find ways where the tradition of voting is just as honorable and just as noted and just as worthy on a digital device as it is in person. 

So what does that transition look like? We’re dealing with some burdens of tradition, and the second major issue is, regardless of what I think, regardless of what Secretary Warner thinks and what regardless of what you think, Chris, the fact of the matter is we don’t have adequate standards. So let’s say that some independent person who’s very well trusted in the system asserts, “I believe in these three companies as great offers.” Okay, well, what standards are you relying on to make that assertion? We’re missing some standards here. It would reassure the entire ecosystem, if we had some standards that addressed the basic baselines of here’s your hygiene protocols. Here are the special standards that apply due to the need to return a ballot digitally. Here’s the authentication body of standards that we’re using for each individual in this chain, and here’s our chain-of-custody standard or some body of standards that we could then say to the vendors, “Here are three standards. Have you met the three standards?” And it would reassure our election officials around the country as they seek to move in this very logical direction.

Chris Stern: That’s a great point. I mean, the standards is not something that exists now at all. Amelia, I’m going to jump back to you before I get to Asia. Amelia, if there was a standard, if there was a regulation of some kind that covered it, I have two questions. One is what would you see in those standards? And two, and maybe this is something we should talk more broadly, is it appropriate to set that standard at the state level, or do you want to see it set at the federal level?

Amelia Powers-Gardner: Those are great questions. I have to agree wholeheartedly. I really think the industry needs some standards. We keep hearing it can’t be done, and that’s just frankly not true. In an age where we can edit DNA using technology, we can also find out how to vote securely using technology. We just need some standards like Emily said. I couldn’t agree more with that. 

I think number one, we need security standards so that we can say, “These are the minimum standards that you need to transmit a ballot.” We also need identity or authentication standards. As an election official, I’m responsible for ensuring that the actual voter is the one casting that vote. So if we could have some identity standards, some security standards and then basic standards around the election process. Was this an anonymous vote, and was it cast in a timely manner? Was there only one vote cast? Just very simple things that I don’t think would be very difficult to comply with, just having them in a standard would be great. 

As far as those standards go, the way things work right now, there aren’t really standards on a state level, but there’s certification on a state level. Typically what you would want is an industry standard or a national standard that is recognized by the industry and that different states can then therefore adopt for certification of an election vendor.

Chris Stern: Okay, thanks. Asia, we’re getting into the discussion of standard and, in effect, regulation. How close does that get us to the end goal of folks feeling safe with e-voting? And when I say folks, I mean government officials. I mean people like Amelia, and I mean citizens like all of us. How much does regulation get us towards that goal?

Asia LaBrie: I think that it is contagious, right? If you can get a group of a population comfortable, that population can teach maybe their children or their grandparents to then also get comfortable. That’s not the best example of contagious, but I think there’s a lot of education and training that will need to happen. It can happen organically, and the standards are probably the first step. 

I do want to also highlight there’s another element to this conversation that I think is important, and that is the operational risk. It’s not just the attacker side or the fraud side, but how do we run elections and do that in a resilient manner? I think that’s something we’re about to see happen this year with mail-in voting, with the numbers increasing – something that electronic voting would be a solution for going forward. I just want to raise that; I think an important problem that we really need to solve.

Chris Stern: I mean, Nimit, I’ve read and I’ve talked to people who say, “As soon as a vote touches the internet, as soon as someone’s electoral preference is subject to hacking, it can never be safe and we can’t trust it.” What is your response to that? What is your response to the internet just is inherently untrustworthy, and there’s nothing we can do to fix that?

Nimit Sawhney: When people make those broad statements, I think they miss a few things. For example, the internet by itself was not essentially designed for security. The internet, it’s like a highway. It’s a mechanism to transport things. Security in this scenario is the responsibility of the application. You can’t really keep blaming the transport and say because the transport didn’t have X, Y, Z, we can’t even build something secure on it. It would be very disingenuous to say that. 

I think as some of the other panelists have mentioned, there are so many use cases where secure transport is happening because the applications that  are enrolled there, whether it be space or defense or healthcare or finance. They’ve figured out a way to transmit data securely and in a manner which is immutable. 

And so, for sure, we can do that in the election space. It’s harder, because not only do you have to transmit it securely, you also have to make sure that the identity of the voter cannot be reverse-engineered. Applications exist with infrastructure like distributed ledger-based systems. I mean, even before blockchain became popular, there have been scientific projects on immutability. You just can’t claim that just because the internet doesn’t provide that secure fundamental, just because it’s a highway, that you can’t run a secure application on it. I think we have so many examples out there. 

Secondly, along with that, we also hear a constant companion statement that because it’s all software, you can’t trust software. That also seems a little bit farfetched. Granted software can have bugs, but we also have what’s called a formal software verification process, which is used by the Department of Defense. It is used in the space industry. It’s used in fight software. It’s added to fighter jets automated systems. And so, that same model is very applicable to software in any other industry. Why not in elections? 

I think that the technology to do this is here.To make sure that we can transmit something securely and make sure it’s not tampered with, either during transportation or when it’s at rest, and more importantly, the ability to audit the whole thing. Like Amelia was saying, if you do it at scale, it would not be timely, possible, to audit 200 million votes, if everybody voted electronically. But if you can do a subset and get that mathematical assurance, just like what happens with paper ballots, then you can come to a very strong conclusion that the whole digital process is secure and tamper-resistant.

Chris Stern: There’s a lot more voters than there are fighter jets. When you talk about going to scale, I think that’s the big issue. And there’s been great examples of what Amelia’s done in her state and what others have done in Washington and Colorado, but I guess the question is:Yes, you can be successful at the West Virginia level where you’re getting votes from a few hundred army or military folks overseas or folks with disabilities, but what about a vision of ramping this up to tens, even hundreds of millions of people who vote in this country? It seems like that creates the attention of a national election that is very attractive to hackers. Can we  ramp this up to scale? It seems the scale is the problem.

Nimit Sawhney: No, that’s a great question. I think ramping up clearly can’t happen overnight, and so we have to do what we call baby steps. So like you rightly mentioned, we started with hundreds of voters. Next step is to take it to the next level, use thousands of voters and then involve other partners in the ecosystem. Right now, as transactions are happening on mobile devices, mobile carriers are not involved in the election, securing the election process. The next really good opportunity would be to involve major election carriers to make sure that when this scales up, like you said, tens of and eventually hundreds of millions of people, they are the edge infrastructure. They are the ones who are going to get attacked, the ISPs, the edge routers. 

At that stage, you’re looking at the national infrastructure. You’re looking at a national conversation, and it’s no longer sufficient to say that a specific county or a specific state can defend its system. That becomes a national endeavor, and countries have managed to do that. 

Estonia is a really good example where despite daily attacks, daily threats, they’ve run secure online elections for 10 years. Granted, they are a small country, but they have more than a million people voting, and they’ve managed to do it. Clearly there’s a way to secure the infrastructure. Our government services are all going electronic. Look at Singapore, Dubai, UAE. Just like we would secure that infrastructure, we can secure the e-voting infrastructure as well, but it has to be done one step at a time and eventually we will get there.

Chris Stern: Asia and Emily, how do you feel about that? Yes, in concept, we need e-voting. Yes, in concept, it is something that provides a very elegant solution to a lot of problems we have, whether it’s fear of gathering in an election place to vote side by side with other people. How close are we to ramping it up from small scale to the large scale that allows for the typical two-year and four-year cycle in the United States? Emily, why don’t you take this first?

Emily Frye: So recently, I learned that the most northwesterly province of Canada, just as a wholesale matter, decided to go with e-voting for federal elections. So to me, it says the driver is necessity. For them, the driver was necessity. The people felt that it was hard, physically hard to get to the polling places. It was not a COVID issue. This was last fall and they just were ready, and they had a need, and they saw the technology. They looked over the different security aspects. Even though there are no standards and the Elections Board of Canada was a little taken aback, this particular province went right ahead. 

I do think we’re looking at a number of years, and I think the drivers are a combination of necessity to ensure voter turnout, a necessity to make available the ability to vote when you are posted on a hillside in Afghanistan and you don’t have access to first-class mail, when you are a disabled person in this country and that is increasingly a more visible problem. 

We’re seeing some good press about people who have genuine needs, who have disabilities and can’t get out. Now, this year we’re in a unique spot. We’re at this pain point of people feeling genuine fear. It’s no longer a question of a few isolated populations with special needs. All of us have that fear, right? And is this a moment that can catalyze many, many years of slow growth into a shorter period of, oh, focused, “Let’s get these standards done. Let’s meet those standards. Let’s make sure everyone’s comfortable.” And then, you have a bunch of states who actually want it and those things [are] coming together a little faster. 

My hope would be that we would be able to speak specifically about progress toward establishing a baseline for security standards, identity standards and knowing who’s meeting those before the next four-year cycle. Sometimes I’m overly optimistic, but that would be my hope.

Chris Stern: Asia, your thoughts on this and on how close we are? What are the steps we need to take to find broad acceptability of e-voting?

Asia LaBrie: I think Emily’s spot on with the drivers behind moving mobile voting forward more quickly. I mean with COVID, I think we’re seeing a lot of new technology advances in areas that maybe we wouldn’t have expected, like weddings and boating licenses. You see technology being much more palatable. I get asked by friends and family quite often, “Why can’t we vote online?”, from a technology problem specific point of view. 

And I don’t see the roadblock, other than training, education and then the tough, hard problem of implementing and rolling it out.I hope by the next election, sorry, there’s elections every single year, but by the next presidential election, I hope that we have at least one large city piloting mobile voting. That is something I’m advocating and passionate about.

Chris Stern: Amelia, can you describe what e-voting was like from your constituents’ point of view, from the consumer point of view? Was there one group that was more comfortable with it, and was there any groups that had difficulty figuring out how to do it?

Amelia Powers-Gardner: Yeah, absolutely. So we sent surveys to every single person who utilized the vote. Now once again, this is a very small demographic, but we sent surveys to every person who utilized the mobile voting and we didn’t find any major demographic. We have older couples that are serving service missions in other countries in their 60s and 70s, and they were able to figure it out and do it. We have military members that are just barely 18 and eligible to vote serving in the military that were able to do it. We didn’t have any major group. 

There may have been some that needed a little bit of help with scanning their ID and doing the selfie, but when it came time to actually cast their votes, they didn’t have a problem with it and they really liked it. In fact, right now we are getting phone calls from military members and service missionaries from other counties in our state, calling us and saying, “Hey, my partner over here, they get to vote on their phone. Why don’t I?” And I have to explain to them, “That’s because your county isn’t doing the mobile voting.” And the question isn’t, “Is this safe?” The question is, “Well, why aren’t they? Why aren’t they doing this mobile voting?” So from the user standpoint, it’s significantly easier. They like it. They don’t see a problem with it. 

We actually have a higher voter turnout with those that are eligible to use mobile voting. We have a higher voter turnout for our overseas citizens in municipal city elections, if they can use their phone, than we do from our domestic population who lives here and can either vote by mail or show up at the polls. We’re a vote-by-mail county, so we mail every eligible voter who is an active voter. We mail them a ballot, and we have a higher percentage of people voting on their phone from overseas than we do from people right here in our county who we mail a ballot to.

Chris Stern: Do you have any data on what voter participation was in year-over-year folks who voted via their phones versus voted [at] physical [polls] or a mail-in ballot of some kind?

Amelia Powers-Gardner: Yeah, it was significant. We had significantly higher participation of those overseas. I’m just comparing overseas to overseas, try to be apples to apples, but overseas voters casting their vote by mail or email as opposed to the electronic voting — it’s significantly higher. So for example, in the last major municipal election, our voter turnout for the county was about 35%. Our voter turnout for our overseas citizens that could use their phone was about 45%. Previously, theirs was about 11%, huge, huge increase in voter turnout for that population.

I do know that the younger generations feel more comfortable with voting by their phone. We have a city here in our county that is predominantly a millennial city, brand-new housing, high-density housing near a university. It’s just predominantly millennial. They have a higher participation in social media polls, than they do that vote in their city election, and that city has asked me many times, “Can we please use mobile voting for our municipal elections, because we’d have a higher voter percentage turnout.” The only thing that stops me from doing that is the lack of standards and, therefore, a lack of state certification so that I can let them. Otherwise, this community, I would absolutely let them vote on their phones.

Chris Stern: I’m confused. Why are you allowed to do it in other cases, but you can’t let this community do it?

Amelia Powers-Gardner: So the rules are a little bit different when it comes to overseas and military voters, and disabled voters. Overseas and military, the federal government requires us, all 50 states are required, to provide a ballot electronically to overseas and military citizens. 29 states require that we let them return those ballots electronically, so a mobile app works in that case, and it doesn’t take the same certification as a broad usage.

Chris Stern: Emily, we hear a lot about, during the last few minutes about, millennials are much more comfortable with this. They’re more comfortable with online surveys. They’re more comfortable with social media in general, and maybe they see voting as an extension of social media rather than a fundamental building block of democracy, but I also hear in different contexts about other things I write about, things like TikTok, where there’s a lot of concern that the younger generation is very free and easy with their personal information, and that other countries can take advantage of it, because they offer it up so freely and in such a insecure environment that it opens up the US to manipulation, not just at the personal hacking level but also influencing elections and things like that. 

So what is your reaction to that? Is there a creeping lack of a sense that data isn’t as important as it actually is? The young folks may not appreciate how important their privacy is, but there are folks over in the Pentagon and the CIA and others who are very concerned about it, because they see it as an opportunity to open the door and manipulate our society and our culture and our politics.

Emily Frye: So here you go down this path that unpacks some other very, very important issues. I would like to pause it, for purposes of this conversation and consideration that we are facing two co-equal threats as a nation to democracy, when it comes to the elections portion of democracy. If we can all agree that elections are a fundamental underpinning of constitutional democracy, that means they must have integrity. In order to have integrity, it means both the actual technical details of the process must themselves have integrity and be trustworthy. 

It also means that the ecosystem and the ethos around the perceived integrity of the elections technology and process themselves, are trustworthy. So when we think about the threats to that, we see a cybersecurity threat. Co-equal to that, we see a misinformation or disinformation threat. Both of these are important threats, and unfortunately they exacerbate one another. And yet, they can be dealt with in separate ways. 

What we are primarily dealing with during this conversation is actually the cybersecurity issues. We are facing simply a lack of standards for cybersecurity when it comes to this particular marketplace. At the same time, we are also facing a body of problems related to mis- and disinformation. I actually want to separate those in this case, because I don’t want to burden a burgeoning, promising, technologically helpful offering with the freight and baggage of something that we’ve got to find other tools for. 

So let me just start by saying there’s a very big difference between TikTok and casting a vote in a federal election, right? So I don’t really need any credentials to participate with Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Facebook, I can make up an awful lot of stuff, and to me social media is an ecosystem that is essentially designed to be manipulated. What we need to do when it comes to both how we architect, and how we speak about mobile and digital and remote voting systems, is to be the opposite of that, to be an ecosystem that is designed to be heavily authenticated and trustworthy. 

So we’re dealing with different tiers of a digital ecosystem, and we have to be clear which tier we’re dealing with when it comes to the mobile and remote voting systems. That is a special place right up there with critical infrastructure operations, right? We have very different standards when it comes to financial services, to running the electricity grid, to operating elections than we would for simply engaging in social chit-chat on TikTok, Facebook, Snapchat, Reddit. And we do need to be quite clear about that.

Chris Stern: Yeah, I hear you, but I also hear folks saying, “Well, the younger generation’s comfortable with e-voting. Therefore, we should go forward with e-voting.” And I wonder if we’re skipping a step there.

Amelia Powers-Gardner: I think there is something we need to add to that. Keep in mind that a vote not cast changes the outcome of an election just as much as a vote that’s been changed. And when we are disenfranchising large groups of eligible voters, we are changing an election. 

If the people with disabilities voted at the same rate as people without disabilities in this country, we’d have seven million more voters every election. Think about that. That means that people with disabilities are not being represented. 

We no longer live in an era where only white male property owners get to vote. We live in a country where every eligible voter, regardless of their socioeconomic status, their gender or the color of their skin gets to vote. And if we are using an antiquated system that leaves out single moms or people in inner cities or people with disabilities or people under the age of 30, then we are changing the elections by doing that. No, we absolutely cannot compromise integrity, and we cannot compromise security. That’s not an option. 

Like Emily said, this is critical infrastructure. I had the Department of Homeland Security in my office for eight hours yesterday going through our systems step-by-step. It was like a 437-point inspection to make sure that we are secure. We can’t compromise that, but we also need to realize that we have large swaths of people that traditionally have been disenfranchised, including our men and women in uniform overseas fighting for freedom. They’ve been disenfranchised for the last 50 to 100 years, and that’s just frankly not acceptable. So we have to move forward with integrity, but also realizing that a vote not cast changes the outcome of an election as much as a vote changed.

Chris Stern: Nimit, you are caught between a rock and a hard place, because on the other side, you have these millennials that I’ve accused of being free and easy with their data. On the other side, you have the folks over at MIT who seem to think it’s impossible for you to produce a secure voting system and actually derailed an election that you were about to run. West Virginia changed courses midstream because of questions that MIT raised. Are you fearful that the bar will continue to be raised because of the culture on the other side with cybersecurity experts who are fearful of anything that touches the internet being insecure, or do you think that that’s a problem where you can make them comfortable with it?

Nimit Sawhney: Yeah, yeah. In some sense, we have seen the arguments evolve. Two years ago when we were doing our first pilot, the arguments were, “How will you audit? Where’s the paper trail? How does the voter know that their intent was honored?” And so, when we were able to address those questions, now there’s a new set of questions. 

I think in some sense, the bar does keep rising, but we were the first in this space, and so, we’re not shying away from that, I think that that’s good that there is scrutiny and criticism. Some of it would be more objective and less deceptive, but I think scrutiny is good. It keeps us on our toes and also hopefully puts us on a path to more objective deliberation where we’re not speaking in echo chambers. 

I think sometimes we feel like a lot of the security conversation happens in an echo chamber, and it doesn’t really take into account all the things which Amelia just mentioned or what Emily just mentioned. And so, our biggest hope is that by doing these pilots and pushing the ball forward, however slow and painful that may be, that we get to a place where we at least can have a conversation and say, “Look, before you dismiss something, have a look. There may be different ways to do this,” but if we can all come together, like Amelia said to edit DNA, to send people to the moon, bring back the space shuttles and formally verify software so it cannot be tampered with or hacked, for sure we can come up with a common set of standards like was proposed earlier and use that as a basis to move forward. So I agree with you that there are lots of hurdles, and the bar keeps rising, but I think we’re not perfect. And so, we look to that as inspiration to improve and keep waiting. 

And so far, I think we’ve been fortunate enough to have an opportunity to do that, do more and more of these pilots. With each pilot, we learn so much. We recently released some security data, which to the best of our knowledge, no elections company anyone has ever managed to release. So hopefully, these are baby steps which make the conversation more constructive, and we love feedback. Hopefully it’s more constructive and less destructive like in the past.

Chris Stern: Asia, you said that one of the concerns you had was understanding better the operational aspects of e-voting or at least that that’s an area of focus, and I was just thinking about that. And I was wondering because at the end of the day, this comes to the nuts and bolts of how this will work, and I was wondering if you had any thoughts about what it is that you would like to see.

Asia LaBrie: Yeah, sorry. And I meant that for all of voting over time, not just e-voting.

Chris Stern: You said it at the time. I understand that now, as well.

Asia LaBrie: I just would like to comment a little bit on what Nimit just said around the research I think as far as standards and guidelines go, that they should apply also to the research that’s being done. It seems to be a little bit lopsided, and we’re looking more on how to break things and not how to solve things. And it would be great to have universities looking at building innovation and solving problems, not just breaking them. And it’s something I think we as a country need to improve on. I’ve read the MIT paper in great detail. There’s a few things that I would challenge, but one of the points that are missed in there is a risk assessment on current practices versus what is new, the new solution. It’s easy to look at this one solution I guess in a bucket and not look at the holistic strategy of where we’re headed as a country. I’m sorry. I forgot your first question.

Chris Stern: You mentioned operational issues that needed to be addressed.

Asia LaBrie: Yeah, I love technology. I am very passionate about it, listened to a whole bunch of DEFCON talks this weekend. I’m very tired. There was a lot of talk around standards, guidelines, some great conversation around that. There was great conversation around vulnerability, disclosure and improving that space, which I was glad to hear. And there was a really great talk too around how are we able to handle the operational aspect of mail-in voting this year. It may take time to count these votes. The people are going to need to be more patient, asking the hacker community to please don’t disclose vulnerabilities the day before an election, right? So-

Chris Stern: Good luck with that.

Asia LaBrie: Yes, that’s where I was headed with that.

Chris Stern: Okay. Amelia, can you tell us? I mean, you’re in a unique position. Do you see strengths and weaknesses? Could you walk us through the… I guess I’m counting three different ways to vote now, which is mail-in, e-voting and in person.

Amelia Powers-Gardner: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, we do all three, right? So I think I’m one of only maybe three jurisdictions in the country that actually does in-person, mail-in and e-voting. And Asia nailed it. Like her, I went through that MIT paper with a fine-tooth comb, right? I went through that with a fine-tooth comb. 

I was faced with a decision similar to Secretary Warner where I had people that were threatening me with bad publicity, if I continued to use the Voatz platform. And as I went through that, and actually it was on a phone call with these researchers with MIT, the Department of Homeland Security facilitated a phone call with us and these researchers. And I asked them several probing questions about how we currently run elections. They had no clue about how we actually run elections today. 

There was a handful of things in their paper that I wholeheartedly could just push aside, because it was no different than how we run things today. Now do we run elections perfectly today? No. Is there a perfect way to run elections? No. Has there been voter fraud and voter-election prosecution for in-person voting? Yes. Has there been in-person voting with machines? Yes. Has there been fraud with in-person voting with paper? Yes. Has there been fraud with mail-in voting? Yes. 

I mean, what we’re doing now is not perfect, but it’s the best that we can do. And when we look at evaluating things, we need to look at, number one, let’s evaluate it compared to what we’re currently doing. Number two, how secure is it compared to what we’re currently doing? And number three, is there a better way? And absolutely I think that we need to look at this within the realm of possibility. Is it possible for every person to show up at the polls on Election Day and use paper perfectly? No, it’s not, but we have to find a balance between safety and security, and serving our people. 

With vote by mail, I have to tell you, I have an employee who works here in my office, okay? She works here in my office. She has a disability, so she’s eligible to utilize mobile voting. So she is signed up to utilize the Voatz app in our elections but because she is an eligible voter, she still gets mailed a ballot, okay? In November of 2019, she cast her ballot. She never got a ballot in the mail, but she cast her ballot on the Voatz app. Last week, the US Postal Service delivered her ballot for [the] November of 2019 election.

Chris Stern: Wow.

Amelia Powers-Gardner: She was able to cast her ballot using Nimit’s Voatz app, and we have a vote-by-mail county. Now does that mean if she didn’t get her ballot in the mail, would she not have been able to vote? No, of course not, because we have checks and balances. 

She had several options. She could contact our office and say, “I never got a ballot,” and we would send her a new one. That’s one. Number two, she could show up at the polls on Election Day. And not only do we have paper at the polls available on Election Day, but we also have an express vote, which is a machine designed for people with disabilities to be able to vote. 

Every one of our polling locations has accessible machines for those with disabilities. It has paper at the polls for those that didn’t get a ballot or changed something or lost their ballot, or their kids thought it was junk mail and threw it away. We have several checks and balances along the way. In this case, her vote-by-mail ballot did not show up until six months after the election was over, but she was able to cast it on her phone, right? So every system we have is going to have vulnerabilities. Every system we have is not perfect. What we as administrators do is we work our best to make this as secure as we can for as many voters as possible with the resources that we’ve been given.

Chris Stern: Let me ask you. You said you’ve been hearing from folks around your state who are saying, “Why can’t we do this here in this county or in this municipality or in this city?” Are you hearing from folks outside of your state?

Amelia Powers-Gardner: Oh, absolutely. I get calls from advocacy groups outside our state saying, “What laws allow you to do this, and what information can you give to me so that I can bring that to my jurisdiction?” I also get a lot of calls from other jurisdictions outside the state, because we do vote by mail successfully, because we do mobile voting as well as polling locations. We do get a lot of people asking us, “How do you do what you do, and can we do the same?” 

So that’s great, which leads me to one other point I wanted to make. One of the things that has built insecurity to our election system in this country is the fact that the country doesn’t have one election vendor. They don’t have one election process. Elections are not run at the federal level. There’s some very high-level regulations at the federal level, but the majority of election law takes place at the state level. And even then, the majority of the election administration takes place at the local level. That actually brings us security. If we implemented broad mobile voting, but we had 25 vendors in the market and every local jurisdiction gets to pick the vendor they choose, a foreign actor couldn’t just hack one system and change an election, right? 

I think that’s something that we want to keep in mind that when we have a lot of jurisdictions running elections. Yes, you can have chaos in some areas. I mean, Broward County, Florida comes up. They had hanging chads, and in 2018 they had issues as well, right? Election administrators can cause chaos, but they can also bring in a level of professionalism. And they bring in a lot of ideas, and that brings security.

Chris Stern: Okay, thanks. We have just a few minutes left. I want to just go quickly through the panel starting with Emily. Anything that you think that we should quickly touch on that we haven’t poked during our conversation over the last 45 to 50 minutes?

Emily Frye: Thank you, Chris. I would like to foot-stomp and slightly expand something that Amelia played out. Are we comparing the current option on its level of security and credibility to the new option, or are we comparing this new technologically apparently greenfield to some unrealistic standard of perfection? I think that’s really important, and one particular example hits that home. In many cases, and a very unofficial example of how votes can be returned, actual completed ballots are returned is my unencrypted email. If we want to compare the Voatz solution or DemocracyLive or any other solution to unencrypted email, there’s really no question as to who wins. So we have to look at what we’re actually comparing in order to be sure that it’s a fair and accurate truth-telling.

Chris Stern: Okay, thank you. Asia, very quickly, any thoughts, final wrap-up thoughts?

Asia LaBrie: Just all the three points I’d highlight that we need to do to make this happen is the standards, and the frameworks, and include research in there, move universities to provide solutions and keep doing the baby steps, pilots, phases, Nimit.

Chris Stern: Okay, thanks, and Nimit?

Nimit Sawhney: Thank you. Thank you, Chris. I think I would echo everybody else on the panel and say that the faster we can come up with a base set of standards, I think that would be really, really helpful for the industry, for putting forward more innovative ideas. So I would really urge the community, all the stakeholders, to prioritize that and wholeheartedly be willing to contribute wherever we are needed. Thank you.

Chris Stern: Great, and Amelia?

Amelia Powers-Gardner: I think you’ve had a fantastic panel today. I’m very impressed with Emily and Asia and always Nimit. You guys absolutely were spot on. We need standards. We need solutions. We need to compare this to what we’re currently doing, absolutely could not agree more. And lastly, I think instead of finding new people budding in this, new companies budding in this space, instead of trying to squash each one, I think the industry needs more competition and more solutions that can meet these standards.

Chris Stern: Great, thanks. And Perianne, if you’re there, I’ll hand it back to you. Thank you so much.

Perianne Boring: Thanks so much, Chris. That was a really wonderful conversation. Appreciate you, Chris, moderating that. What a cool opportunity to get to hear directly from elections officials that are on-the-ground, elections and voter technology experts to really help set the stage of what the full scope of the challenges are when we talk about voter technology, and the potential role blockchain technology has to play in this ecosystem. 

I really appreciated Amelia’s point that a vote not cast changes the outcome of an election just as much as a changed vote. And thanks Amelia, for that call to action for the industry standards, absolutely agree and believe that there needs to be a conversation between the public and the private sector, and so many of the most important initiatives throughout the US in technology and innovation have been a public and private sector collaborative effort, whether that’s commercializing the internet, or putting the man on the moon, or building out a safe and secure electronic voting strategy for the United States. 

That balance between the public and the private sector is absolutely essential. And it’s also essential that all populations have the tools that they need to exercise their right to vote. The world’s moving forward. Technology is moving forward, and voter technology – it has to move forward too, but it needs to be done in a way that does not compromise integrity. So I want to thank all of our speakers for joining us today, for sharing your insights. And thanks to all of our attendees for coming and watching, and learning more about this topic with us. For more content hosted by the Chamber of Digital Commerce, we’d like to invite you to Parallel. This is our virtual summit. Our next event for Parallel episode number four, titled ‘Surviving and Thriving’, will be on September 18th, 2020. You can join at parallelsummit.org. Thanks again for joining us. I look forward to seeing you next month at Parallel.

Voatz Completes Mobile Voting Election in South Dakota

Summary: The Republican party of South Dakota offered mobile voting to all delegates in its virtual convention last weekend with 85% delegates voting through the Voatz app. 50% of those voters submitted ballots within the first 20 minutes of the voting window. 


Boston, June 25, 2020 — Following the momentum of successful virtual conventions in both Utah and Arizona, last weekend Voatz successfully completed its third virtual convention with no incidents, generating elevated participation numbers and record engagement. The convention brought together delegates from 31 counties and concluded on Saturday, June 20, 2020. 

Dan Lederman, Chairman of the South Dakota Republican Party, said “Our goal was to create a convention experience that energized the Republican party in South Dakota and replicated an in-person convention. An uncontested convention did not deter delegates from voting, because it was easy. It was a team effort – Voatz worked with us for four weeks ahead of the convention to credential delegates, ensure a smooth rollout, and provide a test vote to get delegates comfortable with the system. It was a successful day for the South Dakota Republican Party.” 

“Voatz is proud to partner with the South Dakota Republican Party to securely enable their delegates to vote in their convention while, most importantly, keeping them safe during this uncertain time,” says Voatz Co-Founder and CEO, Nimit Sawhney. “This was the first time voters in South Dakota were able to vote through a mobile app in an election, and we were glad to see the enthusiastic response. More than half of the voters using the app submitted their ballot within the first 20 minutes of the voting window opening.  Voatz is excited to replicate the successes we’ve seen in the Utah and Arizona Republican Party Conventions, where record numbers of delegates submitted their votes seamlessly.” 

The successful use of mobile voting in South Dakota is an excellent roadmap for election officials looking to expand voting options in states where mail-in voting and polling places are likely to be impacted by Coronavirus. A mobile voting solution would bring relief to anywhere the population skews more elderly

The South Dakota Republican Party chose Voatz as the mobile voting platform for its virtual convention after clear demonstrations that Voatz could handle the dynamic nature of the convention and the potential for runoff rounds of voting. The platform allowed delegates to vote securely, privately, and electronically through their mobile phones. Voatz helped make the voting process safe and verifiable for delegates and candidates.      


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 65 elections with cities, universities, towns, nonprofits, and both major state political parties for convention voting. Learn more here.

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.

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.

Voatz Open Press Call Transcribed from February 13, 2020

The following Voatz press call took place on February 13, 2020 from 1-1:30pm ET. The contents of the call are transcribed below, lightly edited for punctuation and typos.

Full audio is available here.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Use the chat function to send us your questions. Direct all your questions to moderator and that way we will take them on as we have with, on a first come first serve basis. As some of you know, Voatz is regularly called on by members of the media and influencer community to respond to all kinds of conversations, including what’s been raised by The New York Times today. Voatz as a small team of technologists and election experts focused on developing technologists that is often, the company is often unable to respond to every query in every way.

So we’re doing this in an effort to respond quickly. Everyone is traveling, but they’ve taken time to jump on this call. We appreciate that, and if we don’t get to all the questions or if there’s a great amount of demand, we can host another call tomorrow or early next week. So, let’s jump right in. Thank you in advance for your participation. We’ve got three executives from Voatz, Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder, Larry Moore, Senior Vice President and Hilary Braseth, Vice President. I will continue to prioritize the questions in terms of first come first serve. Hilary, could you kick things off with a quick overview and introduction to Voatz for those who are just getting introduced to the company for the first time?

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

Definitely. Can everyone hear me okay?

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

You’re coming through loud and clear.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

Okay. Excellent. Thanks so much, Robert. As Robert mentioned, I’m Hilary and I’m a Vice President at Voatz, and thanks to everyone for joining on such short notice. We very much look forward to responding to your questions about the report from MIT. But before we dive in, I just want to quickly introduce Voatz so that we all have a shared context for having this conversation.

So for the last five years, Voatz has been working on developing accessible, secure, and auditable technology that provides access for people who can’t get to the polls or for whom paper ballots just don’t work. This includes people with disabilities, the elderly, overseas military service, men and women. In order to do that, we have leveraged the latest security features of smartphones, like Apple and Android, the phones that many of us use along with facial recognition technology to verify and validate the identity of the voter.

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

Hilary

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

Yeah?

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

One moment. I think just out of courtesy, we should inform everybody that we would like to record this call and make sure everybody’s okay with that.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

Okay.

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

Can you, yeah. Hi, everyone, just letting you know that the call is being recorded and will be transcribed as well. Thank you, proceed.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

Okay. All right. So as I was mentioning, we leverage a handful of different technologies to provide voting access to those who can’t otherwise make it to the polls. So, I was in the midst of mentioning smartphone technology. We pair that with facial recognition technology for verification and validation of the voter’s identity. We leverage biometrics to secure and protect that voter’s identity, and we use cryptography to automatically produce a paper ballot for tabulation of the jurisdiction, and lastly blockchain for rigorous post-election audits so that we can ensure voter intent is reflected in the overall count without revealing voter identity.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

Now, I realize that’s a lot of tech buzzwords and I’m sure we can get into the specifics during Q&A. Above all, I want to reiterate that we are always interested in having conversations with people who want to explore the deeper underpinnings of our technology and even experience it. We are more than happy to have that conversation.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

I also want to address up front and right away that very often our system is accused of not having a way to ensure that after a voter makes selections on a smart phone, that they don’t get changed during transmission. This is false. Every ballot submitted using Voatz produces a paper ballot, and every voter using Voatz receives a ballot receipt once they submit, and both of these documents are anonymized and encrypted, and together they form the building blocks for an end-to-end voter verified feedback loop that allows the jurisdiction to confirm that whatever the voters submitted on the smartphone is what’s actually tabulated.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

We have worked exceptionally hard alongside or election officials and independent cybersecurity organizations to develop a very strict post-election audit process that, for the first time in history, is open to anyone in the public to sign up. Anybody can be part of that audit process, and we encourage anyone to sign up to be an auditor of our pilots. I cannot emphasize that enough. These audits verify that every single ballot submitted using Voatz in those ballots, that voter intent is reflected and that tabulation is accurate. These audits are critical to both involving the community in our innovation process, but also ensuring that every single ballot submitted on our system can be verified independently without compromising the voter’s anonymity.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

Last, before we dive into questions, I really quickly want to note that we have run more than 50 elections since 2016, including 9 targeted, well-designed governmental election pilots across five states for overseas voters and voters with disabilities. These governmental pilots have all been declared successes by the jurisdictions, and many of the voters who’ve used the system have shared very valuable feedback about how this voting option made participation accessible for them, and for some, this was the first time in decades.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

The reality is that our system, as it’s currently designed, actively shuts out citizens from participating in our democracy and we are of the belief that we have to move the needle forward to provide these citizens with an easier way to vote, and in that process, security has always been our number one priority in moving forward with these small, targeted, well-designed pilots so we can learn, iterate, and build, and drive progress. Our hope today is we can have a frank and transparent conversation together and that we can have a chance to respond to the latest news about a report that was written about this morning in The New York Times.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

Robert, I’ll hand it back to you. I know we have a lot of questions to get through.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Great, thanks. Thanks for the background, Hilary. We’ll get through these as fast and efficiently as possible. The first set of questions come from Eric Geller, from Politico.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Is Voatz concerned about CISAs comment that is looking into MIT’s new report on the app’s vulnerabilities?

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

Hi, this is Nimit. I can answer that. So, we are not concerned. We’ve been collaborating with CISA ever since the discussion about this report started a few days ago, and it’s been a very transparent process with them, and we’ve communicated our feedback to them already throughout the process, so not worried about anything over that.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Is the company worried that it will lose contracts due to the research?

Larry Moore, Senior Vice President:

Hi, this is Larry. Of course we are, and we’re also concerned that this report will scare off others, but I’m at an event in South Carolina right now and the feedback that we’ve received as late as this morning, and I mean, everyone who’s read this report have had The New York Times article. But as late as this morning, the response has been very gratifying to us.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Okay. What evidence does Voatz have that the researchers are motivated by a desire to “thwart the process of innovation and progress for better voting access”? “Disrupt the election process”, “sow doubt in the security of our election infrastructure”, and “spread fear and confusion”.

Larry Moore, Senior Vice President:

Yeah. Let me take that one again. Again, this is Larry Moore. So first of all we are, I was just trying to do this on Google Maps, but we’re probably less than two miles away as the crow flies from the MIT Research Lab in Downtown Boston, so we’re close. They could have contacted us. Had they invited us over, we had come over on the red line, but they didn’t avail themselves of the hacker one program and riffed that in the report, and yet, that would have taken a trivial effort on their part to just confirm the allegations of the jailbroken phones, but they didn’t do that.

Larry Moore, Senior Vice President:

The other evidence is the last couple of paragraphs in their report where they say, “Given the severity of failings discussed in the paper,” which we dispute, “the lack of transparency,” which we also dispute, “the risks of voter privacy and the trivial nature of the attacks, we suggest that any near future plans to use the app for high stakes elections be abandoned.” So not a very collaborative environment here, and they use the media attention to, in a pretty aggressive way, to really try to stop this process in these pilots.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Thanks. Why did Voatz accuse the researchers of trying to remain anonymous when they put their names on the paper?

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

I can take this one. So throughout the process of the researchers initially getting in touch with CISA, they decided to remain anonymous throughout that process, and we could have some guesses as to who the researchers were, but even up until publication in The New York Times, they refused to reveal their identity. We are unaware of why they didn’t want to reveal their identity. We would have been, as Larry mentioned, happy to have engaged in thoughtful conversation with them and helped them to validate whether or not their approach was sound.

Larry Moore, Senior Vice President:

Yeah, and one of the thing, Hilary, I’ll just add to that, they demanded and we exceeded to the demands of having a one on, having a phone call with all of our customers, without us being present, mediated by CISA. Even on that phone call, which happened on Tuesday, a week ago, they did not disclose their own, their identity.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

If Voatz believes that the research is wrong due to the researchers use of a simulated server, will Voatz let them access its a real server to perform the same analysis?

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

Hi, this is Nimit here again. I can answer that. Absolutely. We offered that to them as part of our initial response via CISA. 

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

There was no response from researchers. And moreover, we already have this server available. It’s to our public bug bounty program. Anybody who wishes to sign up, test that apps over there, against the real server with full functionality, is able to do that. And so that system’s already available. They willfully chose not to do it. So absolutely, one of the first things we offered in our responses, why don’t you prove all these claims on a real system, and then we can investigate further. But they did not respond to that at all.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Thanks Nimit So the next set of questions come from Russell Brandom from The Verge. First question is, I understand from the post that the MIT researchers were testing an outdated version of your software and weren’t connected with Voatz servers. However, the post stops short of saying that the vulnerabilities discovered had been patched in recent version. I’m curious if you can speak directly to the status of those vulnerabilities.

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

Absolutely. So they had whole paper is riddled with holes, if I can use that word. For example, they talk about our use of the blockchain and say, executing a 51 percent attack. That attack is not possible because we do not use a public blockchain. We use a permissioned blockchain based on Hyperledger, and such an attack is not possible on that infrastructure. Similarly, they assume that by defeating the malware and the jailbreak detection on the mobile devices, that they will be able to connect to our server. Because they didn’t connect to our server, they did not experience all the checks which happen on the server, which would have prevented them from doing anything.

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

And then all of their claims are based off that. That because they were able to jailbreak or successfully compromise a client device, that the assumption that device would be able to connect to our server is completely, completely flawed. And so that’s the really, really strange thing was, why would they do such a hypothetical analysis when they had a real system to actually test it out?

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

Similarly, there’s another-

Larry Moore, Senior Vice President:

Nimit, a reminder to talk about the first claim on the side channel link.

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

Yes, I was getting there. So one of the claims they have is, as Larry mentioned, it’s called a side channel leak. To drill it down, what it means is as network traffic is passing through while people are using their devices, that by looking at that encrypted network traffic, they can deduce who you are voting for, and then start disrupting that traffic to the disadvantage of the voter. And hypothetically, that may be possible. In a realistic scenario, that’s not possible given how our pilots are conducted. Secondly, that issue of a side channel problem was fixed many months ago. So if they had used the newer version of our system, they wouldn’t have even seen that. But we want to reiterate that in a real world scenario, exploiting that is extremely, extremely hard. Especially in the case of our pilots where voters are distributed, it’s a smaller amount of voters. They’re distributed around the world, breaking into network routers, cell towers, isolating individual voters, breaking into their devices… I mean, these are… This is hypothetical scenario. It’s not realistic at all.

Larry, is there anything you’d want to add to that?

Larry Moore, Senior Vice President:

Yeah, the… Maybe a little humor on the side channel leak. So despite the fact that we really fixed it, I mean think about what’s going on. They have, again, to repeat Nimit, the voters, which there are less than 600 across nine pilots, dispersed around 40 countries. You’d have to gain access to the routers that are located in the cellular providers’ networks or at military bases. And just think about how hard that is. The example that they used, it basically looks trivial if you’ve got one contest and two candidates that have different length names. Bush V Gore for example, would not work.

Larry Moore, Senior Vice President:

And so by looking at gibberish, which is what the encrypted traffic looked like, they claim that you can deduce somewhat easily the identity of the candidates that are being voted for, and then choose to disrupt the traffic back to the server so that the vote would never get registered. That also ignores the guaranteed delivery of messages, and the voter would notice this right away. So, and once again, how did they attack… Attach to the network? They would’ve seen this.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

So just to follow up on Russell’s question for absolute clarity. He asked, have they been patched? And it sounds like, did they exist? If so, have they been patched? Are they mitigated or otherwise addressed from some server-side protection? I’m curious if you can say why Voatz users should not be worried about the vulnerabilities described in the MIT paper.

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

Absolutely. So as Larry mentioned earlier, the side channel issue, even though we think it’s largely theoretical at this stage, was addressed in one of our versions much newer than the version which the researchers looked at. Regarding the other protection, yes. So their claim of being able to compromise a device and then being able to use that to connect to the network, that would have gotten blocked by server-side protection. And so definitely, there’s a lot of the intelligence in the system that relies on the server-side, in the cloud, which they completely missed because they were just looking at one isolated piece of the system. So as far as Voatz users are concerned, we do not believe that they should be worried at all about these vulnerabilities, which they are highlighted.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Good. Okay, thank you. So we’re going to go to the next set of questions from Alexander Culafi from TechTarget. The first question is really looking for clarity about what we were just talking about, The researchers’ paper said Voatz confirmed the existence of the side channel and PIN entropy vulnerabilities. Is this accurate? I think we’ve more or less covered it, unless there’s anything you want to add there.

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

I can add something about the PIN entropy. So the system supports PINs of various lengths, various complexities. You can even use external multi-factor devices. But keep in mind, we are focused on accessibility here to make it as convenient as possible for voters without compromising on security. And so the common approach used there is, if you don’t have biometrics enabled on your device, if you’re not using a fingerprint or a face ID, then you can as a last resort, for accessibility, resort to an eight digit pin. Now an eight digit pin has 100 million permutations. So in order to crack a pin for a pilot voter, firstly you have to get physical access to that voter’s device. Then you have to get into that device, run a brute force, it would probably take you two days at the minimum. Destroy the battery, by which time the user would have detected you. And so that’s why we feel it’s not at all realistic at the moment.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Got it. The research paper says Voatz does not actually use blockchain technology to submit votes from a mobile device to the servers. Is this accurate? And if so, then why does Voatz official documentation suggest it does use blockchain for votes submissions?

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

So this claim is completely inaccurate. Right from our very first election, we have used the Hyperledger based blockchain framework. With every pilot we’ve enhanced it, made improvements to it, and continued to do so. Our post-election pilots, ever since the third pilot done by then Denver County, have all utilized the blockchain infrastructure to facilitate the forced post-election audit, which citizen auditors have audited. NCC, which is the National Cybersecurity Center, has audited. So this claim is completely baseless. And if they had tried to dig in more into the system, into the reports which are available on our website, they would not have made this claim that we don’t use the blockchain.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Are there differences between the field-tested version of the Voatz app and the version covered in the HackerOne Bug Bounty program?

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

No, there are not. The only differences, the servers they connect to, the field versions obviously will connect to a production infrastructure when a live election is in progress. The HackerOne applications connect to a replica infrastructure which is identical to the live infrastructure. Just that it’s not a live infrastructure. So you, as a researcher, can request access to test elections if you like. Like many researchers have done, you can request enhanced access where you get… We can provide these special versions of the applications which have less security so you can do more drilling and you know, more kind of under the hood studies as well. And so, but the version available on the bounty program and public production versions are the same. They connect to a different server on the backend.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Got it. A Voatz statement said the research team used a flawed approach by constructing hypothetical backend servers, but were the modeled servers used by the research team an accurate representation of Voatz’s servers? And if not, how are they different?

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

They missed a lot of things, so they were not accurate. At best, they were somewhat partial because they could not see all the components. 

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

They could not see all the components. They could not even reverse engineer all the code in the Android app that they looked at. And so they’re missing some pieces in the Android app itself. I would say they probably missed 50% of our server architecture information as well, and so that’s why we call it really flawed because had they gone through the bug bounty program or collaborated with us through other means, they could have gotten access to the full infrastructure and had a more accurate view of how our system works.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Got it. The next set of questions come from Hiawatha Bray from the Boston Globe. Can you confirm that some other states are planning to use the vote software in this year’s election? Which states? Also, how many states are using the votes app this year?

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

Hilary, that’s for you.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

Yeah, I can take that one. We typically leave any announcements to the jurisdiction. So any new jurisdiction that’s going to be using our technology this year, we’ll let them make that announcement.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

How do you get a printout from your smartphone?

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

So this question might be in reference to what I said in the introductory remarks. As soon, and I was describing kind of the post vote audit trails, so we do have an infographic that delineates and tries to simplify yet still honor the technical process behind the vote system. So if anybody on this call is interested in having a copy of that infographic, please reach out to the organizer of this call and we can get that to you. But the short of it is that as soon as the voter submits her ballot on her smartphone, three really important things happen.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

One, instantly she receives a receipt with all of her selections. This receipt is anonymized, it’s password protected, and only she holds the password to see that receipt. The purpose of this receipt is so that the voter can verify her selection, as I reiterate. Simultaneously, what happens at the jurisdiction is an official ballot that is marked with this voter’s selections has been formed at the jurisdiction, and on election day two members from the jurisdiction possess the keys to unlock what we call a digital lockbox where they unlock it and print the official ballots for tabulation.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

At the close of the election, comparing that digital receipt with the voter’s selection that’s anonymized with that official ballot, both are signed with an anonymous ID, selection by selection validates that voter intent is reflected in the overall count and to make sure that nothing nefarious happened in the transmission of the voter’s vote. Not to get too technical, but the third and last thing that happens, because I mentioned there were three things that happen when a voter submits. The last thing that happens is when a voter submits their ballot, each oval on that ballot passes through that Hyperledger public permissioned blockchain network that Nimit was mentioning, and that serves as the final and third audit piece as an untamperable record in the event that something were to happen to the paper tally. So that digital receipt, the official paper ballot, comparing those two verifies that intent is reflected in the overall count. And then the blockchain record is the overall final audit piece. I hope that clarifies. And again, we have an infographic that delineates this.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Thanks Hilary. Aaron Mack from Slate asks, I was wondering if votes had a statement on Mason County deciding not to use the app.

Larry Moore, Senior Vice President:

So I’ll take that. I know the auditor there pretty well. So surely this was disappointing to us. He was under intense pressure to back out, but as late as this morning, he indicated he wished he’d stayed in. But I want to put a plug in for the Voatz system, we don’t know of another system that in fact could have backed out votes that had already been cast. And that’s a real strength of the system. So yes, votes had been submitted in Mason County. And when Paddy McGuire said I need to pull the plug, we were able to back those out and they never counted.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Got it. Kevin Collier from NBC asks, I believe Voatz has gone thr0ugh several independent audits, the results of which it hasn’t made public. When you say who each of these auditors are and will you ever make the results public?

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

I can address that. So many of the audits we’ve done in the past, as we mentioned earlier, have been under stipulations warranted by the NDA, so we are unable to reveal the names. However, findings have been shared with our customers, and so there are some audits happening for which information is publicly available. One of them was conducted by the DHS. That’s report is available on our website, so if you go into the FAQ section, you’ll find a report. And as more public reports are available, we will be sharing them on our website as well.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Right. We have one more question that’s come in during the call from Rob Right at Tech Target. Voatz took issue with the fact that the researchers wouldn’t disclose their identities. But you also offered these same anonymous researchers access to your backend servers? Is that correct?

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

Yes, we did. When the initial discussions were happening, these are moderated by the team at CISA. We did request the researchers to use our bug bounty system, in which case they can remain anonymous. They don’t have to reveal themselves. And prove their claims. Because they didn’t actually prove a single one of their claims. It’s all hypothetical. And so it’s like, okay, why don’t you prove this on a real system? And if it’s a real problem, other than the side channel one, which we had already previously fixed, if any of the others are real problems, minus the server one. That was a whole sense of hypothesis there, but any of the other issues they highlighted, we would have loved to engage with them but they did not even reply. Larry, you want to add something?

Larry Moore, Senior Vice President:

Yeah. Let me pause for just a second before we go onto any other questions and just talk about the nature of pilots. On innovations in elections, and I think I can say this with a great deal of certainty here, have started with… All innovations in elections have started with pilots, from the time the industry moved from precinct voting to vote centers in early voting, to the time when Washington and Oregon pioneered all vote by mail. These have all started with pilots. And in every single case, security was raised as an issue. And so we see this as a continuum going on. And we’re not at all saying that we’re ready for universal access or universal adoption, but we feel like we’re very responsible starting off with really the two most vulnerable cohorts in the electorate. And that’s military and overseas voters, their families and civilians residing abroad as well as voters with disability who have a legal right to access new technology as it’s presented to, for example, military and overseas voters.

Larry Moore, Senior Vice President:

So pilots are inherently part of the progress that gets made in elections, which we may agree has been largely a stagnant industry. And these attacks that have been leveled against us this morning really are a continuum of the attacks against this kind of technology that started nearly 18 years ago. And the same arguments are being used. I think the MIT researchers spent a lot of time compiling this report, and I think it would have been a lot better had they collaborated with us instead of attacked us.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Thanks, Larry. And thank you everyone. I know we are past time. You can send follow up questions. We’re taking them by email. Give us feedback on the call. And also if you need more information, please reach out. We’ll of course let everyone know if an additional call is necessary and gets scheduled and are happy to address follow up questions. Thanks for your time and have a great afternoon.

Nearly 1500 Tufts Students Use Voatz Technology to Participate in the Spring 2019 TCU Presidential Election

In mid-April, Tufts University used the Voatz platform to conduct its 2019 elections, with a voter turnout of nearly 1500 students.

Students had the option to either authenticate and vote with their smartphones, or via the Voatz tablet system, via a station located in the Tufts Community Center.

Nigerian Candidates Use Voatz Technology on the 2019 General Election Campaign Trail

ABUJA, NIGERIA — A new mobile application developed by Voatz was used by 16 female candidates during the Nigerian 2019 General Elections earlier this year. The application, called Women Influencing Nations, or WiN, is designed as a politically-oriented social media platform to help women candidates run for office. Using WiN, candidates are able to garner followers, share events and create posts, and even collect political donations via mobile money.

The Voatz team traveled to Nigeria during the January campaign season to assist in the roll out of WiN. In partnership with UN Women, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), and Mina’s List, Voatz helped lead a two-day training and information seminar with women candidates and aspirants from around the nation.

^Voatz with the team during the training in Abuja, Nigeria

In a country that faces election corruption and distrust, the seminar focused on engaging directly with voters and building an effective campaign. Together, the Voatz team and women candidates discussed topics ranging from creating and sharing a good campaign video to the importance of collecting small donations.

The WiN app is designed with these goals in mind, providing integration with large social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook and making it easy to share posts about local events.

For the Voatz team, the opportunity was filled with inspiration. The women’s excitement was contagious and their gratitude warming. Different from our typical partners, which operate in firmly established democracies, the women are truly courageous, putting their status, reputation, and careers on the line to fight for their cause.

Opportunities such as these are invaluable to our team’s understanding of how our users interact with and receive our technology. Being immersed in cultures abroad, as many of our users are, offers unparalleled insights into how we can improve our outreach, technology, and overall mission.


Contributor: Quinn Wilson

Voatz Attends Conference in Georgia on “Electoral Integrity: Cybersecurity and the Reliability of Information in the Digital Era”

Last week, representatives from our team attended the 9th Annual Meeting of Election Management Bodies, a gathering hosted by the International Center for Parliamentary Studies (ICPS).

The conference was held in Batumi, Georgia, and focused on the theme “Electoral Integrity: Cybersecurity and the Reliability of Information in the Digital Era”. These gatherings draw together election experts, analysts, representatives from election management bodies and research centers to discuss the challenges and complexities facing elections.

During the conference, Jesse Andrews, Director of Business Development, led a conversation that explored elections and elections security in our modern era. The talk dissected the components surrounding election security: election setup, ensuring physical safety to the voter, securing election integrity, digital security, participation rates and fair results. 

The crux of the talk posed the question: what is the relationship between security and participation? Often, the two can be at odds with one another — greater security practices can make it harder to participate in elections, and great turnout can make securing polling stations harder. He shared that at Voatz, we consider participation to be part of security, and that both securing the vote and participation are critical for a democracy to function well.

Voatz Partners with the City of Denver on Mobile Voting Pilot for 2019 Municipal Elections

We are delighted to announce the launch of a new pilot program today with the City of Denver that will provide mobile voting secured by the blockchain to deployed military personnel and overseas United States citizens during the city’s municipal elections this spring.

We commend the City of Denver for seeking new, innovative technologies to improve our election infrastructure and provide secure, auditable, transparent voting options for voters. With this pilot program, Denver is leading the effort 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 Denver 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.

Last fall, we first piloted our technology at the federal level with 24 counties in West Virginia. During the pilot, 183 voters were eligible to vote, 160 downloaded the application, 147 successfully completed the one-time identity authentication process, and 144 submitted ballots that were counted and audited from 31 countries around the world. More than 200 West Virginians outside the eligibility criteria (military personnel and overseas US citizens from 24 counties) downloaded the app and authenticated themselves, only to find out they were not eligible.

These numbers indicate a 98% successful return rate on ballots received, and a 90% return rate on voters ballots requested. All votes produced: 1) a ballot receipt signed with an anonymous ID to verify the voter’s selections, and 2) an actual ballot with the same anonymous ID, formatted for printing and tabulation per standard procedures. These two verified trails enabled a thorough post-election audit by comparing the selections and the overall counts between the ballot receipts and the printed ballots.

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

The Denver 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. Once a voter is authenticated, they will be able to vote beginning March 23 until the polls close in May.

The process begins once a voter downloads the Voatz application to their mobile device and begins the one-time authentication process. An eligible, registered voter: 1) scans their state driver’s license or passport, 2) takes a live facial snapshot (a video “selfie”), which is matched against the photo ID and confirmed against the voter registration database, and 3) touches their phone’s Voatz biometric feature (i.e., fingerprint or facial recognition) to tie the voter’s device to the voter. Once the voter is authenticated, the ballot is received and the voter is ready to vote.

Mobile voting secured by blockchain solutions can help address some of the biggest challenges in election administration by adding security, transparency, and trust to the system. We believe that expanding secure voting options in the United States will increase participation in elections and strengthen our democracy.

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