West Virginia will use blockchain to enable overseas military to vote via smartphone in 2018 midterms

Troops stationed abroad will find it easier than ever to vote, as the state of West Virginia plans to allow military deployed overseas to cast their ballot via smartphone in the upcoming midterm elections.

West Virginia’s initiative was created in partnership with Voatz, the Boston-based maker of a mobile voting app, according to CNN. This fall’s midterms mark the first time that federal election ballots will be cast via smartphone, after the system was tested in two county primary elections in May.

Voatz’s system is blockchain-based, allowing ballots submitted by service members to be verifiable but also anonymized.

While the state has authorized use of the app, individual counties within West Virginia will have to decide whether or not they will allow deployed military to use the app come November. Armed forces personnel can still use paper ballots if they prefer.

The first U.S. foray into smartphone voting in federal elections comes as national security officials have repeatedly warned that Russian agents are gearing up to influence and attack America’s hotly contested midterm elections all levels — federal, state and local. In addition to coordinated misinformation campaigns pushing “fake news,” counterintelligence officials say the Russian government is also behind attacks targeting weaknesses in U.S. voting technology and ballot tallying methods.

For their part, West Virginian officials and the team behind Voatz told CNN that they are confident the blockchain-based system will prevail. But critics fear that embracing electronic voting methods could make U.S. elections more susceptible to interference.

OWI Insight: Digital, remote access to fundamental rights and core government services is an admirable goal. West Virginia and Voatz are breaking new ground this November, and their embrace of blockchain makes the e-ballots interesting from the perspectives of identity, data security, and the spread of new technology. All eyes will be on West Virginia’s voting system this fall, and the performance of the service could set the stage for future initiatives — or potentially set back smartphone-based voting by many years.