Voters living abroad used app in W.Va. election

The Voatz app made voting easier for West Virginia voters living abroad. Photo: Facebook
The Voatz app made voting easier for West Virginia voters living abroad. Photo: Facebook

New technology has helped a group of U.S. voters who were living in one of 29 foreign countries on Tuesday.

As many as 300,000 registered voters located overseas requested ballots in the 2016 elections but failed to submit them. That suggests many Americans were discouraged from participating in the democratic process.

This time, 140 West Virginians cast their election ballots in an unprecedented pilot project, according to state officials. In the end, the state’s most high-profile race favored Democrat Joe Manchin, whose senate seat was saved by a comfortable margin.

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The program uses a mixture of smartphones, facial recognition and blockchain technology to create a large-scale and secure way for service members, Peace Corps volunteers or other citizens living overseas to participate in the midterms.

West Virginia is apparently the first state to run a blockchain-based voting project at such a scale. It could be the future of distance voting, making voter participation easier for expats.

Votes came in from Albania, Botswana, Egypt, Mexico and Japan, among other countries, said Michael Queen, deputy chief of staff to West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner. Warner’s son, who is in the military and stationed abroad, was among the participants, Queen said.

West Virginia worked with Voatz, whose app has been used on a limited basis in a number of other settings, such as student council races and West Virginia’s May primary.

To cast a ballot, voters must first register through the app by uploading an image of their driver’s license or other photo identification. Then the app instructs them to submit a short video of their own face. Facial recognition technology matches the video against the photo ID, and the personal information on the ID is matched to the voter database. Then, voters can make their selections and confirm their ballot by fingerprint or facial recognition.

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Votes are stored on a blockchain database, where records are secured using complex computational algorithms, and unlocked by county clerks when the polls close.

While the process was deemed to have proceeded smoothly, security questions loom large enough to prevent officials to extend the program beyond the overseas population. Submitting a paper ballot in person remains the preferred way for citizens residing in their districts to cast their vote.

Sources: Washington Post, Politico

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