Nearly 150 West Virginians living outside the United States cast ballots in Tuesday’s election using a blockchain-backed mobile app that West Virginia officials have touted as an ideal way to boost participation but has also attracted scrutiny from election observers.
The office of Secretary of State Mac Warner said that 144 voters — many of them active-duty members of the U.S. military deployed overseas — used the Voatz app to make their choices for in races for the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives and state and local offices.
Over the last few years, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have become more mainstream and the “ledger” technology behind them – known as blockchain – has become more widely understood. In fact, many observers have come to accept that blockchain technology will eventually disrupt a wide array of industries from real estate to finance to digital advertising.
But it’s still surprising to see that blockchain is already disrupting the electoral process (in West Virginia no less), traditionally one of the last places to see the adoption of any new technology.
According to Voatz’s development team, which is based in Boston, the app uses multifactor authentication and facial recognition to allow eligible users to access and then submit their ballots. Once a ballot is filled out, the app generates a PDF copy for the user, with duplicate copies being sent back to the Voatz team and the relevant county election board. According to state officials, all ballots cast in West Virginia are backed up with paper records.
“Blockchain is being used in everything from health care to transportation, pretty much all the different ways high-tech solutions to the problems Americans are facing,” [Secretary of State Mac] Warner told StateScoop last month. “It’s not trendy. It’s the wave of the future.”
Just don’t expect taxpayers to pick up the tab anytime soon.
The West Virginia pilot program was funded by $250,000 from a wealthy venture capitalist to help demonstrate the potential of blockchain technologies. But given the ongoing skepticism toward cryptocurrencies, it seems likely that private money will have to continue to drive this kind of innovation – at least in the electoral process – for the foreseeable future.