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West Virginia Not Planning to Expand Use of Blockchain Voting

A limited pilot program for overseas military personnel and U.S. citizens used blockchain technology for secure Internet voting. It was a first-of-its-kind project, but the state isn't looking to make it the default system.

This week West Virginia became the first state in the nation to use Internet voting with blockchain technology in a federal general election, piloting the program for military and other voters living overseas. Despite what officials are calling a successful trial for the app, from Boston-based startup Voatz, Secretary of State Mac Warner has no plans to extend the program to domestic civilians, according to The Washington Post.

West Virginia used the Voatz app in a similar limited capacity for the primary election in May. The app works by recording votes on a blockchain, a cryptographic concept popularized with cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. Facial recognition technology verifies the voter’s identity by comparing it to a driver’s license or other photo ID, and their vote is recorded on a “chain” containing all the votes cast, where each one is mathematically “proven.” This allows the user to vote from anywhere in the world and verify their vote was recorded as intended, with no potential for human error from an election official counting their vote.

According to a news release Tuesday from Warner’s office, an estimated 144 West Virginia voters stationed in 30 countries cast their ballots with Voatz for the 2018 midterm election. They included active military service members, Peace Corps volunteers and U.S. citizens overseas for other reasons. Of West Virginia's 55 counties, 24 participated in the test.

Talking to the Post on Tuesday, Michael Queen, Warner's deputy chief of staff, said that he was pleased with the trial and it had already been “very successful,” with only two voters reporting difficulties using the app. But Queen also told the Post that the state had no plans to expand mobile voting in the future.

Election security expert Maurice Turner, from a Washington think tank called the Center for Democracy and Technology, told the Post that Voatz is likely more secure than sending absentee ballots by email, but far less secure than paper ballots, echoing concerns from other experts.