MORGANTOWN — Monongalia County voters led the state in ballots cast by military and/or overseas citizens in the general election earlier this month.
It was a pilot project brought to the state by Secretary of State Mac Warner, who said he was pleased with the project that allowed deployed military members and overseas citizens to use a mobile voting application to cast ballots secured by blockchain technology, according to a press release from his office.
Casting votes from overseas were 28 Monongalia County voters. Other counties with more than 10 overseas voters using the pilot app were Berkeley, 21, Raleigh, 15, and Kanawha, 13.
Until now, absentee voters living out of the country relied on paper ballot absentees or inconvenient electronic systems requiring a printer, scanner or fax machine. Those processes are difficult and sometimes impossible for soldiers to take advantage of while stationed in remote areas of the world.
According to a 2018 report by the Federal Voting Assistance Program, only 6.9 percent of eligible soldiers and overseas citizens cast a ballot in the 2016 Presidential General Election. One of Warner’s first challenges to his Elections Division was to eliminate the hurdles in overseas voting that contributed to the very low voter participation rate for our deployed military and overseas citizens.
Prior to the May Primary Election, West Virginia partnered with Tusk Montgomery Ventures and engaged a technology developer from Boston, Mass., to pilot a revolutionary mobile voting application. The company, Voatz Inc., created a system that uses biometric identity verification and blockchain technology to offer voters a secure option to vote through their mobile application.
The May Primary pilot was conducted in two West Virginia counties — Harrison and Monongalia. In that very limited pilot, 13 voters from six countries cast ballots using the new technology. Several comprehensive independent post-election audits were conducted by multiple nationally-renowned security companies, and the pilot was deemed a success.
The results of the security audits encouraged Warner to expand the project into the November General Election by offering its use to all West Virginia counties with 24 of the state’s 55 counties opting to participate in the second pilot.
A total of 144 voters from 31 countries participated in the Nov. 6 election, including voters in Albania, Armenia, Australia, Bahamas, Belgium, Botswana, Cambodia, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Guinea, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey and Uganda.
“For the first time in our nation’s history, military and overseas citizens were able to cast ballots in a federal election using a mobile device. If this technology were not available, many of those soldiers and citizens would not have had the opportunity to participate in our democracy. This pilot will provide actual voting transactions for the independent auditors to review and analyze the first deployment of blockchain technology in an American election,” Warner said.
Warner expects an audit of the second pilot process to take two to three months.
“We commend West Virginia for leading the effort to make voting more convenient for military personnel, their families and for citizens living overseas,” said Voatz Co-Founder and CEO Nimit Sawhney. “We are honored to partner with Secretary Warner and his team for this pilot and are looking forward to partnering with other states to extend mobile voting to their UOCAVA voters.”