Military online voting comes to Cabell

September 22, 2018

HUNTINGTON — A first-of-its-kind program in the country allowing overseas active military members and their families to vote online using an app has now expanded to 24 West Virginia counties, including Cabell and Wayne counties.

Under a pilot program launched by the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office in May for the state’s primary election, the Mountain State became the first to permit mobile voting by active-duty West Virginians overseas, including their spouses, from Harrison and Monongalia counties. Making it possible was a mobile app by the company Voatz. It was the first time voting on an app occurred in the country.

For the general election, eligible uniformed service members and their eligible family members from the following 24 counties may vote via their cellphone or mobile tablet: Berkeley, Cabell, Grant, Greenbrier, Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Jefferson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Marshall, Monongalia, Monroe, Morgan, Nicholas, Ohio, Preston, Putnam, Raleigh, Roane, Summers, Wayne and Wetzel.

Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) voters may still choose to receive their ballots via traditional absentee paper ballot process, email or fax. This new technology is merely an option in those counties.

The technology is available to all counties in the state, but it is up to the county clerks to choose to participate.

Secretary of State Mac Warner said in a release that voters from six different countries used the app in the primary election. He said post-election security audits by several independent and widely respected technology auditing companies showed that the technology provided a secure platform for voting and an alternative to the traditional absentee paper ballot. Voatz’s app, which also utilizes biometric facial recognition software and thumbprint safeguards to ensure the identity of the voter, increased the confidence of the auditors.

Part of what makes Voatz so confident in its security is the usage of blockchain technology, a digital ledger that tracks transactions, or in this case votes, in a way that is very hard to alter thanks to peer-to-peer monitoring and the way the chain of data is configured.

A U.S. Army veteran himself, Warner said he knows firsthand how hard it is to vote while overseas.

“I knew that we could do better to provide West Virginia military personnel all over the world with the opportunity to vote. As secretary of state, I was now in a position to do something about that,” Warner said. “So, I put together a team of staff members from our Elections and Technology divisions to explore how we could address that challenge.”

The move has been criticized by some security experts, however, who say there is no real way to ensure mobile voting is secure.

“It’s internet voting on people’s horribly secured devices, over our horrible networks, to servers that are very difficult to secure, without a physical paper record of the vote,” Joseph Lorenzo Hall, the chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told CNN in an email.

John Sammons, director of the digital forensics and information assurance program at Marshall University, told The Herald-Dispatch in August security is relative and it all depends on who wants to hack and how bad they want information. Sammons did say he is encouraged by the secretary and Voatz’s security audits.

Absentee voting begins Friday, Sept. 21, and the ballot must be submitted by no later than 7:30 p.m. Nov. 6. UOCA-VA voters have until Oct. 31 to submit their Federal Post Card Application to register to vote and/or request an absentee ballot to their county clerk. They will receive their ballot within 24 hours of the clerk’s receipt of the application.

For more information on voting absentee for uniformed services members or overseas voters, contact the county clerk or call the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Election Division at 304-558-6000.

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