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What Is Cloud Voting?

Why is voting still so low-tech? One would think that since voting is so important, we would use today's advanced technology to make it more secure and accessible. Some states have started experimenting with online voting for certain citizens, but running elections entirely online or using advanced technologies isn't on the agenda.

Twenty states and Washington, D.C. allow some voters to send in their ballots via email or fax. Four states use an online portal for some voters, namely for absentee voters. Recently, though, several states have started trying out more high-tech approaches, such as the cloud and blockchain.

West Virginia is trying out an app called Voatz for the mid-terms. The state will allow members of the military serving overseas to cast their ballots through the app instead of by mail. Two counties also opted to try out the system in the May primaries. For this November's mid-terms, all of the electronic votes will be converted into paper ballots and then counted with the rest of the absentees.

The voting system uses blockchain technology, Voatz said, to record votes. Specifically, it uses permissioned blockchain, meaning that a party must be verified before it can submit data. In the West Virginia election, it will use eight verified validating nodes. The nodes will be hosted in the cloud - specifically AWS and Microsoft Azure - and geographically distributed.

To cast a ballot, voters will need to take a video of their face and a picture of their ID. Facial recognition technology will then verify the video and images are of the same person. The smartphone will then anonymize the vote and record it in the blockchain ledger. Voters will also be required to use a smartphone with certain security features.

Potential Benefits

Since news broke of the role Voatz will play in the West Virginia election, there has been a spirited debate about the benefits and risks of using technology in this way. Here are some of the reasons to use the cloud and other technologies for elections:

  • Increased accessibility: Many voters find it difficult to get to the polls on voting day. With cloud-based voting, people could vote from their smartphones, something which 77 percent of Americans have. Those without smartphones may be able to vote on home computers, work computers, publicly available computers or in more traditional voting booths.
  • More efficient communication: The same apps that people use to vote could help keep people informed leading up to the election. They could provide updates and reminders about voting as well as information about the various races and candidates. Voters could use their apps to read articles from candidates describing their positions, view static or interactive maps showing the areas an elected official would represent, and watch videos online of candidates' political positions.
  • Reduced cost: Taking advantage of cloud technology for voting could also help reduce the costs of elections. Rather than maintaining voting booth equipment, the infrastructure could be hosted in the cloud. The cloud-based environment could also be shut down and then re-activated during elections, limiting costs.

Potential Risks

Using Voatz for the mid-term elections wasn't without its share of detractors. Many people, including some tech experts, have expressed doubts about its security.

Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told CNN that "Mobile voting is a horrific idea." He expressed concerns about the security of smartphones, networks and servers.

Some, include security architect Kevin Beaumont, have expressed concern that the app is flawed. Beaumont tweeted a thread in which he took issue with various features of the app, calling some of its technology out-of-date. Voatz fought back, saying that many of Beaumont's claims were "incorrect or misrepresentations."

West Virginia isn't the first to use technology like blockchain and the cloud for elections, but this upcoming test will be the largest such experiment in the U.S. If the election goes well, it could encourage other states to try using more advanced tech in the same way. If something goes wrong, however, people may lose the little trust they have in using these technologies for such high-profile events.

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About the Author

Kayla Matthews is a tech-loving blogger who writes and edits ProductivityBytes.com. Follow her on Twitter @productibytes to read all of her latest posts! 
Published Wednesday, October 10, 2018 7:27 AM by David Marshall
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