West Virginia is test launching a mobile voting system powered by blockchain technology in its upcoming primary election on May 8th. The system will initially be available only for active-duty military registered voters and their “eligible dependents” in Harrison and Monongalia county.

The state is the first in the country to be testing a blockchain-backed voting system for a federal election, according to a recently released statement.

In the statement issued Thursday, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner said:

Registered and qualified military voters that are currently deployed from participating counties are now able to vote on the secure mobile application and will continue being able to vote until polls are closed at 7:30 p.m. EST on Primary Election Day on May 8th. All that is needed for qualified, registered military personnel to cast their ballot is a compatible Apple or Android mobile device and an approved, validated State or Federal ID.

The goal of the project is to offer a more secure military mobile voting system that is verifiable, transparent, and more secure and accessible than the current system. A report from The Hill noted that while the new system is currently designated just for military voters, their spouses and children in Harrison and Monongalia counties, “the state plans to expand the program to all 55 counties in the upcoming November general election if the pilot proves successful.”

According to the voting project’s white paper, support for the project is coming from the Office of the Secretary of State of West Virginia, Voatz, Tusk/Montgomery Philanthropies, New America and the Blockchain Trust Accelerator. Voatz has recently been in the news for raising $2.2 million to prevent tampering in elections.

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The Secretary’s office described the current system, noting that “the current absentee process for West Virginia military voters who are currently deployed can be cumbersome to complete. Finding solutions to ensure military personnel are able to vote has been one of the Warner’s priorities since taking office 14 months ago.”

The white paper listed benefits of a blockchain-based mobile voting system including being fast, auditable, and maintaining transparency as well as anonymity.

The paper further discussed issues with overseas ballot systems, stating that “absentee ballot systems previously offered to overseas military voters did not ensure anonymity, and many military voters were concerned their mail-in or faxed ballots may not be received in time, or may not be counted. The new mobile voting system resolves these concerns.”

Scott Warner, son of Secretary Warner, was the first active user of the mobile voting system. Since he is currently deployed in Italy he was able to test and provide feedback, saying:

The registration for this application was very easy to maneuver. It included an ID verification process that matched me to my ID. That gave me confidence that this mobile voting process was secure…when the ballot was made available, I just clicked through the names of the candidates. I hit ‘vote’ for the candidates I wanted to support. Then I used the thumb print Touch ID on my phone to verify who I was. That was it. Pretty slick!

The Secretary of State’s Office plans to expand this pilot program in the 2018 General Election in November to all 55 counties in the state. Once the system is successfully implemented.

In addition to the state testing a blockchain-powered voting system, the West Virginia House of Representatives recently made a move to establish a subcommittee to study the potential implementation of blockchain technology for state record keeping.

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