Washington State’s Smartphone Election

Residents of King County, Washington will be able to vote using their phone in an upcoming election for the board of supervisors for the King Conservation District.  In a first for an American election, residents of Seattle and surrounding cities will be able to log into the election’s voting website on their touch-screen devices.  Once completed, voters check their ballot and then submit with a signature on their device for verification with one on file.

Voters in the state of Washington already vote entirely by mail, so the state is accustomed to signature verification. The elections office will then print out the electronically submitted ballots.  Proponents of the system argue that this process retains an auditable paper trail.  However, others argue that because the ballots pass through the Internet, they are vulnerable.

“Cyber experts I have worked with, including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Washington National Guard, overwhelmingly have identified electronic transmission as too risky for voting and could leave voter information and election infrastructure impaired,” Kim Wyman, Washington State Secretary of State, said. “As the chief election officer for the state of Washington, I’m not willing to take that risk.”

King County decided to try out mobile voting to reduce costs and increase voter turnout. The election for the King County Conservation District board supervisors, a volunteer position, typically has a turnout of less than 1 percent. Washington law requires that the election for that position to occur in the first quarter.

“There are two big tests of mobile voting here, security and turnout,” Bradley Tusk, CEO and founder of Tusk Philanthropies, said. He added, “[i]f everything goes smoothly and a lot more people votes, this should give other municipalities and jurisdictions the confidence to move forward.”

Democracy Live, the company providing the voting technology, has added security measures after a review from ShiftState, a cybersecurity firm managed by Andre McGregor, a former FBI special agent. ShiftState reviewed every line of code for weaknesses and attempted to hack both internally and externally. Democracy Live added alerts on important events, such as someone attempting to submit multiple ballots.

Washington is not the first to try online voting. In 2010, Washington, D.C., attempted a trial program, but it was hacked and the city ended the effort. Other online voting efforts were strictly for those who had more difficulty going to the polls, such as military voters or those with special needs.