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Voatz -- a mobile elections platform

Service members can cast ballots remotely

Voatz, a mobile elections platform, allows deployed service members to vote from anywhere in the world. Photo credit: Voatz

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To ensure that deployed service members from Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) in Pierce County could vote in the recent 2019 elections, the county's auditor's office piloted the first mobile elections platform in Washington state.

"We opted to try a mobile voting solution when we were confronted by the imminent withdrawal from the Universal Postal Union," wrote Julie Anderson, Pierce County Auditor.

The United States has threatened to withdraw from the union, a United Nations agency that facilitates postal services between 192 member countries.

The threatened withdrawal before the last election would have disrupted international postal services, and Anderson's office had to find alternative arrangements for it to comply with the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) to ensure individuals overseas received their ballots.

"There was very little time to react and create alternatives for our UOCAVA voters," continued Anderson.

UOCAVA voters have three options in returning their ballots -- mail, fax or email attachment. 

"Knowing that the biggest barrier for military voters is the transit time to receive and return a ballot, we weren't willing to risk additional delays."

Anderson explained that military voters are concerned about the ease of access and the ability to send a ballot from remote locations.

To guarantee that service members had the opportunity to cast a ballot, Voatz, a for-profit, private mobile election voting application, stepped in with a fourth option.

"We were approached by Voatz," continued Anderson, "and the fact that Voatz was already integrated with our ballot design software was a big part of our sole source agreement for the (recent) general election."

Voatz (another way of saying "votes") utilizes biometrics and blockchain infrastructure to store encrypted voting data distributed across 32 U.S.-based servers managed equally by Amazon and Microsoft.

"The mobile app solution is easier for voters who don't have access to reliable mail and don't have printers and scanners on hand for email attachments," said Anderson.

With Voatz, eligible registered voters received, marked, verified, and submitted their ballots using their personal Apple or Android smartphones or tablets.

The voting data was anonymized with an unidentifiable identification number for each ballot and receipt. The process disaggregates any information that could be used to trace its source, and the votes cast are tamper proof.

"We want every UOCAVA ballot to be counted accurately and privately, and we want to mitigate the risks of mail disruptions," continued Anderson.

"A secure mobile app that uses encryption to transmit voter-verified ballots is long overdue and desperately needed in an age of global conflict, severe weather events and international trade disputes."

In the November general election, 163 UOCAVA voters used the Voatz platform, 103 used either fax or email and 2,481 used the postal service.

Voatz CEO and co-founder Nimit Sawhey expressed satisfaction with the pilot.

"We've been thrilled to partner with Pierce County to extend our mobile voting platform to the county's voters; this mobile voting platform represents a new voting method for America's elections that is built ... with the goal of increasing the accessibility and security of our elections."

The county has issued a request for proposals for a mobile voting solution and expects to have a vendor under contract in time for Washington state's March 10, 2020, presidential primary.

"Pierce County had a very positive experience with the Voatz product," said Anderson, "and voters liked the product, too."

She closed by urging JBLM voters to keep their registration up-to-date but added that "military voters who have forgotten to update their address are able to vote on their personal mobile device after an identity authentication process."

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