Washington State trials new e-voting platform

3rd February 2020 Kirsty Tuxford

A district encompassing Greater Seattle is set to become the first in the US to allow voters to cast their ballot using a smartphone.

Voting is currently underway to fill a spot on the board of the King Conservation District, a state-authorised agency that manages natural resources in King County, Washington State.

More than 1.2 million voters have the option to vote using their smartphones, an initiative that will cost approximately US$300,000, according to KCD figures.

“To run an election using Washington State’s standard mail-in approach would cost between US$1-3 per ballot or between US$1.2 million and US$3.6 million, depending upon how many elections run concurrently,” Bea Covington, KCD’s Executive Director told Cities Today. “For an agency like KCD, with a total operating budget of roughly US$8 million, a full mail-in election is obviously not an option.”

Tusk Philanthropies, a non-profit aimed at expanding mobile voting, has underwritten a portion of the cost of KCD’s current election in order to demonstrate the potential of this approach.

Tusk argues that democracy currently doesn’t work because not enough people turn up to vote, and that the solution is to make voting more accessible by using technology.

In 2016, a Consumer Reports survey of 3,649 voting-age Americans found that 33 percent would be more likely to vote if they could do it from an internet-connected device like a smartphone.

Many experts say the security risks of internet voting are too high. A 2016 joint report from democracy NGOs Common Cause, Verified Voting, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center states that “internet voting creates a second-class system for some voters – one in which their votes may not be private and their ballots may be altered without their knowledge”.

Using today’s blockchain technology, Tusk says that data ownership and storage can be made resistant to large-scale attacks – so voters need not worry about data security.

Previously, fewer than 1 percent of eligible voters turned up to cast their vote in the traditional way to determine membership of the conservation district board.

“KCD opted for this approach after decades of holding annual elections that virtually no voters participated in,” said Covington. “With the participation of King County Elections and the support of Tusk Philanthropies, KCD felt that the pieces were in place to pilot a new approach that would remove barriers and encourage democratic participation in our organisation.”

The technology for voting in the KCD elections is provided by Democracy Live, who have partnered with Amazon, Microsoft and Dell. Democracy Live is the largest provider of cloud and tablet-based voting technologies in the US.

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