West Virginia is set to make history ahead of Midterm elections this Tuesday as the first state to allow military residents to cast their ballots using a smartphone.
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The state has teamed with Boston-based startup Voatz to launch the mobile election voting platform in 24 counties this year to help boost voter participation.
The state is known to have one of the highest rates of military service per capita but it only receives a small fraction of votes from active military residents.
West Virginia’s Secretary of State Andrew “Mac” Werner said during the 2016 presidential election less than 10 percent of active military residents votes were collected because of the difficulty of using paper absentee ballots overseas.
“When I was in the military myself, there were a number of situations where I had difficulty voting myself and then all four of my children are also in the military and they also had difficulty voting. In fact, they have not been able to vote at all during various times,” Warner told FOX Business.
He said factors such as being on deployment or certain remote locations make it hard for service members to vote using the mail.
According to data, less than 13 percent of all active U.S. military actually vote today.
“This is a real problem and when I became West Virginia’s secretary of state I wanted to find a way to make this happen and we found that the answer is technology,” Werner added.
Voatz first launched a pilot program with West Virginia last May during the Primary Election but decided to expand it for the Midterms to improve voter participation even more.
Jonathan Johnson, Voatz board member said despite concerns about mobile voting, the platform is very secure.
“This is not internet voting through a browser. It’s through an app using a modern smartphone that has thumbprint or facial recognition capabilities,” Johnson tells FOX Business.
In order to vote through Voatz, the voter needs to verify their identity with a voter ID and video selfie. The final ballot is anonymized and later secured using blockchain.
Lt. Andrew Warner, an Engineer Officer in the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, who is currently based in Vicenza, Italy tells FOX Business that he has used the app twice to vote, first in primaries and just recently in the general election and it has greatly reduced the amount of time and effort is typically take to vote overseas.
“Now that I have a Voatz account, I get a notification when the ballot is available, I pull it up, select my candidates, hit submit and I’m done,” he says.
Lt. Warner says he verified his identity through the app by taking a self-portrait of himself and using his driver’s license. From there he just contacted his county clerk to request an absentee ballot and explained why he had to want using the app than through the mail.
“The actually voting is very simple. The ballot layout is just like a paper copy, so I just scrolled through, tapped on the candidates I wanted to vote for, and hit submit at the end.”
While Secretary Werner admits the program is still in its early stages and certain kinks may come up, the technology is desperately needed.
“We owe it to our military servicemen and women to give them an opportunity to participate in every single election.”