In support of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) and the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, Pierce County Elections successfully piloted an expansion of electronic balloting in the November 2019 General Election.
The driving force behind the pilot was the threat of a United States withdrawal from the Universal Postal Union. The Universal Postal Union is a United Nations agency that facilitates postal services between 192 member countries. The withdrawal would have disrupted international postal services and required alternative arrangements for UOCAVA to receive or return of balloting materials.
To comply with the MOVE Act, Pierce County ballots had to be mailed to UOCAVA voters by Sept. 21, 2019. The fate of the Universal Postal Union was to be decided Sept. 24-25, 2019. If a resolution wasn’t reached, the U.S. would withdraw from the Union on Oct. 17, 2019.
“The imminent withdrawal from the Postal Union created an imperative. 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,” said Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson, responsible for elections.
Voatz, a mobile elections platform, was used in the pilot. Eligible registered voters received, marked, verified and submitted their ballots using their personal Apple or Android smartphones. Votes were submitted from 28 countries over the Internet; blockchain technology was used to secure the aggregate vote.
Voatz uses blockchain technology to store encrypted voting data distributed across 32 U.S. based servers managed equally by Amazon and Microsoft. The voting data is anonymized with an unidentifiable ID number for each ballot and receipt. The process disaggregates any information that could be used to trace its source and votes cast are tamper-proof.
Pierce County’s 19,000 UOCAVA voters are normally permitted to return their ballots by mail, fax, or email attachment. The pilot provided UOCAVA voters a fourth option: Download the Voatz mobile app and transmit a ballot using their mobile device over the Internet and immutably stored on the blockchain.
Without any prompting, voters used the mobile voting option at a higher rate than fax or email. In the November 2019 General Election, 103 UOCAVA voters used FAX or email and 163 voters used the mobile voting option. Mail, as usual, was the primary method of ballot returns (2,481 ballots returned by postal service).
Facsimile and email alternatives are substandard, according to Anderson. Ballots returned by facsimile are often missing important pages and aren’t machine-readable. Ballots and declarations returned as email attachments present significant cybersecurity risks and arrive in a wide-variety of formats ranging from pictures of ballots lying on the floor to pixelated low resolution images.
Anderson went on to say, “If we want every UOCAVA ballot to be counted accurately and privately, and we want to mitigate the risks of mail disruption, we need a different transmission solution. 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.”
“Pierce County had an excellent experience with the Voatz pilot. We intend to continue offering mobile voting as an option for overseas voters. Pierce County sees this as a safe and secure alternative for UOCAVA voters. We also see future potential for voters with disabilities– especially those who are blind or have difficulty handling paper and pens. A secure mobile voting app could be an important accommodation,” said Anderson.
Voatz CEO and Co-Founder Nimit Sawhney was pleased with the pilot. "We’ve been thrilled to partner with Pierce County to extend our mobile voting platform to Pierce’s voters. We look forward to the future of this technology, which we hope can continue to be part of the movement of making our elections as equipped, ready and resilient for the future,” said Mr. Sawhney.
The November 2019 pilot received financial assistance from the National Cybersecurity Center, supported by Tusk Philanthropies.
Pierce County has issued a request for proposals for a mobile voting solution and expects to have a paid vendor under contract in time for Washington State’s March 10, 2020 Presidential Primary.
About Pierce County Elections
A division of the Pierce County Auditor’s Office, Pierce County Elections has the largest UOCAVA population in Washington State and is a leader in election innovation, resilience, and access. Pierce County is Washington State’s second largest county and has 520,000 active registered voters, of which 19,000 are UOCAVA voters. Washington State has used Vote by Mail exclusively since 2011 and recently adopted Same Day Registration.
Voatz is an award-winning mobile elections platform that uses biometrics and a blockchain-based infrastructure via compatible smartphones and tablets. Since 2016, Voatz has run numerous elections with towns, cities, states, both major state political parties, universities, and unions. In 2018, in partnership with the State of West Virginia, Voatz ran the first mobile blockchain vote for UOCAVA voters in a federal election. In 2019, the City and County of Denver, Utah County, and two counties in Oregon (Jackson and Umatilla) also selected Voatz to enable UOCAVA citizens to vote in their municipal general and runoff elections.
Julie Anderson, Pierce County Auditor
Nimit Sawhney, Voatz CEO and Co-Founder