West Virginians serving overseas will be the first in the country to cast federal election ballots using a smartphone app, a move designed to make voting in November’s election easier for troops living abroad. But election integrity and computer security experts expressed alarm at the prospect of voting by phone, and one went so far as to call it “a horrific idea.”
The state’s decision to pioneer mobile voting comes even as the United States grapples with Russian interference in its elections. A recent federal indictment outlined Russia’s attempts to hack US voting infrastructure during the 2016 presidential race, and US intelligence agencies have warned of Russian attempts to interfere with the upcoming midterm election. Still, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner and Voatz, the Boston company that developed the app, insist it is secure. Anyone using it must first register by taking a photo of their government-issued identification and a selfie-style video of their face, then upload them via the app. Voatz says its facial recognition software will ensure the photo and video show the same person. Once approved, voters can cast their ballot using the Voatz app. Not everyone shares his enthusiasm.
“Mobile voting is a horrific idea,” Joseph Lorenzo Hall, the chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told CNN in an email. “It’s internet voting on people’s horribly secured devices, over our horrible networks, to servers that are very difficult to secure without a physical paper record of the vote.”
Marian K. Schneider, president of the election integrity watchdog group Verified Voting, was even more blunt. Asked if she thought mobile voting is a good idea, she said, “The short answer is no.”
Even if the Voatz app is secure — something Schneider said she could not confirm because her organization has not vetted it — the “attack area is much broader” under mobile voting, meaning it creates far more opportunities for hacking and meddling. She also worries about the lack of a paper trail for electronic votes. “Undetectable changes that could occur in transit,” she said.