Voters stuck in lines for hours have long dreamed of a future where they could cast their votes with a few simple taps of their phone. That time has arrived, at least for one district that covers Greater Seattle.
The new voting technology, called OmniBallot, will be used to elect a board supervisor for the King Conservation District, which serves more than 30 cities, according to its website. Around 1.2 million voters could take part in this historic election, which will allow all eligible voters to cast their ballots by smartphone.
“King County voters, regardless of location or ability, will be able to access and cast their ballot from a smartphone, a tablet, a computer or any other smart-enabled device,” said Bea Covington, the district’s executive director.
From Wednesday through election day on February 11, voters will be able to enter their name and birthday to log into a secure web portal tht will then direct them to the ballot. After voters complete their ballots, they sign their name using the touchscreen of their device.
“The validation is in the signature,” Bryan Finney, CEO of Democracy Live, the company providing the technology, said. “We match that against the signature that’s on file and that’s the key verification step.”
While mobile voting has been implemented in other elections for people with disabilities or for military personnel serving abroad, this is the first time all eligible voters within a district will be able to vote with a mobile device, according to Tusk Philanthropies, an organization funding King County’s pilot that aims to advance mobile voting.
The higher the voter turnout, the greater the democracy
King Conservation District officials hope that providing the choice to vote through an electronic device will increase voter turnout for the election, which has historically been under 1%.
“The more people vote, the more government reflects the will of the people,” said Bradley Tusk, CEO of Tusk Philanthropies.
Voter turnout in the United States has historically been low. Despite 70% of Americans saying high turnout in presidential elections is very important, the United States trails other developed countries in voter turnout, according to the Pew Research Center. Only about 55% of the US voting population voted in 2016, compared to Australia’s 78% that year or Belgium’s 87% in 2014.
“Politicians will do whatever they can to remain in office,” Tusk told CNN. “Until we have radical turnout in elections, they’re going to follow the orders of the 15% on the right or the left and not the entire population.”
Tusk said he hopes mobile voting will become the norm by 2028. But for now, Tusk Philanthropies is preparing to launch at least 20 other pilots this election season, according to the organization’s president, Sheila Nix.
That sounds great and all, but what about Russia?
It’s widely known that cyberattacks interfered with the 2016 presidential election. So it’s no surprise that mobile voting has its skeptics.
In 2018, West Virginian military personnel serving abroad voted in the midterm elections using a mobile voting app called Voatz. But the FBI started investigating allegations that someone tried to hack into the app.
“Somebody downloaded, registered and then tried to tamper with it, do something. We caught unauthorized activity, and they immediately got stopped,” Voatz CEO Nimit Sawhney told CNN at the time.
But Nix said the success of previous pilots speaks for itself.
“I understand that people may have some different positions on this, but we really believe that with all the security testing and the fact that there’s been 14 elections in seven jurisdictions with no problems – people who say you can’t do it, I think the best proof is we did and it was safe.”