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West Virginia set to expand controversial e-voting option

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The West Virginia legislature has given its seal of approval to a plan to allow people with disabilities to cast their votes on a smartphone.

Senate Bill 94 will extend the right to e-voting to include people with disabilities in every county, having been introduced for deployed servicemen and servicewomen in 2018. It has been approved by both chambers and now awaits approval from West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, who is expected to sign off the bill.

Despite its potential to boost turnout among this disadvantaged group, the bill has been roundly criticised by lawmakers and security experts, who warn that this could render elections in the state vulnerable to hackers.

The state is likely to use the 'Voatz' e-voting app, which it trialled in the 2018 elections for approximately 150 overseas voters. The app utilises blockchain in an effort make the voting process “transparent, auditable and accountable”.

However, it emerged in October last year that the FBI is investigating an attempt to hack Voatz during the 2018 midterm elections (thought to have been for research purposes rather than motivated by malicious intent), while Voatz has also been criticised for not being transparent about its auditing process.

Experts warn that even if voting apps are fully secure, there are many other ways in which the e-voting process could be compromised, such as through vulnerabilities in an OS, mobile network, or the servers used to tally votes. A hacker who selects their targets wisely would also only need to block a small number of votes in order to affect the result of an election.

Prior to West Virginia’s 2018 pilot study using Voatz, election security expert Joe Hall told CNN that voting via smartphone is an “horrific idea”. The Senate Intelligence Committee has also pushed back against e-voting, warning in a recent report that there is not yet a 100 per cent secure e-voting system.

Meanwhile, the Iowa caucus – a crucial milestone in the run-up to this year’s US presidential election – has descended into chaos on account of problems with a new mobile app used to report votes from 1,700 meetings across the state. Officials said that there had been inconsistencies in reporting of the results, with quality control efforts necessary to ensure that results were accurate. However, they asserted that any delays were not due to a “hack or an intrusion”.

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