PROVO — Utah County announced in July that it would be the state’s first county to test smartphone voting this year, rolling out the option for last month’s municipal primary elections.
On Wednesday, county election officials invited the world to take a look at the results, livestreaming a public audit of the smartphone votes on Facebook while explaining the process in more detail.
The county has teamed up with Voatz, a mobile app that uses blockchain technology to securely transmit votes remotely. Blockchain is a digital ledger, often associated with cybercurrencies like Bitcoin, where transactions are recorded. It is considered very difficult to hack or tamper with.
Utah County offered the option only for overseas voters, including military personnel, in addition to the traditional mail and email alternatives.
Utah County Clerk/Auditor Amelia Powers Gardner started Wednesday morning’s livestream with some remarks on the program. She said before the Voatz pilot, most overseas voters were casting ballots via email and therefore waiving their right to confidentiality.
There were 58 eligible overseas voters in the August municipal primary, and 22 cast their vote using Voatz.
“Which means we had a higher percentage of voter turnout for overseas voters than we did for voters residing right here in Utah County,” she said. “I’m excited about this because all citizens, regardless of where they reside, deserve to have the opportunity to vote. And this shows that when we give them the option of convenience and a safe and secure private ballot, they take advantage of it.”
During the livestream, Chief Deputy Clerk/Auditor Josh Daniels said the Voatz app verifies voter identities using both documentation, like a driver’s license and biometric data like a picture of their face. “The system will check their identity, verify that they are, indeed, a registered voter in Utah County … and then that voter will be able to cast a ballot using their mobile device.”
Election officials are then able to print a paper ballot, just like the ones mailed out inside the county, marked with the votes submitted on the app.
On Thursday, Daniels said the livestream was just the beginning of the audit and that members of the public can still audit the Voatz results themselves for the next several days. They can do so using this form.
“They’ll be able to compare those three pieces of information: the scanned ballot, the receipt sent to the voter, and our, what we call cast vote record, to the blockchain,” he said. “It’s really an invitation to the public to be a citizen auditor.”
The audit is being supervised and facilitated by the National Cybersecurity Center, which sent a representative to the Wednesday livestream to explain the process in detail.
Using the Voatz app, Daniels said, is made possible by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986. The act has placed greater emphasis on allowing overseas citizens to vote and fostered innovative ways to do so.
He said the county’s first experience with the app was “easier than expected.”
“Because it’s new and seemingly technological, there was a little bit of anxiety on the part of those who’ve done things differently in the past,” Daniels said. “We were pleasantly surprised. It was a lot less complicated than we thought. … It took less time to administer overseas votes in this way than it has traditionally taken to administer overseas votes.”
He said Voatz will “definitely” be offered again in the future, including this November. In addition, voters with certain disabilities may also be able to use the app due to Utah laws that offer them the same alternatives available to overseas voters.
Utah County is the third jurisdiction to test the Voatz app after rollouts in West Virginia and Denver.