Voters in the most populous county in the state of Washington will be able to use their phones to vote in a local election that begins on Wednesday, in what officials believe is the most widespread use of mobile voting in an American election.
About 1.2 million registered voters in King County, which includes Seattle, will have the option of issuing tickets electronically on their smartphones or computers by logging into a portal. The election is for a position on the board of the King Conservation District, a local agency that promotes environmental sustainability.
The new option is likely to be controversial among computer security experts, many of whom have criticized it for being too difficult to protect against tampering.
Dan Wallach, a computer science professor at Rice University who studied electoral security, called it naive and unrealistic. “I’m not even sure I trust this to vote for the next United States idol or whatever,” he said.
But supporters of the idea say it will facilitate voting and increase electoral participation.
“Here in the King County elections, we are always looking for ways to improve access and engage our voters,” said Julie Wise, election director for King County.
The mobile voting initiative is being funded by Tusk Philanthropies, a charitable organization founded by Bradley Tusk, a political strategist and venture capitalist in New York. The group has carried out pilot projects for mobile phone voting in a handful of other states, but they were limited to certain people, such as foreign voters.
“We feel there is no real reason why I cannot improve the accessibility and security of voting at the same time,” said Sheila Nix, president of Tusk Philanthropies.
Wallach, the security expert, said he would like to see more detailed evidence about the defense measures taken.
The voting period for the elections begins on Wednesday and will close on February 11.
To cast your vote using a smartphone or a computer, King County voters will log in to a portal. They will have to verify their identity by providing their name, date of birth and signature, which will be verified on the county voter lists, depending on the county.
County officials said they will print paper copies of the electronically sent ballots, providing a way to count the results.
The project uses a voting system developed by Democracy Live, an electoral technology provider based in Seattle. Tusk Philanthropies said he hired external security investigators to test the system, according to a press release.
Washington is primarily a state of voting by mail, and voters still have that option in this election.
Maurice Turner, an election expert at the Nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology, said he considers mobile voting inevitable and that the King County initiative could provide lessons for policy makers elsewhere.
“I hope to see more and more jurisdictions take a closer look at mobile device voting after 2020 as a way to increase electoral participation,” Turner said.
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