Seattle district is giving online voting by smartphone a chance

Yolanda Curtis
January 24, 2020

While this local election may not be a major political event, and has been described as a contest "so obscure that voters have typically had to specifically request to vote", it's the first election in the U.S. that has allowed all registered voters to use their smartphones to cast their votes.

King County, a district that, according to the report, has historically low vocal attendance, will allow around 1.2 million voters to vote on their phones.

Smartphones have made voting easier, as King County in the U.S. state of Washington, where Seattle is located, implements mobile voting in their board of supervisors election. This is a first of its kind in the USA, although in recent years small numbers of voters have been allowed to cast a vote via smartphone when it was not possible for them to get to the polls.

Security officials have warned against expanding online voting because it's vulnerable to hacking, but the county elections director says it's safe and secure.

Voting in the election began Wednesday and runs through February 11.

Like previous efforts to collect votes through smartphones - such as those undertaken by the state of West Virginia and city of Denver - King County's is being funded by Tusk Philanthropies, a foundation set up by Bradley Tusk, an early Uber investor who's become an outspoken proponent of mobile voting, which he's said is necessary to increase participation in the democratic process.

Bradley Tusk, founder of Tusk Philanthropies, which has been pushing to expand mobile voting across the United States, said: "This is the biggest test of mobile voting ever and the biggest innovation in democracy in decades".

Once the voter has made all their selections, they get the opportunity to review their ballot to ensure it was marked correctly.

Only around 55 percent of the eligible American population cast votes in the 2016 election, and in King Conservation District, only around one percent participate in local elections. Submitted ballots are sent back to the King County elections office, which will print them out and match signatures on ballots against those on file. "There's a lot of things we do online, banking, health records, that are also of concern for people that are secure", she said.

Wise acknowledged that many people may be leery about voting online. On Wednesday, the Washington secretary of state, Kim Wyman, issued a press release cautioning against online voting. "We're providing a really large beta test of this kind of ballot access". "You don't really know what you are entering or what is coming out", said another expert, Joseph Lorenzo Hall, former chief engineer of the Center for Democracy and Technology, also to the media organization. "Every time you introduce a technology layer, you have these cascades of unintended consequences".

Voters who use Democracy Live will be able to access their ballot by logging in with their name and birth date. The identity of the voter is confirmed through a handwritten signature, which could be easy to forge.

Eligible voters will be able to participate in the upcoming election by opting in to vote electronically on their smartphones, laptops or even at their local library. For now, a pen and paper might have to do.

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