Some West Virginia absentee ballots for November election are already being cast via Voatz app

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Military personnel and overseas voters registered to vote in 24 of West Virginia’s 55 counties are casting absentee ballots for the Nov. 6 General Election through an app called Voatz using their cell phones and tablets.

“Democracy would work a lot better if more people can vote,” said Bradley Tusk, a venture capitalist and founder of Tusk Holdings which includes Tusk Montgomery Philanthropies, the funding source for the app overseas voting test pilot project in West Virginia.

Absentee voting began on Sept. 21 in West Virginia.

As of Monday morning, Sept. 24, Secretary of State Mac Warner said seven ballots were already in from West Virginia voters now living, working or serving in the military in countries that included New Zealand, Israel, Canada and the United Kingdom.

“We want to make it easy for people to vote who are out there putting their lives on the line for us,” Warner said.

To do that, Voatz uses different types of biometric technology including facial recognition and fingerprint scans to verify voter identity.

Submitted ballots from home precincts are secured through blockchain technology once cast until counting of ballots on election night.

The West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office provided this video.

The Voatz voting via app was originally tested in two West Virginia counties, Harrison County and Monongalia County, in the 2018 May Primary Election. At that time, ballots were cast from six countries allowing for independent audits of the blockchain and biometric technology.

“This is a specific solution to an identified problem,” Warner said.

On Monday, Warner was part of a national press conference in Charleston focused on the expansion to 24 counties.

With him was Nimit Sawhney, developer and owner of Voatz, Sheila Nix, president of Tusk Montgomery Philanthropies and Michael Graney, a graduate student from Kanawha County who’s studying at Zian Jiatong University in Xian, China and others.

Before now, registered U.S. voters living and serving overseas have voted absentee with paper ballots.

“Although a large number of ballots were going out to the soldiers, they weren’t getting returned and so that indicates a problem with the mail system, not a desire on the part of the soldiers because they had to request those ballots in the first place,” Warner said.

Paper ballots are still available in the 24 counties offering the overseas voting app.

All 55 West Virginia counties had the option of using Voatz technology.

“We’re still in the testing. We’re purposely keeping it small and only to those counties that want to participate,” Warner said. He predicted hundreds of ballots would be cast in West Virginia via Voatz in the coming weeks.

What is happening in the Mountain State is just the start, Tusk said.

“I personally would love to see a world one day where everyone can vote securely on their phone,” he told Hoppy Kercheval during an appearance on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

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