West Virginia’s limited E-voting system evolves for 2020

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s status as a pioneer in new voting technology continues to evolve in 2020. Two years ago, West Virginia became the first state to allow for overseas absentee voting for military members and West Virginia residents living abroad. The submission included electronic casting of ballots for those far from home on Election Day.

The 2020 election features upgrades to the program and an expansion of who can use it.

“Our office worked with the Legislature and Senate Bill 94. The Legislature expanded the opportunity to electronically vote absentee to voters with physical disabilities,” said Deak Kersey, general counsel in the office of the Secretary of State.

“These are voters who can’t vote a paper ballot without assistance,” he said.

Terra Muncy of Belle, W.Va. is among those who took advantage of the new technology.

“Depending on where you vote, they may or may not have a stand that will fit my wheel chair. This allowed me to sit at home, get my ballot and vote without having any of the worries I normally have if I go out,” Muncy said.

She added the process was quite simple. She submitted her information to the Kanawha County Clerk and was given an I-D number to log into the system and input her information for verification.

“Then my ballot popped right up,” she said. “The process was probably less than five minutes.”

“During the Primary Election we only had a handful of voters with physical disabilities who used the system. But in the General Election we’ve seen a large turnout using the system,” Kersey said.

As of October 18, more than 1,000 had votes electronically. The breakdown included 921 active duty military and overseas voters and 132 voters in West Virginia with physical disabilities.  Kersey said that had come without much publicity or promotion of the new program.

The second major change in the electronic voting for 2020 is an increased emphasis on cyber security. Kersey said although there were no serious concerns in the 2018 election, as a general statement the Department of Homeland Security suggested any state using the electronic voting applications be very careful. There was satisfaction under the old vendor’s security plan, but West Virginia election officials shopped around, did some homework and research,  and eventually made the decision to go with a new vendor and a new platform..

According to Kersey the old vendor stored voting information using “block chain” technology which was highly secure. The new vendor used a cloud based storage system which is next level on security.

“The new vendor uses a server in the AWS cloud–specifically a Fed Ramp Certified cloud. If you don’t know what that means, all you need to know is the same place these ballots are being stored for the 2020 general election is where the CIA, NSA, DHS and all other three letter federal and intelligence agencies store their documents. We’re behind a very secure cloud,” he said.

“E-voting is a great opportunity for people with disabilities,” Muncy said. “I think it gives us yet another option and the more options we have the better. This will help people, especially those in rural areas where it’s really hard to get out, to vote and have their voice heard.”

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