The Future of Election Voting is Mobile, and It’s Already Here

Friday, November 9, 2018

By Suzy Strutner, managing editor of Grow Wire

In short:

  • Mobile voting is almost certainly the future of government elections: In this week’s general election, absentee voters from 25 states cast ballots online.

  • Votem is one of a handful of mobile voting companies that allow voters to register and vote from laptops or phones. The company also has a blockchain voting product. 

  • Blockchain voting has the potential to create more security, convenience and collaboration between opposing political groups.

Imagine a future where you can vote in a general election from your iPhone while sitting on a couch at home.

Votem’s mobile voting platform lets voters cast ballots on computers or phones. The company handles voter registration, public elections (like Tuesday’s general election) and private elections (like the one for the National Radio Hall of Fame), using either its secure online system or blockchain. Applying Votem and other products like it more broadly could mean more secure elections, more convenience for voters and more collaboration between opposing political groups.

Founder and CEO Pete Martin conceptualized Votem’s product at a conference in 2014, when he was challenged to dream up a business idea that could impact 1 billion people. He ran an international coding challenge to find his programmers, and the company was born.

This week, Votem’s product allowed military and absentee voters to cast ballots online for elections in Colorado, Alabama, Washington D.C., Montana and some counties in Washington. In all, 25 states allowed at least some voters to submit ballots electronically on Tuesday. (Votem is just one of many companies with online voting products.)

While official statistics aren’t yet available, anecdotal feedback suggests removing paper and mail from the process caused an uptick in votes, Martin said.

“People … voted online from ships in the Mediterranean and in the desert,” Martin said. “We got hundreds of emails from military who said, ‘I’ve never been able to vote, and I finally got to.’”

One of the top reasons registered voters don’t make it to the polls is that they’re “too busy” or have a “conflicting schedule,” according to Pew Research Center analysis of 2016 Census data.

Martin said that if online voting were available to all, it could hugely boost turnout. He pointed to Tuesday’s situation in New York City, in which rain caused some voters to leave polling places before casting ballots and some ballots to get too wet for machines to process smoothly. In Martin’s ideal future, these voters would participate in future elections at home, online.

Votem counts individual states as its customers, as each is responsible for its own procurement around voting, he added. And the company’s involvement can look different in each state and county.

In L.A. county, for example, Votem is working with a company called Smartmatic to replace all voting machines by 2020, Martin said. In the new system, voters will receive sample ballots via email instead of by mail. They’ll be able to fill out their sample ballots online, get a QR code, scan that code at polling stations and watch as the machines print ballots marked with their selections.

The system’s speed could mean quicker waits at polling places and new business from other counties, Martin said. 

“We truly think this is going to be a watershed moment,” he added.

Then there’s Votem’s blockchain product. Currently, only private institutions use it to run elections, but blockchain could be used in public elections too. West Virginia, for example, used a blockchain-based voting app this week to let military personnel and their families cast ballots on their phones, the New York Times reports.

Votes cast via blockchain are encrypted from the moment they’re cast, providing an antidote to worries about election hacking and voter fraud, Martin said. Like all blockchain systems, Votem’s product houses data on various independent nodes, who must all “agree” in order for a vote to count.

Martin envisions giving one node to each of many political and advocacy groups, like the NAACP or Carr Center for Human Rights. 

In this system, “every vote goes through a mathematical algorithm on every node, and if all the nodes agree that it’s a legitimate ballot from a legitimate voter, it goes to the ballot box,” he said. “Our future is that there are no more contested elections. All these independent bodies who don’t trust each other can mathematically verify that the vote counts.”

Votem will have to compete with other blockchain vote offerings if it takes its product to public elections. Whoever wins out, the results could be game-changing. Private institutions who use Votem’s blockchain system include the National Radio Hall of Fame, which used Votem to tally 299,000 votes for its annual awards last year. Instead of waiting 1-2 weeks for official results, winners were confirmed in 20 minutes, Martin said.  

“That’s the way we see the world going,” he said.

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