The National Cybersecurity Center and Denver Elections Division completed a third party security audit of mobile voting in two Denver municipal elections, showing that votes cast over the blockchain were recorded and tabulated accurately.
Since last year, the NCC has been investigating how blockchain can help secure elections, and potentially make widespread mobile voting a reality.
In October, the NCC announced a partnership with Tusk Montgomery Philanthropies to work on “Proving Our Democracy,” a pioneering program evaluating new election technologies to create secure and accessible voting — mobile voting in particular.
A post-election survey from the Denver Elections Division found that 100 percent of respondents said they favored secure mobile voting over all methods available to them, and showed that voter turnout doubled from the 2015 election.
The Denver Elections Division conducted the pilot electronic voting project using the Voatz mobile phone app, during the May 7 election for mayor and other city offices and the subsequent June 4 mayoral runoff election. The project offered blockchain-based mobile voting to active-duty military, eligible dependents and overseas voters.
The audits were performed May 9-16 and June 7-July 8 by Tusk Philanthropies and announced in an Aug. 5 news release.
The Voatz mobile elections platform is backed by military-grade security and technology including biometrics and a blockchain-based infrastructure.
The NCC worked with Voatz to develop a web-based tool that displays the voter-verified receipt, tabulated ballot image and blockchain transaction.
Denver invited members of the public to participate in the auditing process and hosted more than 18 volunteers from diverse backgrounds.
The project was a first step toward the eventual goal of conducting an end-to-end verifiable election, which can be routinely and quickly audited by citizens and independent organizations.
“The goal of this audit was to prove that mobile voting can be successful and secure, while also being transparent,” Forrest Senti, the NCC’s director of business and government initiatives, said in the release. “Together, our volunteers and the NCC team determined that this pilot was successful in allowing secure, mobile voting for [uniformed and overseas citizens casting absentee ballots] in the Denver Municipal Elections.”
“We are very excited about the promise of this technology,” Denver Deputy Director of Elections Jocelyn Bucaro said in the release, adding “We … hope this technology can further enhance election transparency.”
In a step toward transparency about how the audit was conducted, the Denver Elections Division hosted a livestream with the NCC publicly auditing the municipal election.
The audit reviewed all votes cast in the election and looked at three main components:
• A voter-verified digital receipt that was sent to each voter along with an anonymized copy to the Denver election office.
• A scanned version of the tabulated paper ballot that was generated for every mobile vote and printed by the Denver election office on election day for tabulation.
• The anonymized blockchain records representing each oval that was marked by the voters as part of their mobile ballot submission.
“Today’s existing infrastructure is outdated and vulnerable, and instead of continuing to use systems that we know are prone to hacking and interference, we are looking at advanced solutions such as blockchain and identity verification that offer an anonymous, secure, and transparent way to vote,” Bradley Tusk, founder and CEO of Tusk Philanthropies, said in the release.
“Twice now we have proved the best way to move forward is accompanying blockchain voting with an auditable paper trail to increase voter participation and security measures for upcoming elections,” Tusk said.
“With each new mobile voting pilot, we have had the opportunity to learn and refine our system,” Nimit Sawhney, cofounder and CEO of Voatz, Inc., said in the release.
“This post-election audit led by the NCC team was a very significant milestone towards achieving a fully end-to-end verifiable voting process. We strongly believe that this step-by-step approach to introducing a new voting method is the best way to make progress and help improve our election infrastructure while managing the risk posed by the various threat vectors,” Sawhney said.
This marks the second mobile voting pilot that has been thoroughly audited by a third-party organization. The two pilots also directly addressed the four major concerns that have stymied progress in remote voting for more than a decade: device security; voter identity; secure ballot storage; and end-to-end voter verifiable elections.
Recent research from the University of Chicago found that the ability for military members overseas to vote using a mobile device increased turnout by three to five percentage points for the 2018 federal election in West Virginia.
For more information on the audit, download the full report from the National Cybersecurity Center here.