Editorial: Ballot security will be the issue


More than 400 Oregonians, all of them living overseas, will have the opportunity to take part in a voting experiment this November. They’re legal residents of Jackson and Umatilla counties, and they’ll be able to use their smartphones to vote back home.

Theirs is the latest in a series of experiments in mobile voting financed, at least in part, by Tusk Philanthropies. Tusk officials believe mobile voting can improve voter participation and improve election security in the process.

Notices about the smartphone system have been sent to about 400 voters with legal residence in southern Oregon’s Jackson County and another 63 with residence in eastern Oregon’s Umatilla County. All are registered voters living overseas.

Participation will be voluntary, and those who opt out will be mailed absentee ballots as usual.

If, however, they choose to take part, they’ll download an application called Voatz that uses encryption and blockchain technology to keep ballots secure. The system works only on relatively new smartphones, which include a variety of enhanced security features, including biometric features. It’s the latest in a series of pilot projects Tusk and Voatz have collaborated on.

Ballot security is, naturally, a major question about the process. Blockchain is a decentralized system in terms of security and storage that makes election tampering difficult to impossible. In some ways, it works like Google’s documents program that allows the individual who creates a document to decide who can see it. The creator can see whatever changes anyone else has made.

Clearly, smartphone voting won’t be for everyone. That said, it may well persuade young adults to vote in ways going to the polls or even mailing in ballots have not, and that’s not a bad thing. The key to its success, however, remains in the hands of those charged with keeping the process secure.

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