West Virginia dumps controversial voting app before primary

West Virginia won’t use a controversial voting app during its primary on May 12. 

The state originally planned to allow voters with disabilities to use Voatz, a “blockchain-based” voting app. Researchers showed that the app was vulnerable to malicious actors, who could alter a user’s vote.  

But on Friday, the state announced that voters with disabilities and overseas voters will use a special ballot created by Democracy Live. That option will give those voters the choice of either submitting their ballot online or printing it, filling it out by hand, and mailing it in. 

It’s definitely an about-face for West Virginia, which made a big to-do back in 2018 when it first signed a contract to use Voatz in that year’s midterm elections. Both West Virginia and the city of Denver, which used Voatz in its 2019 mayoral election, reported the app a success.

But that was before Feb. 3, 2020, when an app used by the Iowa Democratic Party suffered a meltdown during the state’s caucus. 

The Iowa mess was so bad that Nevada, which planned to use the same app, scrapped that idea and basically used a glorified Google spreadsheet instead.

Then, just 10 days later, researchers at MIT published a report that directly targeted Voatz, finding a slew of vulnerabilities, including:

  • Enabling a bad actor to “alter, stop, or expose a user’s vote.”

  • Allowing a “sidechannel attack in which a completely passive network adversary can potentially recover a user’s secret ballot.”

  • Never requiring a user to re-enter their PIN, meaning anyone with access to the voter’s phone could cast a vote as long as the PIN had been entered once. 

Voatz, in turn, called the report “flawed” and insisted “all nine of our governmental pilot elections conducted to date, involving less than 600 voters, have been conducted safely and securely with no reported issues.”

We’ve reached out to Voatz for comment on West Virginia’s decision.

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