E-vote experiment

Looking over ballots in the E-vote experiment are, from left, Chandler Assistant City Clerk Erica Barba, City Clerk Dana DeLong and Ana Quevedo of Voatz.

Interest from the public in Chandler’s mock mobile voting election was pretty limited, but other election officials were definitely paying attention. 

In fact, they had a front row seat.

Chandler’s City Clerk’s office last Wednesday announced the results of its mock election in a pilot program meant to test blockchain voting so it might be considered for use in future elections.

Only 203 people cast votes in the mock election held between Nov. 9 and last Tuesday. They were asked the same five bond questions that were on the real ballot last month, plus some additional questions about blockchain voting.

One ballot was disqualified because the person filling it out signed it with a smiley face instead of their signature. All five bond questions passed with overwhelming support.

In the additional questions, 187 said they would use blockchain voting in a real election if it was offered, while 14 said they would not. Keep in mind, all the voters in this election were using blockchain voting so that result is likely skewed. 

In a choice of the way that they preferred voting, blockchain voting came in first with 177 votes, mail was second at 102, dropping off a mail ballot was third at 85, and voting in person was last at 47. Voters were allowed to vote for up to three choices, so that’s why the total votes cast exceeds 202.

The city invited media and election officials to officially count the votes at a press conference. There was one snafu during the tabulation: One of the batches of 50 votes was counted twice; it was quickly discovered and fixed.

Two election officials from Maricopa County and one from the Secretary of State’s office attended, sitting in the front row. 

“They had the most questions,” City Clerk Dana DeLong said. “They had a lot of good points ... about some of the security.”

The election officials asked about how Voatz, the company contracted to conduct the election, ensures each voter remains anonymous while also verifying they are qualified to vote. 

Nimit Sawhney, the co-founder and CEO, said Voatz treats it much like the way the state handles mail elections now. Instead of two envelopes, one with personal information that can be verified and the second that contains the anonymous votes, they rely on two packets of data. 

The actual votes are encrypted and can only be counted once the corresponding verification data has been accepted. Once it is, that data is destroyed, he said. 

Here’s how it works:

Voters log in to an app or website. They must verify their identity before they are allowed to vote. Once they make their selections, they are able to see their votes and confirm they are accurate. They are the only ones given a blockchain code to their votes.

That jurisdiction running the election gets two data packets, the votes that are locked and an affidavit that has the voters’ personal information attached. Once that information has been verified, officials can unlock the ballot and view it, but when they do so the personal information is destroyed.

“Just depending on what the jurisdiction’s requirements are, we can turn on or off different authentication methods, depending on what the jurisdiction needs,” said Don DeFord, the national sales manager for Voatz.

After all the eligible voters’ ballots are unlocked, they are printed out so there is a paper trail to audit. They are then run through scanners to record the vote.

Blockchain is the method used to keep crypto currencies, such as Bitcoin, secure. Each packet of data is given its own code, and then every additional piece of data attached gets its own code. It also has the code of the data before it, thereby creating the chain.

Most states allow military voters stationed overseas to vote electronically because of possible delays in getting a mail ballot returned in time for it to count. A number of jurisdictions are starting to use blockchain voting as a way to do that securely. However, current laws do not allow the general public to cast electronic votes at this time.

The city does not actually run any elections. Most Chandler elections are staged by the county.

Vice Mayor Mark Stewart was the driving force behind Chandler’s pilot program. 

“We’re always looking for a better, more efficient way of doing things,” Stewart said.

DeLong said her office will compile a report on the pilot program and present it to Council, probably in January. However, it will likely be years before Arizona voters will be able to cast real ballots from their phones.

“I think we’re a few elections off,” she said. 

 

Mock election results

Bond, Parks and Rec: 179 yes, 22 no

Bond, Fire: 184 yes, 17 no

Bond, Police: 169 yes, 31 no

Bond, Public transit: 184 yes, 17 no

Bond, Facilities: 177, 24 no

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