Voters in Washington state’s most populous county will be able to use their phones to vote in a local election beginning on Wednesday, in what officials think is the most extensive use of mobile voting in a U.S. election.
About 1.2 million registered voters in King County, which includes Seattle, will have the option to cast ballots electronically on their smartphones or computers by logging into a portal. The election is for a seat on the board of the King Conservation District, a local agency that promotes environmental sustainability.
The new option is likely to be controversial among computer security experts, many of whom have criticized it as too difficult to protect from tampering.
Dan Wallach, a computer-science professor at Rice University who has studied election security, called it naive and unrealistic. “I’m not even sure I would trust this to vote for America’s next top idol or whatever,” he said.
But supporters of the idea say that it will make voting more convenient and boost voter turnout.
“Here at King County Elections, we are always looking for ways to improve access and engage our voters,” said Julie Wise, King County director of elections.
The mobile-voting initiative is being funded by Tusk Philanthropies, a charitable organization founded by Bradley Tusk, a political strategist and venture capitalist from New York. The group has conducted pilot projects for mobile-phone voting in a handful of other states, but those were limited to certain people, such as overseas voters.
“We feel like there is no real reason you can’t improve accessibility and security of voting at the same time,” said Sheila Nix, the president of Tusk Philanthropies.
Mr. Wallach, the security expert, said that he would want to see more detailed evidence about what defense measures were taken.
The voting period for the election begins on Wednesday and will close on Feb. 11.
To cast their ballots using a smartphone or computer, voters in King County will log into a portal. They will have to verify their identity by providing their name, date of birth and signature, which will be checked against the county’s voter rolls, according to the county.
County officials said that they will print paper copies of the ballots that are submitted electronically, providing a way to recount the results.
The project uses a voting system developed by Democracy Live, a Seattle-based election technology vendor. Tusk Philanthropies said it hired outside security researchers to test the system, according to a press release.
Washington is a primarily vote-by-mail state, and voters still have that option in this election.
Maurice Turner, an election expert at the nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology, said he considers mobile voting inevitable and that the King County initiative could provide lessons for policy makers elsewhere.
“I expect to see more and more jurisdictions take a closer look at mobile-device voting after 2020 as a way to boost voter turnout,” Mr. Turner said.
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