Special reports: THE IDEA FACTORY
Mobile voting Seattle is letting everyone vote via smartphone in a local election
January 22, 2020

The Seattle area is jumping in where few municipalities have dared to tread, allowing all 1.2 million voters in King County to vote by smartphone in a Feb. 11 election, NPR reports. Cybersecurity experts are squeamish about online mobile voting, but King County has decided to wager that election security risks are worth the potential payoff of people actually voting in a local election. The stakes are relatively low in this case: Voters are choosing a new board of supervisors for the King Conservation District, a Washington state environmental agency many people in Seattle and the surrounding area have never heard of. Voting starts Wednesday.

The pilot project, to be announced in Seattle on Wednesday, is still making waves as the first U.S. general election conducted via mobile voting. Voters who chose to try out the new system will use a web portal to log in with their full name and birth date, and they will sign their ballot using their touchscreen. The ballots will be printed. Washington is good at verifying voter signatures because the state votes entirely by mail, says Bryan Finney of Democracy Live, the company providing the technology.

Tusk Philanthropies is funding the experiment, as it has smaller mobile voting projects. "This is the most fundamentally transformative reform you can do in democracy," founder Bradley Tusk tells NPR. "If you can use technology to exponentially increase turnout, then that will ultimately dictate how politicians behave on every issue."

"There is a firm consensus in the cybersecurity community that mobile voting on a smartphone is a really stupid idea," counters Duncan Buell, a computer science professor at the University of South Carolina. Still, he conceded, "until we have a total collapse of some election, I think this sort of thing is going to continue" because "people want to believe that, you know, they can do everything on their phones." Listen to NPR's report below. Peter Weber