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Seattle-area voters will vote with their phones in elections first

All voters in a typically low-turnout Seattle-area board of supervisors election in February will be able to vote by smartphone.

Seattle-area voters will vote with their phones in elections first
[Photos: Joshua Hoehne/Unsplash; Jonas Leupe/Unsplash]
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For the first time, all voters in a U.S. election will be able to vote using their smartphones, NPR’s Miles Parks reports.

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It’s a small, low-stakes election, and one with a terrible turnout problem. The King County board of supervisors election that will take place in February has in the past drawn less than 1% of the electorate of 1.2 million. With that turnout rate, the district has little to lose.

Voters in the election will log into a web portal using the browser on their device, fill out the ballot, then write their signature on the screen of the device.

Some U.S. elections have allowed populations like the disabled, the elderly, and military people based overseas, to cast their votes remotely using a smartphone app.

“What’s compelling to note, here, is the increase in the variety of technology options that election boards are considering based on their unique needs,” said Nimit Sawhney, CEO and founder of Voatz, the company that supplied the app used in vote-by-app pilots in Virginia, Oregon, and Utah.

But vote-by-app in major elections has long been suppressed because of security concerns, which were exacerbated by the Russian hack of the DNC servers in 2016 and other efforts to hack voting systems.

And yet the U.S. has a terrible participation problem. Even in the highest-profile U.S. elections, a huge chunk of the population does not show up at a polling place to vote.

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Remote voting would not only make it easier to get less-passionate voters to participate, but might short-circuit the very real problems of precinct closures, long lines, and voter intimidation that make it harder for certain demographic groups to cast their vote.

It’s a debate that’s sure to become more politicized, even as voting using personal technology in some form seems inevitable. The election in King County may be a sign of things to come.

“We’ll be watching the election closely,” Sawhney said, “as we hope more counties and states will look at how technology can improve voter accessibility.”

About the author

Fast Company Senior Writer Mark Sullivan covers emerging technology, politics, artificial intelligence, large tech companies, and misinformation. An award-winning San Francisco-based journalist, Sullivan's work has appeared in Wired, Al Jazeera, CNN, ABC News, CNET, and many others.

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