LOGAN – A peculiar new turn of phrase has crept into the campaign vocabularies of Utah political candidates.
“If I’m not your first choice,” they say in online pitches to the Democratic and Republican delegates who will participate in state nominating conventions concluding April 25, “then let me be your second choice.”
If you’re puzzled by that refrain, blame it on Voatz.
Voatz is a for-profit election consultancy firm that has been hired by both the Utah Republican and Democratic parties to facilitate electronic voting during their online conventions. Voatz uses biometrics, cryptology and blockchain technology (32 identically arranged, but geographically separated computer servers) to verify voters’ identifications when they are balloting from a smartphone or other electronic device.
The reason that candidates are begging to be delegates’ first or second choices is that Voatz uses a ranked-choice voting scheme.
While using the Voatz application, the GOP and Democratic delegates to their state conventions will rank all candidates for each office in their order of preference.
For example, there are a dozen GOP candidates in the running to replace outgoing U.S. Representative Rob Bishop in Congress. Delegates will rank all 12 of those candidates from favorite to least favorite on their electronic ballot.
Voatz’ proprietary software then eliminates the lowest-ranking candidates and reallocates the votes of their supporters to second choices. That shuffling process continues until two final candidates emerge.
Online voting is an idea whose time has come, according to Larry Moore, the senior vice-president of Voatz. Like other balloting innovations – including motor-voter laws and by-mail ballots – its gradual introduction has been met with concern and skepticism.
But Voatz has already facilitated online voting in more than 50 elections in partnerships with political parties, towns, cities, universities and professional organizations, according to the U.S. Federal Election Commission.
Online voting was originally conceived only as an option for allowing disabled voters and citizens living overseas to participate in the election process, Moore explains, and early attempts to implement electronic voting were plagued with problems.
In 2004, the Department of Defense had to pull the plug on a $22 million effort to allow deployed service members to vote online due to its “inability to ensure the legitimacy of votes.”
When the District of Columbia attempted an online voting trial in 2010, hackers caused the University of Michigan fight song to play each time a vote was cast
But Moore says that recent technological developments have resolved many of the challenges associated with online voting.
“Smartphones now have biometric authentication capabilities, using fingerprint scanners and facial recognition,” Moore explains, “plus high-resolution cameras capable of verifying credential like driver’s licenses and passports. So, those devices allow a substantial leap forward in the process of voter-verification.”
Up-to-date computer applications can also access residency and voter registration databases instantaneously nowadays to verify a voter’s eligibility, Moore added.
Given those innovations, all that was still needed to prove the reliability of online voting was for responsible election officials nationwide to be willing to conduct carefully controlled pilot programs during live elections.
But Moore says the Coronavirus outbreak and social distancing guidelines have accelerated the acceptance of online voting, since it is now the only practical option for many political parties as well as local and state officials.