After damaging report, W.Va. moves away from voting app

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia is opting not to use a widely criticized voting app in the state’s coming primary elections after a blistering report found potential security flaws in the platform.

Donald Kersey, general counsel in the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office, said Monday that an MIT analysis of the Voatz app “gave us enough pause” to instead use a different system for the May elections.

The decision came as state officials had to choose an online voting system to comply with a new law requiring electronic ballots for people with physical disabilities.

Last month, an MIT studyfound that Voatz, which has mostly been used for absentee ballots from overseas military personnel, has vulnerabilities that could allow hackers to change a person’s vote without detection. The researchers said they were forced to reverse engineer an Android version of the app because the company hasn’t allowed transparent third-party testing of the system.

The Voatz app was used to tally fewer than 200 ballots in West Virginia’s 2018 elections and didn’t have any problems, state officials said. The app has also been used in pilots in Denver, Oregon and Utah.

The Boston-based Voatz has strongly disputed MIT’s research methods, accusing the analysts of acting “in bad faith.” The company said the app hasn’t had any reported issues over nine pilot elections.

Voting security experts have repeatedly arguedthat online voting is dangerously insecure. Few states are even considering it. Alaska in 2018 explored doing so but then decided against it.

After the release of the MIT report, officials in West Virginia were quick to point out that they hadn’t yet decided to use the Voatz app for the state’s new disability voting law in the coming primaries.

On Friday, the Secretary of State’s office said it would use an electronic system from the company Democracy Live that will allow voters to fill out ballots online or have them printed out and mailed in. The technology has been deployed in more than 1,000 elections in the past decade and uses a portal hosted by Amazon cloud, according to a news release.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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