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A mobile, online voting effort doubled turnout last month outside Seattle, independent audit says

March 5, 2020, 10:30 PM UTC

E-voting underwent its first major test last month when all eligible voters in a Seattle-area county were given the option to cast a ballot online for a local race.

This week, an independent audit released by the National Cybersecurity Center, a nonprofit promoting cyber innovation, found that the results of that election were accurately tabulated and there was no interference. What makes the test even more promising, according to online voting proponents, is that the county’s voter turnout doubled.

Last year, 3,241 votes were cast in the King County Conservation District board of supervisors election. This year, there were 6,280 votes⁠—an improvement for an election with where 1.2 million people are eligible to vote, and voter turnout is historically under 1%.

“I think the part that was really interesting was voters had a choice. They could mark it [the ballot] on their phone or device and send it back electronically, or print it and mail it,” says Sheila Nix, president of Tusk Philanthropies, the nonprofit that partnered with King County to deploy mobile voting. “Virtually everybody did electronic submission.”

King County’s decision to try mobile voting was motivated by cost and the desire to boost voter turnout. State law requires the conservation district hold an election in the first quarter of the year, but sending out 1.2 million paper ballots can be a massive expense. Previously, people who wanted to vote had to request a ballot first, then mail it back.

Just as a person would vote by paper ballot, online voters were required to sign their name on their touchscreen device, so their signature could be validated.

Of the online votes cast, 23 signatures were challenged for not matching what was on filing. Even still, online signatures were challenged 1.25% of the time, compared to a rate of 1.5% with the paper ballots that were cast, according to the audit report.

Nix says the positive results showing the vote was tamper-proof, along with increased voter engagement, are proof that this could be rolled out in other municipalities, and on a larger scale, in the future.

“We have been reaching out to cities and counties and states for 2020, and have even started getting some inquiries for 2021 when there are more municipal elections,” she says. “There seems to be a lot of interest in doing this next year.”

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