Chandler to test mobile voting app this fall after bond election - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler to test mobile voting app this fall after bond election

August 29th, 2021 development
Chandler to test mobile voting app this fall after bond election

By Ken Sain, Staff Writer

Chandler is planning to be one of the pioneers in mobile voting with a pilot program scheduled to run in November.

City Council was expected to approve a contract with Boston-based Voatz at its meeting Thursday. That vote came after the deadline for this edition.

Voters would be able to cast their ballots on their phone or tablet. The votes would be protected by blockchain technology, the same type of system Bitcoin uses.

Vice Mayor Mark Stewart says it would be very secure.

“What it comes down to, is the juice worth the squeeze?” Stewart said. “Is the quantum computing power that you would need to get into one voter record — just one voter record, not all — would that be worth it?”

To test mobile voting the city plans to stage an election after November’s bond election is completed. It would not count, and would just be to see how the system works. Voters would be asked the same questions on the ballot in the Nov. 2 bond election, plus some additional ones the city seeks answers to.

The city plans to market the pilot program, including to teens under 18. Because of privacy laws, no one under 13 would be allowed to participate. The city will keep separate tallies for those 18 and older and those who are too young to have their votes officially counted.

Stewart has been the driving force behind Chandler’s lead in moving toward mobile voting. “I’ve always been kind of a technology nut or an early adopter,” he said. “We’ve been voting like this for so long, it’s kind of archaic in a way.”

Stewart said blockchain voting can fix many of the issues that have been in the national news about election security.

“I tell the story …, Vice Mayor Stewart walked into my office one day and he said, ‘what do you think of blockchain voting?’” said City Clerk Dana DeLong, whose office runs city elections. “I said, ‘I don’t.’”

She says she does now.

DeLong said she does not need any additional funds to run the pilot program; she could do it with money already approved for her department. The contract with Voatz to do the election will cost $30,000 and then an additional $2 for every person who votes.

Council members expressed concern about the $2 dollars per vote and asked DeLong to put a cap on that during Monday’s work session. They considered a limit of about 10,000 to 15,000 votes. DeLong said she has a total $50,000 in her budget for the election.

Voatz’s system has been used in three states, West Virginia, Colorado and Utah. It was used in actual elections, primarily to count military votes from overseas.

“I see this as the future,” said Josh Daniels, Utah County Clerk and Auditor. His office runs the elections in that county.

“We can save a lot of money, just in purchasing hardware. The hardware in the average voters’ pocket has robust security built into it.”

Daniels said their use of the Voatz system was successful and widely accepted by voters. Under Utah state law, only military personnel serving overseas and people with disabilities could use it, so they only had about 1,000 votes cast that way in the 2020 election.

“Voter turnout was much higher among overseas voters,” he said.

One factor that might limit how far Chandler can go with mobile voting is the county, state and federal governments might not be ready for it. Stewart said he reached out to the county to see if they were interested in partnering in the pilot program. He said they showed some interest, but were not ready to jump in just yet.

Another limiting factor is voting laws need to catch up to the new technology.

Councilmember Terry Roe worried someone could stage a pizza party and get 100 of their closest friends together and then ask them all to vote on their phones.

He was assured some existing state laws would cover such a scenario, but that there was definitely issues that should be addressed by the legislature before mobile voting is fully embraced.

Councilmember Christine Ellis expressed concern that broadband access was not equal across the entire city. She worried this would set up a system making easier for some people to vote, but difficult for others who don’t enjoy the same access to the Internet.

“We just gave the school district … $250,000 when we had to take all the students online, because they didn’t have the capacity.” Ellis said.

She said people on the central side of town west of Arizona Avenue have had their cell phones dropped because of the coverage.

Stewart said pursuing a pilot program for mobile voting is perfect for Chandler.

“I knew this could be an opportunity for Chandler to be, as a community of innovation, to sort of lead the way in proving out concept, get a couple of tests, to get people to trust it so that when they go into the voter’s booth, or they use their phone to vote, they can trust it’s being counted.

“They’ll have a receipt they can audit and they can look back and say, ‘My vote counted.’”