Charleston, W.Va. — Secretary of State Mac Warner announced today the successful completion of the state’s third electronic voting pilot project.
"West Virginia is proud to offer military, overseas, and citizens with physical disabilities the option to vote electronically. During this time when the entire nation is looking for a safe, secure way to vote, the nation has its eyes on West Virginia as we lead the country in options to vote,” Warner said. “Our pilot for the June Primary was safely and securely deployed, and now other states are looking to the West Virginia example."
By state law, electronic absentee voting is available to deployed military, overseas voters, and individuals with physical disabilities who cannot participate in person or vote a paper ballot without assistance. The West Virginia Legislature unanimously passed Senate Bill 94 in January 2020, making the June 9th Primary Election the first time in US history that voters with physical disabilities who cannot vote at the polls and without assistance could choose to receive, mark and return an absentee ballot electronically in a Federal election.
West Virginia's first two electronic ballot pilot projects were conducted by Warner in the 2018 Primary and General Elections. Voters qualified under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) were given the option to vote without relying on the U.S. Mail, or needing a printer, scanner, or fax machine to vote from another country. West Virginians in 30 countries took advantage of the opportunity in 2018.
The June 9th Primary Election pilot was a collaboration between the state of West Virginia, National Cybersecurity Center, Democracy Live and Tusk Montgomery Philanthropies. The voting portal for the June 9th Primary Election was used by 180 voters from 26 countries, and from every continent except Antarctica. Twenty-five (25) of those 180 voters were citizens with qualifying disabilities.
“We applaud Secretary Warner and the state of West Virginia for continuing to pass legislation and calling on Congress and our Department of Defense to innovate and push for new solutions for our deployed military and citizens with disabilities,” said Bradley Tusk, CEO and Founder of Tusk Philanthropies.
Earlier this year, Secretary Warner sent letters to Congressional leadership and Defense Secretary Mark Esper urging them to fund the development and implementation of electronic voting for uniformed military service members and overseas citizens. Currently, deployed military overseas have three options: 1) vote by mail; 2) vote using email or fax; or 3) skip voting altogether. The first two options assume that members of military have access to the internet, a printer, a fax machine, or reliable mail services, a faulty assumption that leads to over 80% of the people not getting their votes counted.
The voting hurdles confronting Active Duty Military are what lead to many soldiers simply opting not to vote. Additionally, email and fax servers are highly insecure, and the U.S. Postal Service is highly unreliable—especially in combat zones and areas hit hard by the coronavirus. Over 180 countries around the globe had to disrupt their mail service during the pandemic.
In the U.S., 31 states are required by law to send ballots electronically to military voters deployed overseas. Compared with highly insecure email or fax services, West Virginia determined that leveraging a more-secure, federally approved cloud server is the most reliable and secure method to comply with the law.
West Virginia continues to push for solutions to increase options for voters to participate and increase access to the ballot box for members of our society who have a difficult time voting. The passage of SB 94 was a dramatic step forward with providing voters the opportunity to participate privately and independently.
"We hope leaders in Washington D.C. will fund initiatives to solve the dilemma of voting from remote locations, especially for our deployed military who put their lives on the line to protect the very democracy from which they are often precluded from participating," Warner said.
Over the next few months, Warner said that the participating partners in the June 9th Primary Election pilot will review the outcome of the project and decide on how to move forward for the November 3 General Election.