MIT raises concerns about West Virginia cell phone voting app

Local News

CHARLESTON, W. Va. (WOWK) –Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, better known as MIT, say they have found security vulnerabilities, with a cell phone voting app called “VOATZ.” The is the app used in West Virginia that allowed overseas military personnel to vote on the 2018 election. The Mountain State was the first in the nation to offer this ballot casting option.

Now, however, the MIT researchers say quote, “We find that VOATZ has vulnerabilities that allow different kinds of adversaries to alter, stop, or expose a user’s vote…. and can potentially recover a user’s secret ballot.” The MIT report says votes could be changed or even erased. We asked West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner about the VOATZ app last Tuesday and again Friday following the Iowa Caucuses. He said then he’s confident it’s secure – and sticks by that assessment today.

“Absolutely! And everything matched in the 2018 election, both in the primary and in the general. There were no hack, there were no changes of votes or anything like that. So I’m very confident in the system, but there are other systems as well,” said Secretary of State Mac Warner, (R) West Virginia

The Secretary of State’s offices says MIT’s research focused on the first edition of the Voatz , which has now been updated at least 27 times. He says it would be similar to saying Windows 10 is vulnerable, even though security flaws in the earlier editions were already corrected.

The Secretary State’s website has a security “white paper” anyone can read, a declassified Homeland Security report that addresses voting concerns, and a map that shows safeguards in the process along the way. Still, Warner says he’s open-minded and is reviewing the MIT study. That’s because West Virginia does not have to stick with VOATZ and could pick another voting App by March 1st.

“Once we make a determination – it may or may not be VOATZ – but if we come up with a new system, we will re-train the clerks, we will get out – and that’s why I appreciate you covering this – is we need to get the word out to folks in terms of what system they can expect,” said Mac Warner, Secretary of State.

MIT researchers concluded that hacking can take over control of your phone and the VOATZ App, saying quote: “An attacker that controls a user’s device also controls their vote.”

“People who vote in West Virginia get a paper receipt verifying that the cast a ballot. The Secretary of State’s office says people who vote by phone App will get an electronic receipt to verify the ballot, in case an audit or recount is ordered,” said Mark Curtis, 13 News Chief Political Reporter.

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