CHARLESTON — New research at the University of Chicago found that the ability for military members overseas to vote using a mobile device increased turnout by three to five percentage points amongst those eligible to use the system in the 2018 federal election in West Virginia.

The Mountain State was the first to pilot a mobile voting application, which was made available only to military members serving overseas. Anthony Fowler, associate professor at the University of Chicago, studied the pilot program to assess the likely effects of mobile voting on the size and composition of the voting population. He found that mobile voting has the potential to significantly boost turnout of the targeted audience in future elections. Access the full study at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1aKVRaWY_Stzr1ba7feXYCv8KHRaRkA-0/view.

In the 2018 General Election, 144 registered West Virginia voters from 21 counties cast ballots from 31 different countries using the app. The study suggests that having mobile voting as an option made them six to nine percentage points more likely to request a ballot (mobile or otherwise) by submitting a Federal Post Card Application, and it subsequently made them three to five percentage points more likely to cast a ballot. The study also shows that about half of the voters casting a ballot with the mobile app would not have otherwise voted if mobile voting were not an option.

The mobile voting app was the result of Secretary of State Mac Warner’s interest in breaking down barriers which have long prevented uniformed services members from having the same or similar ease of access and secure opportunities to participate in elections as those voting stateside. During his nearly three decades of service to the United States Army and the U.S. Department of Justice, Warner experienced first-hand the difficulties of voting overseas.

“West Virginians are proud that we are investing in new technology to encourage and help our military members stay civically engaged,” Warner said. “This mobile application will allow military men and women in remote areas of the world to participate in elections back home.”

The app uses two types of biometric identity verification (i.e. facial recognition liveness software and thumb/palm print) to verify the user’s identity at each stage of the process and has undergone numerous third-party security assessments. In the early summer of 2019, the city and County of Denver, Colorado followed West Virginia’s lead by allowing the same military mobile voting solution for overseas military members in their municipal election.

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