Voting from the Sky: The First Mobile Blockchain Vote in History

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Voting from the Sky: The First Mobile Blockchain Vote in History

VICENZA, ITALY — Scott Warner stares out the window, 1,200 feet above the ground, loud jet engines whirring in the background and wide expanse of earth stretching out along the distant, hazy horizon.

Like a cavity in the bottom of a canyon, trees, specs of cattle, grasslands and hills pass by, peacefully threaded together by roads and waterways, woven together into the quiet makeup of a quilted landscape.

Warner yells to his comrades and, in the midst of the commotion, catches a moment — here they are, all of them, floating above the surface and hovering, miraculously, in these moments between space and time.

“WOOSH!”

Suddenly the door opens and a deafening burst of air rushes into the plane, alerting the paratroopers that it’s nearly game time. The aircraft banks, Warner steadies himself with his static line, already hooked up to the cable running the length of the aircraft.

He stares at his comrades, feeling the exhilarating force of the whirling air and before he can think, he’s at the door.

“STAND BY!”

Pack strapped on back, helmet buckled tightly beneath chin, Warner hands off his static line and silently counts down.

3…2…

“GREEN LIGHT… GO!”

And he’s off, with a slap from the jumpmaster and the full strength of his body, launching out the door, jostled by the blast of wind, and catapulting into the abyss beneath with only a string, pack and a parachute — God willing — to carry him safely down.

 

^Captain Scott Warner lives in Vicenza, Italy

 

This is Warner’s world, and his life is not his own. Laid at the feet of duty, Warner has signed up for a life of service and thrown his heart into the ring like so many before, feeling the pull of the call.

“My whole family has served in some form — sisters, brother, dad, uncles, cousins, grandfathers.”

Indeed, Warner comes from a long lineage of service. Both grandfathers served in the army, his paternal grandfather from 1944-1946 with another 13 years between ROTC and the reserves. His maternal grandfather served 15 years, split between active duty and the reserves. His dad, now Secretary of State in West Virginia, graduated from the United States Military Academy and served for 23 years. His older brother and sister also graduated from West Point and served in the Army.

But Warner, a young man full of calm conviction, made the decision to join on his own.

“I grew up being raised with two values at the forefront — faith and service. I’d always known about the Army from so many in my family having joined, but my parents never tried to force it on me. In fact, if they had I probably would’ve done the opposite.

“When I applied to West Point I prayed about it, felt a sense of peace and adventure about it, and decided, ‘Yeah, this is right for me.’”

 

^A legacy of service (from left): Secretary of State Mac Warner, Brother (Steven), Mother (Debbie), Captain Scott Warner

 

Warner just entered his fifth year in service and was recently promoted to the rank of “Captain”. Currently stationed in Italy, he works on a military base but spends most days at the whim of a paratrooper’s schedule, whether traveling to countless countries for training or jumping from jets.

“I’ve definitely had my moments. You know, when it’s 2:00AM, you’re standing in the middle of the German wilderness in late October and it’s sleeting and raining and just awful outside, it’s hard to not ask yourself, “Why in the world am I doing this?”

“But what keeps me going are the relationships. My parents always taught us that no matter where you go or what you do, it’s the people you meet and the relationships you form that truly matter. I’ve definitely found that to be true. Being there for my buddies and for my Soldiers is what keeps me motivated to keep pushing.”

For Warner, faith, a deep sense of connection and purpose have always been guiding forces — both in the way he navigates his commitment to service, and also how he considers his duties as a citizen.

“My parents have always been engaged with politics, and they wanted to make sure we understood the underlying framework so we could educate ourselves and vote.”

Warner and his siblings grew up going to Camp Lincoln, a summer camp where kids learn about the U.S. two-party system, build leadership skills for the future and participate in a mock model congress.

“Growing up, I definitely knew voting and politics mattered. I knew it was important to know who we were electing, who was forming our laws and controlling our government. And I understood that if I wanted to have a say, I’d have to voice it at the ballot box.”

 

^Captain Warner with his parents (Secretary of State Mac Warner and Mrs. Debbie Warner)

 

When Warner was in school at West Point, he didn’t vote — the registration logistics of being in a new state and at military school were admittedly too cumbersome amidst the demanding schedule.

Now, serving overseas in the military where the only options to vote are via mail, fax, or email, and where Warner is at the whim of his training schedule, voting might have also posed a challenge.

 

 

But early in 2018, Warner’s dad — West Virginia’s Secretary of State — phoned him up. He was excited, and he had an idea.

“I remember when my Dad started telling me about it — he’d always been passionate about getting voter registration cleaned up across the state,” Warner said.

“He told me about how he was trying to work toward making it easier for out of state voters (particularly military service members) to vote — ‘to make it easy to vote but hard to cheat’. For me, for him, for all of our family and those in the army, this was a big deal.”

In early 2018, Secretary of State Mac Warner — Scott Warner’s father — launched a small pilot with just two counties in West Virginia for the primaries in March. Overseas citizens, military and their dependents from these two counties would be able to vote using their smartphones with the Voatz application.

 

^Captain Warner

 

Scott Warner was the first, ever, to vote in a U.S. Federal Election using a smartphone backed by blockchain technology, and he did so on March 18, 2018 from Vicenza, Italy. He’d completed an airborne operation earlier that day, went home, downloaded the app, verified his identity, and made his selections.

“The whole thing was pretty simple. It still took a little bit of back and forth to get registered, but once I got the app downloaded and my account verified, I remembered thinking it was very intuitive, easy to use, and easy to make my selections. I also thought it was a cool use of facial recognition technology to verify my identity by matching me to my government issued ID.”

For Warner, the biggest help was to doing it on his own time.

“In any given week I have a lot going on. Today, we’re on an airborne operation and I could be back at a reasonable hour, or the weather could change and our timeline could get pushed late into the night. Our schedules are pretty chaotic.

“To not have to keep coming back to a process — like getting an application, receiving that, mailing this, postmarking by this date — is key. If it’s a multistep process with days in-between the steps, it’s so easy to do the first few parts, leave for training, and forget the last bit.

“So to be able to knock out voting on your own time and all at once — that’s pretty sweet. It was significantly easier than my alternatives.”

For Warner, the added benefit, too, was preserving his anonymity.

“When you’re mailing or emailing your ballot, you lose that anonymity, but with this, my choices remain anonymous — that was extremely important.”

Later in 2018, when Secretary Warner opened mobile voting to 24 counties for the Midterms, Warner voted again.

“When I told my peers and colleagues about voting with my smartphone, they were impressed and jealous. They wanted to know how I did it and wished they could do the same. I felt proud I could brag about West Virginia leading the way.

“In the end, democracy only works if you actually get the full cross-section of the population to participate. If our voting system only turns out 40-50%, then we’re missing a huge part of the population. If we do everything through our phones — credit card transactions, healthcare — why not use them to encourage greater participation?

“It’s important to maintain the freedom we have, and the point of democracy is getting the input of all people. Why not try to make it work?”

 

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Contributions:
We thank Scott Warner for his contributions to this piece.