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New world. Smartphone voting makes shy breakthrough in the United States

Use your smartphone to find a good restaurant or a friendly bar. (JEAN-CHRISTOPHE BOURDILLAT / RADIO FRANCE)

An American county is currently conducting an election by electronic vote on a smartphone, despite security concerns. France is also preparing the digital vote for the next polls.

Voting without having to travel, and therefore being able to participate in civic life even if you are away from home or sick, is possible thanks to electronic distance voting. The smartphone seems to be the best tool for this. Except that … it's not that simple. Electronic voting, using voting machines installed in offices, should not be confused with remote digital voting, which is similar to postal voting, in the Internet version.

Smartphone voting is currently being offered to American voters in King County, Washington, for a local election. The ballot began on January 22 and will last until February 11. Admittedly, this is a “small election” for a local environmental agency, which usually has a very low turnout, around 1 to 3 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal. The poll still concerns 1.2 million voters. The technical solution was developed by the specialized American company Democracy Live.

Voters are encouraged to use their smartphone or computer. After logging into an administration website, they must authenticate with their name and date of birth. They just have to vote at the click of a button and have to sign on the touch screen. At the end of the chain, employees verify that the signatures match municipal registers and print paper ballots that they slip into the ballot box to keep a physical record of the ballot.

However, electronic remote voting has always been strongly criticized by computer security experts. There are, in fact, potential technical risks of hacking as well as a level of reliability to verify the identity of the voter deemed insufficient. Remote voting also poses risks in terms of respecting the secrecy of the vote. For example, one person may be forced by another and not be in complete control of his vote. Development efforts are currently focused on strengthening the security level, in particular with the help of facial recognition for authentication.

In France, electronic distance voting by computer is already a reality. French citizens abroad were able to vote online in 2012, for the legislative elections, and then in 2014, for the consular elections. But the procedure was paused in 2017, for security reasons, on the recommendation of the National Agency for Information Systems Security (Anssi). A new platform has been developed. It has just been approved and should be used for the next consular elections in 2020, then for the legislative elections in 2022, still for French citizens abroad. Experiments with local voting by smartphone have also taken place, particularly in Hauts-de-France, but this is still marginal.

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