Blacksburg company working to develop secure online voting

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BLACKSBURG (WSLS 10) — Adam Ernest is working to change the way you vote on Election Day.

“When using our software, you can literally vote in an election and follow your vote into the ballot box to confirm that your vote is safely and securely stored just as you cast,” he explained.

The Virginia Tech graduate is developing software called, Follow My Vote from his office at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg. Follow My Vote is designed to make elections more transparent, open and honest than Ernest said they are right now.

“There really is no transparency {currently}. There really is no way for an average voter to independently verify the results of an election and I saw that as a big problem and one that we can actually fix.

His solution is online voting using what’s called block chain technology.

“It’s a new way of storing data in an irreversible way. It’s really a network of computers that process transactions like votes and stores them in a way that they’re publicly verifiable.”

Here’s how it works: A voter is verified by taking a picture of himself and his identification before casting his vote to ensure he’s actually registered. The voter is then given a randomly generated voting key, his identification, which will be attached to his actual vote. A voter’s personal information is never public. The information is stored in a decentralized database, rather than a single storage database, Ernest explained.

“The entire system includes a digital paper trail. So if there were any sort of hacking activity going on it would be immediately detected and we could deal with that issue right there in that moment.”

Ernest says the technology will make elections more secure and also more accessible.

“Our system is meant to work on your mobile phone, your laptop, your desktop computer or your tablet. Whatever device that you have you can securely cast your vote online using that device,” Ernest said.

He says it could cut the cost of holding an election with no need for costly optical scanners or voting machines which can run into the thousands of dollars. The software could instead be loaded into a $200 laptop, he said.

Follow My Vote also allows for faster distribution of results.

“You can monitor and election in real time to literally track who is the likely winner of the election,” Ernest said. “When the polls close you will immediately know who won. There’s no waiting up until two in the morning or sometimes days after to get an official results tally. The system itself tabulates votes on the fly and can give you an accurate result when the polls close.”

Ernest hopes to pilot and test the software, possibly with the Student Government Association at Virginia Tech where it can be used to showcase how the system works and what the experience is like for users.

“Ultimately prove that it’s secure,” he said.

Ernest said he’d like to involve a cyber security club at Virginia Tech to test the systems.

“Have them try to hack the system and we make a big production out of it and bring a spotlight to the region and talk about Hokies really inventing the future.”

Ernest recently partnered with The Free and Equal Elections Foundation, which has given the company a platform to educate the country and world about the problems he says currently plague election systems and how Follow My Vote aims to solve them.

Follow My Vote is currently sponsoring the United We Stand Festival in Boulder, Colorado set to take place October 25 where he will be one of several panelists discussing electoral reform.

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