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WV Electronic Absentee Voting Technology to be Provided by Democracy Live in Primary Election

Charleston, West Virginia- Since 2008, West Virginia law has required counties to provide certain military and overseas voters with the option to receive and submit absentee ballots electronically by fax or email. On Feb. 3, 2020, bipartisan legislation was unanimously approved by the WV Legislature and signed into law by the Governor to expand the option of electronic absentee voting to absentee voters living with a physical disability that prevents them from voting in person and without assistance.

In 2018, WV became the first state in the history of the nation to offer overseas and military voters the option of using a mobile phone or tablet to vote in a federal election. For many military men and women deployed to remote areas of the world without dependable access to the U.S. Mail, scanners, printers or fax machines, electronic absentee voting is their only option to participate in our democracy. In the 2018 General Election, 144 voters from 31 different countries were able to vote using the technology.

The new law (SB 94) expands the electronic absentee voting options available to certain military and overseas voters since 2008. Now, eligible absentee voters with a physical disability who cannot get to the polls and vote without assistance can apply to receive, mark and submit their ballot to their county clerk electronically, or by printing out and mailing the ballot to their county clerk. The system will be managed by each of the state’s 55 county clerks, and a paper ballot will be produced and audited in each county for every vote cast.

“We often hear that every vote counts. In West Virginia, every voter counts, too,” said Secretary of State Mac Warner. “While we expect the number of West Virginia citizens who are eligible to use the electronic ballot option in the May Primary Election is quite small, the benefits to our democracy are huge.”

Disability Rights of West Virginia, an organization that supports and advocates for citizens with disabilities, agrees with Warner and has plans to help educate the public on this new accessible method of absentee voting for the May Primary Election.

“Disability Rights of West Virginia is excited about the selection of this new tool that will deliver accessible voting options to our constituents. We plan on hosting outreach events across the state so that everyone who is eligible to use this tool understands how the process works,” said Jeremiah J. Underhill, Legal Director for Disability Rights of West Virginia.

Warner and his office supported the passage of SB 94 because the law makes it possible for citizens with physical disabilities to vote privately and securely in an election. “The Legislature’s unanimous approval for this electronic absentee option recognizes the great importance of our family members, friends and neighbors living with physical disabilities who cannot make it to the polls, to finally have a voice in our democracy,” Warner said.

The specific electronic absentee ballot technology that will be available to eligible voters in the May 12 Primary Election is hosted by Seattle, WA-based company “Democracy Live,” and is funded by Tusk Montgomery Philanthropies at no cost to the state. Democracy Live was founded in 2007 and was originally approved and funded in part by the federal U.S. Elections Assistance Commission and Department of Health and Human Resources to assist certain absentee voters with casting their absentee ballots privately and securely.

The technology is 100% ADA and MOVE Act compliant and has been deployed in more than 1,000 elections across hundreds of jurisdictions over the last decade. Importantly, the availability of this technology in WV is a substantial security improvement from traditional WV electronic absentee voting options, which can only be done via less-secure fax or email attachment ballot transmissions.

Warner said that the online ballot portal (called “OmniBallot Online”) is hosted in the Amazon AWS cloud, which is FedRAMP-certified and used by numerous federal agencies for the storage of highly sensitive and classified information. Some of the federal agencies that use the AWS cloud for secure information storage include the CIA, FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense.

To learn more about who is eligible, the procedures for applying for an absentee ballot, and absentee voting deadlines for the May 12 Primary Election, please go to GoVoteWV.com or call the WVSOS Elections Division at (304) 558-6000.