Utah County Clerk/Auditor Amelia Powers Gardner received a $1,500 campaign donation from an investor in the blockchain voting app Voatz in 2018, roughly 16 months before the county first used the app in its elections.
Utah County started using Voatz for a primary municipal election in August 2019, so military and overseas voters could cast their ballots through an app. The county expanded the pilot program in November 2019 to allow voters with disabilities to use it.
In her role, Powers Gardner supervises the county’s elections. When she first ran for the position in 2018, Powers received a campaign contribution from Overstock.com CEO Jonathan Johnson in early April. Johnson is also the president of Medici Ventures, which is a major investor in Voatz. In January 2018, the app announced it had raised $2.2 million in a round of seed funding led by Medici Ventures.
But Powers Gardner said she’s been friends with Johnson since 2015 and the donation had nothing to do with implementing the app.
“When it comes to the final decision for who we're going to pick as a vendor, I have somewhat of a say in it,” she said. “But I enable my staff, the actual experts ... to make that decision. So, for example, if my elections director, who has over two decades of elections experience, had she not wanted to utilize the system, there's no way I would have used it.”
Powers Gardner also said, because Voatz has a partnership with Tusk Philanthropies, the county has not paid any money to use it.
The Utah County Republican Party and the Utah Republican Party both used Voatz for their nominating conventions in April 2020.
The National Cybersecurity Center, a Colorado-based nonprofit, audited the county’s use of the app and found the votes were recorded and tabulated correctly. Some security experts, however, have voiced concern over the app’s encryption and authentication system.
Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson