In the United States, the ease and security of voting are not guaranteed.
Even in 2022, you may not be able to vote the next time you go to the polls, your voter information may be compromised, or your ballot may be rejected.
The primaries were not pretty until there.
Today I was turned away from a voting booth in my hometown of Houston. I have voted in every major election since I was 18, as is my right as an American. I take this so seriously that I have requested mail-in ballots out of the country.
— Richelle Carey (@RichelleCarey) March 1, 2022
In a perfect nation, every citizen could vote easily, without queuing or worrying that something might happen to their ballot. Ideally, we would all be able to press a button wherever we are and vote securely.
That’s why blockchain – that invisible, secure technology commonly used for cryptocurrency and NFTs – has been touted for years as the answer. An asset in the blockchain can, in theory, never be touched or modified by unverified entities, whether it is a virtual coin, a piece of digital art, a contract or a a vote.
What blockchain voting could mean (in theory)
Annika Jacobsen of Agora Technologies in Switzerland waited hours to vote in the 2016 election in his small US town of 500, only to learn later that, like millions of other Americans, his voter information had been compromised. In a 2019 TEDxZurichSalon to speak, Bringing Voting Systems into the Digital Age with Blockchainshe detailed how, ideally, blockchain could have prevented what happened in 2016 and ensured safer voting, even in countries with weak or corrupt democratic systems.
On paper, it sounds good: no lines, and no need to wonder if your vote was counted. As a confirmed voter, you can even change your vote up until the deadline and confirm your vote is correct after the election. Votes are counted instantly, with no possibility of tampering with ballots during a manual count or recount.
All you would have to do is download an official voting app, verify yourself, and vote from home – or anywhere in the world.
Of course, this is all theoretical for now. And there are many people who don’t want to see blockchain voting, including MIT experts who have spoken out strongly against blockchain votingclaiming it is much more vulnerable to large-scale attack than paper ballot voting.
USPS voting and blockchain
Blockchain voting has been tested at least once in the United States. It’s a story that’s been largely forgotten, even though it’s only a few years old:
In early 2020, as the Trump administration attempted to shut down the US Postal Service before the presidential election, the USPS – responsible for millions of mail-in ballots – filed a patent application for a “Secure voting systemdescribed as “a voting system that can use blockchain and mail security to provide a reliable voting system.” In this system, registered voters would receive a computer-readable code in the mail that would verify them to vote anonymously via blockchain technology.
(It may be worth noting that the USPS method, which was supposed to be designed to relieve voters of reliance on an interrupted courier service, relied on ZIP codes.)
When the experiment became public, the blockchain was declared a failure as a voting tool. In fact, the conclusion was that it was less secure than the very insecure non-blockchain internet voting. Since then, it has been widely believed that blockchain would be bad for voters.
Concerns about blockchain voting
Concerns about blockchain voting are ubiquitous – enough that we probably won’t see it on the table as a viable method of voting for quite some time. They understand:
- Verification would involve a process not unlike voter identification lawsWho have been show to exclude eligible voters in marginalized groups with a higher than average number of people without a driver’s license or ID. It should be noted that these shortcomings are caused by systemic issues that still need to be addressed.
- There is also the issue, potentially, of the lack of access to a smartphone to vote.
- Another problem cited is that the technology is simply not ready to be used in such a way, where one mistake or breach could destabilize a nation.
- Even if the blockchain works as they say, it is not a panacea. disinformation campaigns and gerrymandering would still exist if voting moved to blockchain today.
- And, because politicians across the country working tirelessly to make it difficult to vote for citizens, there is concern that if blockchain can do what it says it can do, it will make voting too easy and accessible, threatening the status quo.
Paper ballots are going to be left behind for something new and better one day. It’s clear from Annika Jacobsen’s story — shared by many other Americans — that the “tried and true” method has been vulnerable for years now.
So is the blockchain ready or are the people ready?