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As a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there have already been various ideas and suggestions floated by both political parties about what might happen in November 2020 for the upcoming presidential election. Some have proposed “vote by mail” schemes, as well as “ballot harvesting” initiatives, but aren’t both of these ideas ripe for corruption, wrongdoing or just plain incompetence? Just think about the sheer lunacy of this year’s Iowa caucuses, and you can start to see why any version of paper voting is always a nightmare. One way out of this quagmire might be the embrace of online blockchain voting.
Why blockchain voting makes sense
OK, OK, I know what you’re probably thinking here. Isn’t blockchain the same technology that’s used for Bitcoin? Yes, it is, and that’s also exactly why it’s perfect for online voting. Blockchain technology enables you to create a distributed, decentralized ledger of transactions. This ledger is not owned by anyone (thereby deflecting concerns that it might be co-opted by either Democrats or Republicans) and cannot be hacked by anyone (thereby removing concerns that Russian bots might get involved). Moreover, blockchain relies on end-to-end encryption, so voter identity remains anonymous. You can see that someone with a certain ID number voted, but you don’t know the name or identity of that person.
If you think about a vote as a “transaction,” then you can see why the same technology used by Bitcoin can also be used for voting. Every registered voter would receive a “token” (or “coin”) that they could use to submit their vote on the blockchain. This token would be entirely encrypted and anonymous, and once it was cast, could not be changed. Similar to Bitcoin, the only way to hack a transaction would be to hack the entire blockchain, and there is currently no way to do this with available computing power. Moreover, at any time, any citizen of America would be able to check or verify all voting – you wouldn’t have to tune into CNN or FOX for election results, you’d be able to see them on your own computer!
Blockchain voting, still in beta
Sound crazy? Well, maybe it’s not as crazy as you think. Ever since 2012., a number of innovative companies have been working on voter blockchain solutions, and they have been defining the rules of the road for blockchain voting. For example, the idea of a coin (i.e. token) used for voting dates back to 2012 and the introduction of the “Commit Coin” – you “commit” to your candidate by placing your voting coin into the digital wallet of the candidate you wish to support. (Think of a Commit Coin as a special type of Bitcoin that you are giving to someone else on one special day of the year.) The candidate with the most coins at the end of the election wins!
Already, voter blockchain solutions are starting to play out in the real world. For example, in 2018, West Virginia became the first U.S. state to experiment with online blockchain voting. During the 2018 midterms, 144 West Virginia voters located overseas were able to cast a ballot using their mobile phone. Theoretically, future iterations of this solution would be national in scale.
Problems and challenges for blockchain voting
Of course, there are a lot of possible watch-outs here. While blockchain voting would be theoretically 100% secure from hackers, you can bet that any candidate who loses an election by a few thousand votes would automatically bring up hacking allegations. And what about people without household Internet connections? Presumably, you’d hear a lot about the “digital divide” and how low-tech voters are being ignored.
While the concept of placing a paper ballot in a physical real world ballot box is quaint, and while the idea of disappearing behind a curtain to pull a magic lever once every four years might fill you with nostalgia, it’s time to move forward to the future. In short, blockchain can save us from voter fraud and so it’s time to embrace those companies and organizations that are paving the way for blockchain-based national elections.