Although blockchain technology is usually discussed in relation to economics and finance, it could just as easily forever change democracy as we know it today.
There are already efforts to make blockchain-based voting a reality.
Tucked away during the raucous political situation in the U.S. midterm elections, an experiment was underway in West Virginia — which flew under the radar for most reporters. For the first time ever, nearly 150 West Virginians voted in a general election through the use of a mobile blockchain app. Using the Voatz app, it was mostly military personnel or those in the Peace Corps who decided to try the pilot and place their votes in this new, trust-less system.
The actual application of blockchain-based voting then was still convoluted. The process for placing the ballot was lengthy, with a long verification process. Relying on Apple’s Face ID, users had to send a video of their faces to confirm their identity. The votes are then subsequently printed out on a paper ballot similar to Scantron high school exams; fed through a machine, and counted one by one.
The process is, of course, a bit too complex for efficiency, but that’s only because its disparate parts have not been properly joined together. After all, the thought of printing out blockchain-based votes to scan and count is absurd. The necessary digital infrastructure to support this technology does not exist yet, so apps like Voatz are forced to partially improvise. The idea, nonetheless, shows significant promise.
Why We Need Blockchain-Based Voting
The case for blockchain-based voting is simple: such a system would forever remove any possibility of voter fraud and election tampering. Instead, a trust-less system of democracy could be established, which would expunge any possibility of on-site election meddling.
It would also have the added benefit of preventing political candidates from using election fraud as political opportunism. President Trump, for example, called the 2016 general election into question shortly after winning, claiming that he should have received ‘more votes’ had it not been for ‘election fraud.’
It’s very hard to dispel such an idea given our current system. The sheer possibility of election fraud means it is ripe for political exploitation, playing on the fears of the public. What if the security of voting systems was not up for debate? What if we could trust our elections to be 100-percent accurate every time?
With so much discussion on the security of electronic voting systems as of late, it seems appropriate to bring up the elephant in the room: blockchain technology. It provides us with a simple, common-sense solution to preventing human greed and negligence from corrupting our election process.
Where We’re At Now
There’s some indication that the idea of blockchain-based voting is making inroads in some countries.
Just a few days ago, South Australia used blockchain-based voting for council positions. The Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development recently elected five individual representatives for its Recreational Fishing Advisory Council. The five-person addition to its council for recreational fishers was elected with blockchain technology — thus making the voting process “transparent and historic.” It was a nationwide first.
Although the Minister, Hon Tim Whetstone MP, praised blockchain in a public press release following the election, officials in the United States have been less enthused about the technology. Nimit Sawhney, CEO of Voatz (the app which piloted the election in WV), stated that “early feedback we received from election officials was that they were uncomfortable with nodes running in potentially unfriendly part of the world.”
Of course, this concern makes no sense given that an ‘unfriendly nation’ could not tamper with a node on a public blockchain — even if they wanted to. Yet, it’s a problem that’s going to come up a lot. Public and government officials need to learn to trust the blockchain itself before they’ll allow it to run an election of any kind.
The unease expressed by American political operators and government officials is arguably misplaced. Estonia has already instituted a nationwide electronic voting system which can be done through an app on your phone. The country has essentially digitized its entire bureaucracy; it’s only a matter of time before it onboards blockchain technology to strengthen its digital infrastructure. There’s no real reason the United States couldn’t do the same.
All being said, blockchain voting will probably not be a reality for at least a few years. There still does not exist a blockchain-based system which could handle mass voting on a grand scale. Yet, given the direction the technology is going, don’t be surprised when you start seeing experiments like the one in South Australia pop up more and more. Blockchain-based voting will soon become commonplace; it’s a question of when — not if.
Do you think the blockchain will forever change elections and democracy as we know it? What are the obstacles? Let us know your thoughts down below.