Will Blockchain-Based Voting Fix Our Problems?
It’s safe to say that American democracy is not doing so well. Accusations of voter fraud, a prevalent fear with incredible reach due to social media and more, are leading to both distrust in the current system and calls for the upheaval of democracy as we know it. Although “Political memes” aren’t all to blame, those in positions of power are also putting democracy to the test. While certainly unfounded, the voter fraud debate was, at least at some level, foreseeable. After all, 3 out of 5 Americans don’t believe our elections are legitimate, and on some level, they’re not exactly wrong. The problem is, they’re battling the wrong demon.
Documented incidents of foreign interference, voter suppression, voter intimidation, gerrymandering, foreign interference, and an already low voter turnout rate, has left the 2020 election––unsurprisingly––in shambles.
What’s truly troubling is how little lawmakers appear to cares about democracy, as red flags like this would be considered egregious and unacceptable in other democratic countries. Yet, it seems that no one finds them glaring enough to mention, much less amend.
Satoshi Nakamoto’s whitepaper was meant to remedy centralization within finance, but the problem doesn’t just exist in that space. Something as precious as American democracy is continuously muddled by the discrepancies in our voting system — many of which can be traced back to centralization. Fears of Russian hacking and foreign interference, cyber hacks, breaches are not unfounded, but the federal government’s further centralizing of an already broken system through new legislation will bring forth new challenges.
Those of us in the blockchain space already know how versatile, secure, private, and effective blockchain can be. With blockchain, transactions are processed quickly through any device securely, privately, and autonomously.
Imagine an elective process where you can vote through your phone, track your vote, and confirm when it’s been received. Certainly, this would at least solve our voter turnout problem, right? Maybe it would even relieve voters from fears of voter fraud, human error, and foreign interference? Still, sometimes ideas that sound great on paper aren’t practical. Would it work? How would we even begin to combat adoption? Would it really protect us from foreign interference, and would disproven claims of voter fraud really be mitigated?
A recent study from the Michigan Institute of Technology (MIT) brought up a few points:
“While current election systems are far from perfect, Internet- and blockchain-based voting would greatly increase the risk of undetectable, nation-scale election failures. Online voting may seem appealing: voting from a computer or smartphone may seem convenient and accessible. However, studies have been inconclusive, showing that online voting may have little to no effect on turnout in practice, and it may even increase disenfranchisement. More importantly: given the current state of computer security, any turnout increase derived from with Internet- or blockchain-based voting would come at the cost of losing meaningful assurance that votes have been counted as they were cast, and not undetectably altered or discarded. This state of affairs will continue as long as standard tactics such as malware, zero days, and denial-of-service attacks continue to be effective”
While they note that this trend of public contention is promising and that vying for a more modernized electoral system is a step in the right direction, they go on to say:
“Online voting systems are vulnerable to serious failures: attacks that are larger scale, harder to detect, and easier to execute than analogous attacks against paper-ballot-based voting systems. Furthermore, online voting systems will suffer from such vulnerabilities for the foreseeable future given the state of computer security and the high stakes in political elections.”
Still, online voting seems to be an inevitability for much of the developed world, with Estonia leading that revolution. Having held the first internet compatible election from personal devices back in 2005, Estonia has continued to expand access to digital voting since. Imagine that! As of their 2019 election, 48% of all voters cast their ballot through a laptop or a smart device, says the head of the country’s electoral office, Arne Koitmäe. Other countries that have implemented digital voting include Australia, Belgium, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Italy, Namibia, the Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Switzerland, the UK, Venezuela, and the Philippines.
Still, Estonia is a small country and the U.S. is a superpower. Other countries will continue to benefit from meddling in our elections unless there is a change. The 2016 election as well as the 2020 election’s clear instances of foreign interference is evidence of that. For a “light” read, check out Mueller’s Special Counsel report, here.
Additionally, having a universal electoral system (regardless of whether it’s digital or not) will make us prone to further interference, even if the current method (which is governed by state and local election officials) also suffer from these repercussions.
While many think that mail-based voting is flawed and open to fraud, there’s little evidence to suggest as much (or at least, little evidence posing fraudulent voting as a significant threat). Similarly, blockchain and digital voting are not guaranteed to magically fix our issues, both in the electoral process and as a nation.
Proponents cite the numerous countries operating with digital voting as a basis. However, it’s hard to compare a country like the U.S. and Estonia where differing populations, challenges, social issues, and political influences are evident.
The solution, as usual, probably lies somewhere in the middle. Maybe there is a way to implement blockchain on a smaller scale to improve electoral legitimacy. If you’re interested in this, check out CBInsight’s report on each area blockchain technology can be of benefit to the voting process. After all, there have been plenty of unpopular pieces of legislation through the years, and some of them were just crazy enough to work to our benefit as a nation, and as a society.