Bitcoin, Blockchain, and Ballots: Are secure, transparent, and public elections possible?
2020 was a tumultuous year. A pandemic, riots, and economic anxiety characterized an entire year that reach its climax with a contentious presidential election. The election year pandemic necessitated states make accommodations for those who felt their health threatened by going to a polling place, which led to an increase in mail-in ballots. In fact, this past election saw a 100% increase in mail-in voting. With this surge in mail-in voting, came the opportunity for less savory activity. What one state calls ‘ballot collecting’ another can ‘ballot harvesting.’ This practice usually involves third party entities collecting filled out ballots from constituents aligned with their political interests vice the public writ large. Coupled with this practice, there were other claims of irregularities in counting, software ‘glitches,’ and even downright fraud that permeated the news and social media. Many people ‘assume’ that the precinct counts their ballot upon voting, but rarely is there proof, a receipt, that the ballot counted. Voter fraud, ballot harvesting, etc. are charges that can erode at the integrity of an election. Elections are the foundation of democracy. As the perception of an election goes, so does the perception of democracy.
H.R. 1, also deemed the ‘For the People’ act, recently passed by the House of Representatives, seeks to establish federal laws for elections. This act threatens to supersede Article II of the Constitution. In Article II, the Constitution confirms on state legislatures the power to determine the manner by which their electors for president are determined. The bill, if it became law, would also override state voter ID laws, allow greater mail-in voting, and possibly make ‘ballot harvesting’ legal.
Why in the 21st century is the United
States fighting over whether or not the identify of a voter should be verified? Why is the United States comfortable relying on the mail system, built upon the legacy of the Pony Express? Surely technology can provide a more efficient, economical, and environmentally friendly solution to voting.
The technology the powers Bitcoin, blockchain, could offer the solution to make elections secure, transparent, and trustworthy. When Satoshi Nakamoto wrote the white paper that birthed Bitcoin, blockchain technology became the means by which his cryptocurrency would be bought, sold, and used in exchange for goods and services. This technology does what the name implies. As new ‘blocks’ of data are added onto the chain of data, they have a relationship with the past (a hash), have a timestamp (critical if used with voting), and contain transaction data. For Bitcoin, the transaction data contains financial transactions. These same blocks could contain other information like voter registration and even a person’s actual vote. More importantly, the Bitcoin blockchain is a distributed ‘open ledger.’ One of the features that makes blockchains useful for Bitcoin is that everyone could view the transactions on the chain. This would achieve an essential aspect that alludes voting today—transparency. Not only could a person on the chain see that his/her vote counted, he/her could verify voter rolls and registrations, and see votes counted. The would be no doubt as to how many people registered versus voted in an election. The timestamp would provide verifiable data as to when a vote was cast and counted. Furthermore, new blocks of data build upon previous data—it does not overwrite it. Therefore, the information cannot be altered, destroyed, or corrupted. All features a trusted ‘voting’ system would need going forward.
How would it work? A user—potential voter—would use the internet and an app to create a unique identifier. This would be similar to the theoretical ‘storage boxes’ Bitcoin operators create when they join the crypto blockchain. The unique identifier would preserve the anonymity of the voter. The voting eligibility of each person would be verified, and the voter could cast his/her vote online. Currently, Bitcoin ‘miners’ secure the integrity of the blockchain ensuring that no one can ‘double spend.’ The same type of operation would ensure that no one could vote more than once. This is not a theoretical concept. Thailand has built a blockchain voting system and used it with success. Voting by the chain would preserve records and allow a public audit of vote counting.
In his interim National Security Strategic Guidance, President Biden says he will “combat voter suppression and institutional disenfranchisement” coupled with ensuring “voting rights for all.” America has a troubled history of using poll taxes, literacy tests, and even downright intimidation to keep some groups from the polling place.
Blockchain voting provides everyone access to democratic process. In Thailand, voters could vote via an app on their phone or use voting stations to send in their vote. The country also required verifiable identification be submitted with the vote. As the world shrinks and the likelihood of another pandemic increases, blockchain voting would allow people to vote from the comfort of their home. This technology holds great promise for future elections.
Instead of spending large amounts of money on ballot printing, burning fossil fuels to deliver and collect ballots, and wasting countless hours in voting lines, blockchain voting emerges as an environmentally friendly solution. Furthermore, there are estimates that each vote cast in America costs $7-$25. Blockchain voting could reduce that amount to fifty cents!!! Having spent trillions on COVID stimulus and relief, now is the time for an economical and ecological solution to voting. Instead of arguing over mail-in ballots and relying on a logistical supply chain that losses BILLIONS in revenue each year, the United States needs to adopt a form of voting that can provided verifiable, trusted, and transparent results. Blockchain voting meets that need!
Dr Mel Deaile is the author of ‘Always At War,’ a book on organizational culture in SAC under Gen LeMay. He received his doctorate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
The opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied within are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Air University, U.S. Air Force, or Department of Defense.