Why the US may not be voting via blockchain just yet

What role can blockchain play in the US election?
18 August 2020

Can blockchain address some concerns of traditional voting methods? Source: Shutterstock

  • The US Postal Service had warned 46 states that their mail-in voting rule may leave some ballots uncounted 
  • Many are against incorporating blockchain in 2020 election, citing a low level of readiness for a blockchain-powered voting system 

There are several common voting methods used in the US, among them are the ballot marking system, the optical scan paper ballot system, the direct recording electronic systems, and the classic punch-card ballot. While each of these systems has its benefits and accommodates the varying needs of voters across the US, these voting systems are also vulnerable to risks and fraud.

This year’s election is faced with an additional challenge of the coronavirus outbreak. Pandemic-induced social distancing regulations and measures have analysts expecting to see a jump in voters choosing to cast their ballots via mail. The US Postal Service (USPS) has warned that 46 states might not be able to deliver their ballots cast by mail on time for the November election.

Taking into account timing and fraud safety, some groups have now postulated the possibility of integrating blockchain technology into the election process.

Blockchain, a distributed ledger technology (DLT), is popularized by its decentralized nature that promises transparency and integrity to its applications. Moreover, data stored on a blockchain cannot be tampered with, as the DLT keeps a record for every change made to the information.

Benefits of blockchain

Advocates of integrating blockchain in the voting system have cited that the next-gen tech has the capabilities to “create a secure, efficient, and smart voting system.”

Khaled Zayed and Rebekah Placide of the International School of Management in Paris, France, further explained the inherent security features of blockchain.

“Blockchain allows a recording and transfer of data that can be audited and transmitted safely, and more importantly, it is resistant to outages. A list of records called blocks linked together using cryptography for secure communication. With blockchain technology, digital information can be distributed but not copied over,” they told online portal Tech Xplore.

Blockchain can be applied to several aspects of an election — not just in the actual casting of ballots. It can be used in registering new voters, verifying the identity of voters, and also in counting electronic votes. The application allows for high integrity, leaving minimal room for fraud or manipulation during the election. As a whole, a blockchain-powered voting system would pave the way for fairer, more transparent, and in essence, a more democratic way of voting.

Challenges of blockchain

Even though a host of benefits can be cited, there is still skepticism in the reliability of blockchain as a foolproof solution. One of the primary — and quite reasonable — concerns of a blockchain-powered voting system is its accessibility.

Blockchain technology would rely on a digital platform to function and having an internet connection would be fundamental part of having an election process that runs on blockchain. This could discriminate against individuals and communities with limited access and means to a stable internet connection.

In addition to this, state and local election officials themselves generally have limited access to technical resources. In a bid to scale from traditional voting methods to a blockchain-powered voting system, one could imagine huge risks and challenges for them.

Experts have also claimed that election voting is one of the toughest challenges in cybersecurity, so much so that they’ve agreed that casting ballots on paper is still the safest option out there.

CrowdStrike co-founder and former Chief Technology Officer Dmitri Alperovitch said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” that “voting is the hardest thing to secure when it comes to cybersecurity. The only way we know how to do it well and safely is by using paper.”

Alperovitch described the election infrastructure to be “very, very, vulnerable to hacking,” and the best ways to prevent a digital hack is by voting in-person or through ballots that are mailed in or dropped off at collection sites.

Interestingly, the USPS has been exploring the potentials of blockchain as a novel solution to safeguard the country’s election system. The company has filed a patent for “a voting system that can use the security of blockchain and the mail to provide a reliable voting system,” as reported in Forbes.

The patent application proposes a range of scenarios in which voters register to vote with an app and receive a unique code in the mail which allows them to verify their identity and cast their vote online. The key aspect here is information will be stored on the blockchain and can’t be tampered with.

To date, the patent is still pending and a USPS spokesperson clarified that “nothing from the application would be used in November’s election,” as written in Business Insider.

That may be the case; however, USPS’s move towards blockchain presents a novel and feasible means to combat concerns such as double voting.