Block The Vote! A Primer on Blockchain Voting.

 

blockchains

By Benjamin M. Adams on September 13, 2017     @BenAdamsO_O

When it comes to advancing the American democratic experiment, no issue is more pressing than the security and legitimacy of our elections. Government officials and independent cyber-security experts agree that foreign entities attempted to hack the election systems of multiple states in 2016. The extent and success of these efforts is still unclear. One thing is clear, however, according to our Federal law enforcement and national security communities: Cyber-attacks on future U.S. elections are certain to occur.

On the left, concerns continue to linger that these attempted hacks may have been successful and that the election of Donald Trump was the result of altered vote tallies. On the right, the Trump Administration has formed a Commission that is devoting substantial governmental resources for the ostensible purpose of preventing voter fraud. There seems to be no political center on the issue of voting and electoral reform.

The right believes that concerns about hacking are the sour grapes of sore losers who would rather embrace a conspiracy theory than face the fact that they nominated an unpopular candidate who ran a poor campaign. The same people on the right point out that there is no evidence that vote tallies were changed via hacking and view the allegation of a “stolen election” as nothing more than left-wing conspiracy nonsense. They point out that the electoral results were largely consistent with the best pre-election polls.

The left thinks that concerns about voter fraud as an attempt to disenfranchise democratic-leaning voters. The commission chairman, Kris Kobach, continues to undermine the integrity of the commission by spreading palpably false information. First, Kobach legitimized Trump’s outlandish assertion that 3-5 million fraudulent votes may have been cast in the 2016 election. More recently, Kobach employed blatantly illogical reasoning to suggest that widespread fraud occurred in the New Hampshire vote.

In fact, there is no evidence that voter fraud is a significant problem. Most of the evidence points to the contrary conclusion. Of course, some voter fraud does exist, and the right presents a compilation of these anecdotal instances to make the case that voter fraud is a widespread problem when in fact it is not. So while voter fraud on it’s own does not threaten the accuracy of our voting, concerns about voter fraud do weaken the perception of legitimacy surrounding our elections. Moreover, it is beyond dispute that voter rolls in some states are a mess, which gives further traction to the narrative that voter fraud is real.

So where does this leave the country’s electoral system?

It is too easy for the right to simply dismiss the left’s concerns as the sour grapes of sore losers. Similarly, it is too easy for the left to dismiss the right’s concerns as an attempt to suppress the vote. Our challenge, as Americans, is to rise above the the partisan fray and realize that there are two common threads of truth that bind together the left and right on this issue. First is the belief that accurate elections are fundamental to our nation’s democracy. Second is the belief that our electoral systems are vulnerable to exploitation. Both of these beliefs are shared by the left and the right and both of these beliefs are true. Voting integrity IS essential to our democracy and our elections ARE critically vulnerable to exploitation. We need to fashion a solution that builds on this foundation of common beliefs and values.

What if a technology existed that could be implemented that would address concerns of the left and also the right? What if a technology could reduce the internal risk of voter fraud and also protect us from the external threat of hackers? What if I told you that the technology already exists and is known as blockchain?

Most Americans have never heard the term blockchain. Those who have heard the term probably know that blockchain is the technology that has made Bitcoin wildly successful. An overview of the technology can be found here and here. What makes blockchain technology an essential platform for cryptocurrency is the use of a distributed database to create an incorruptible digital ledger of transactions. Most applications of the technology have focused on facilitating secure and anonymous financial transactions, but the same technology can readily be used to create an electoral system virtually impervious to fraud and hacking. For those interested in a deeper dive on the technology of blockchain voting, you can find that here.

The most important thing to understand is that blockchain uses a decentralized network in order to prevent hackers from changing vote totals. I had a friend in High School who knew where his teacher kept her grade book. One day, he snuck into her classroom and changed some of his grades in the book. All he needed was access to the room. The same goes for our electoral processes. If hackers gain access, they can change the vote tallies. Now imagine if my friend’s teacher had kept 100 copies of the gradebook in different places around the globe and compared them every ten minutes. Not only would my friend have been unsuccessful. He would have been caught immediately.

This is exactly how the blockchain works. The blockchain network is continually finding digital consensus and checking in with itself every ten minutes. This forms a self-auditing ecosystem of a digital value since the network reconciles every transaction that happens in ten-minute intervals. As a result, all transactions on the blockchain are incorruptible since altering any particular unit of information on the blockchain would require the near-impossible task of overriding the entire network. This incorruptible nature of blockchain data is the ultimate way to protect our elections from hacking. In other words:

By storing data across its network, the blockchain eliminates the risks that come with data being held centrally. Its network lacks centralized points of vulnerability that computer hackers can exploit.

Transactions on the blockchain are also transparent because data is embedded within the network as a whole and is therefore public. This is the ultimate way to eliminate voter fraud since it would be impossible for someone to cast multiple votes in the same election. This feature does not mean that the identities of voters will be public. This is where encryption technology comes into play.

Nearly all security systems currently rely on a “username/password” system to protect online identities. Blockchain security methods use encryption technology. The basis for this are the so-called public and private “keys.” A “public key” (a long string of letters and numbers) is a user’s address on the blockchain. This will be the public (but still anonymous) identity of each voter. A “private key” is like a password that gives its owner access to their vote — which they can send to the candidate of their choice.

When you send someone bitcoin, the currency goes into their bitcoin wallet, which holds all the bitcoins that have been sent to it. The wallet remains anonymous, but it is also public and transparent. When one person sends a bitcoin to another person, anyone on the network can view the transaction. Any person can look into any wallet and see all the bitcoins it holds and they can also see which account sent them. With blockchain voting, each candidate in an election will have a wallet (ledger) which will hold all the bitcoin (votes) that are sent into it. When you vote for a candidate, you can look into the candidate’s wallet and make sure your vote is being properly counted. Blockchain voting will allow voters to securely cast their ballots from a computer, a smartphone or at a polling place.

Compare this approach to last week’s stunning announcement that the Netherlands, recognizing that its systems are vulnerable to hacking, will conduct its next election using only paper ballots and manual counting. This retreat backwards may be a sensible, short-term approach for the Dutch, but the United States, with over 200 million eligible voters, needs to look forward for solutions. Blockchain voting doesn’t solve every possible problem with our electoral system. Conflicts over proper methods of voter registration and identification will remain. In spite of those issues, blockchain voting represents a clear step forward, rather than a retreat, from the threats we face. Moreover, it addresses concerns that are shared by the left and right.

This raises pressing questions: Can America’s leaders remove their partisan blinders and embrace this technology? Can the right embrace it, even though it creates no political advantage? Can the left drop their politics of grievance and adopt a new approach toward electoral reform? The time to implement blockchain voting is now. One can only hope that America’s leaders realize this fact and that they will demonstrate the courage and wisdom to lead in that direction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Benjamin M. Adams
Recovering Attorney, Dad of Six, Concerned Citizen

2 Responses to Block The Vote! A Primer on Blockchain Voting.

  1. Anonymous says:

    democracy.earth has the technology and its democracy.os has already been implemented in some cities and countries.

    Like

  2. “On the left, concerns continue to linger that these attempted hacks may have been successful and that the election of Donald Trump was the result of altered vote tallies.”

    Not really.

    Like

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