What is your vote worth? Did it really count? Did they even count it? Wouldn’t you like to know? The trust Americans have in the election system will diminish unless we find a solution that ensures election votes are not being tampered with. It’s not farfetched to think that a lack of trust affects voter turnout. People may stay home rather than vote in what they perceive is a rigged election if we do not find a solution in the coming years. Blockchain can put an end to rigged elections and be the gateway to election reform, but only if we implement it correctly.
Bitcoin’s success has triggered the establishment of nearly 1,000 new cryptocurrencies, leading to the misconception that the only application of blockchain technology is for the creation of cryptocurrency. However, the blockchain technology is capable of a lot more than just cryptocurrency creation and may support transactions that require personal identification, elections and other types of democratic decision-making processes.
Online ballot systems are problematic to build because of the complex requirements of neutrality in such systems. So, to ensure a fair election, online voting systems must remain anonymous yet auditable, as well as remain tamper-proof. Blockchain technology is very appealing in this regard because it has the ability to tick all the right boxes. Due to the fact that blockchains can be designed to be public yet anonymous, anyone can easily verify the voting outcome and also check that their own vote has been taken into account, while still maintaining ballot secrecy. So what does this mean in regard to the blockchain? Well, blockchain technology can reduce corruption in political systems and act as a safeguard against manipulated elections that tend to occur whether we like it or not.
The use of blockchain in voting for elections can be further streamlined by using open-source blockchain voting platforms. An open-source platform does not have any proprietary element to it, allowing any citizen or agency to audit the functionality of the application and contribute to improving its security. In fact, there are already several startups like Democracy Earth Foundation, Follow My Vote, democracyos.org, VoteWatcher, Milvum and VotoSocial that have sprouted in recent years working in the area of open-source online voting application following the open-data philosophy.
We live in an era where many worry about Russia’s ability to hack the voter rolls and swing our elections in their favor. To prevent foreign or domestic interference, many have advocated for eliminating electronic machines from our election process. However, this is clearly a step backward. We really should be taking a step forward by using blockchain as the tool to protect us from the very real risk of hacking. With a blockchain database, hackers would have to penetrate each and every computer on that particular network, instead of just a single computer. Therefore, if a hacker tried to make a change, there would be a permanent record of that change and every other computer would be notified of the security breach that had taken place.
However, there is no perfect election process that guarantees absolute security, convenience, cost, timeliness, and anonymity. Paper ballots are prone to their own problems, such as simply being forgotten or lost, but blockchain allows us to step into the digital realm and improve many features of our election process without compromising security, as many other technological advancements would do.
Blockchain voting still isn’t perfect or ready for primetime, however, it’s likely to be a massive change in democracy once it does reach legitimacy. Making voting easier and more transparent will create a more engaged electorate. It may also remind us of why representatives exist — to think about policy full time and make wise decisions about things the general public might not be able to research fully. Easier voting could mean more frequent representative elections or ongoing referendums on our leadership. Even that would be a big change for democracy.
The writers are students enrolled in the College of Business at the University of Rhode Island. DeSarro is from Westerly.