Bitcoin tech could become the future of voting

Bitcoin tech could become the future of voting
© Greg Nash

Eighteen months after the controversial 2016 election, our divided country sees little progress in restoring public confidence in our electoral process.

The Department of Homeland Security found that election systems in at least 21 states were targeted by foreign hackers, while President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump appears to confirm deal on Chinese firm ZTE Judge rejects Manafort's attempt to throw out some charges Dem: Trump’s policy of separating children, parents at border ‘would shock Jesus’ MORE himself has claimed that millions of fraudulent votes were cast. 

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To the average voter, it appears little has changed ahead of the 2018 elections — even as the director of national intelligence recently testified, “Persistent and disruptive cyber operations will continue … using elections as opportunities to undermine democracy, sow discord and undermine our values.” 

 

The principle of one person, one vote is foundational to our democracy — so no matter what position one holds on claims of mass illegal and improper voting, the fact that doubt so broadly exists is a serious issue that must be resolved. 

Curiously, it may be bitcoin’s blockchain technology that holds the secret to elections that the people can unwaveringly trust.

It’s hard to think of a time when public sentiment toward our democratic process was so dire — but the latest blockchain innovations redefine what it means to have a free and fair election, with fully auditable results.

Using the same bulletproof, unhackable distributed ledger behind bitcoin and other digital currencies, leading American political parties, state governments and foreign countries are experimenting with ways to harness the technology to secure their elections.

It’s encouraging news for Americans of all political persuasions who are concerned that our nation’s voting systems are vulnerable.

Corporations like Diebold promised more secure elections, but the advent of the digital voting machine only delivered budget-busting, bug-prone devices that can be vulnerable to hacking. These devices are a liability even after they’re thrown out. From dozens of different used electronic machines brought to the last annual Defcon hacker conference, it was discovered that all of them had vulnerabilities, while a number of them were easily hacked. The personal information of 650,000 voters was extracted from just a single second-hand voting unit. If that’s what cyber sleuths can do in an afternoon, who can say what powerful foreign adversaries are capable of?

The reality is, no software ever written is completely secure from cyberattacks.

Blockchain-secure voting machines work by allowing the voter to scan their own paper ballot, at which point the vote is simultaneously and immutably entered into the blockchain tally. A code is generated for the voter and observers, who are able to re-input the code to verify that the vote — with chain-of-custody proving the time and location — are forever entered into the result. This means that for the first time, elections are fully transparent and publicly auditable, down to each and every vote.

Every vote counts with blockchain technology.

These unmatched properties are why corporations and unions are considering blockchain voting for shareholders and members — and even all-star sports teams may adapt it for fan contests.

As a best practice, a system should have a combination of a physical paper ballot trail with the security and convenience of the blockchain platform. Voters have the comfort and ease of paper they can touch, and the security of immutable record publicly available on the blockchain.

Our officials bear a responsibility to our people and our Republic to embrace the best possible options, and there are already opportunities to start. After election authorities learn of the advantages and scalability of blockchain voting, there is little excuse why they would continue to opt for only paper or only legacy electronic machines.

First, we can save taxpayer dollars squandered on $3,000 already-antiquated machines, by updating standards to mandate that the blockchain be implemented with current devices capable of incorporating it.

The Federal Election Commission and state-level election authorities should partner with private sector innovators and designate funding to explore blockchain solutions. Americans should also expect that when we send our hard-earned tax dollars abroad to support emerging democracies, that those nascent democracies embrace scalable, low-cost transparency measures like these.

Finally, non-governmental vote monitoring organizations should closely examine the vast potential of blockchain voting and train their observers to be proficient with what will become a mainstay of secure elections.

Whether or not there was malicious interference in these and other elections, we may never know for sure. But we do know is that by decentralizing democracy with blockchain, we now have the ability to remove a large part of the doubt and eliminate the need to trust third parties.

Public trust in our democratic process depends on it.

Nick Spanos is an early pioneer of blockchain technology, and the founder and inventor of VoteWatcher, the patented first-ever blockchain voting platform.