Could Blockchain Voting Fix Democracy? Today, he gets a test run


There is no shortage of debate on the role that technology has played in politics. From the misinformation spread through WhatsApp in Brazil to Facebook, which becomes a tool to incite hatred in Myanmar to the Cambridge Analytica scandal in the United States, many would say that technology has been a burden rather than an advantage.

Technology has certainly influenced the ease with which information is disseminated, both true and false, and therefore the way in which people perceive political candidates. But what about the vote itself? Although technology has influenced the way we decide who to vote for, the voting and voting process on election day has remained largely unchanged.

"Modernizing" the vote by making it mobile and digital has been a conversation in progress for years, but always returns to the same conclusion: a democracy so fundamental is too crucial to expose to cyber risks.

But long-time opponents of Internet voting now have a new player to contend with, one that claims to bring security and the immutability that has been the missing link so far: blockchain. Today's mid-term elections include a small voting experiment with blockchain, which many hope will increase in the coming years.

An experiment in digital democracy

For this mid-term election, foreign nationals and members of the armed forces from twenty-four West Virginia counties have the opportunity to vote using an app called Voatz.

The experiment is the result of the collaboration between Tusk Montgomery Philanthropies and the Secretary of State of West Virginia, Mac Warner. As a member of the US Army and State Department for 28 years, Warner was troubled by how difficult it was for overseas service members to participate in the election. Political strategist and venture capitalist Bradley Tusk is the founder of Tusk Montgomery, which aims to improve American democracy by making voting easier.

"We are completely polarized and nothing is done," Tusk said New Yorker. "I do not see how democracy survives the absence of radically higher participation".

With the funding of Tusk Montgomery, in May Voatz was flown with western virginians overseas. The votes of the participants are recorded on a private blockchain and the votes are transmitted to several computers that verify the validity of the votes before they are counted. The app uses end-to-end encryption and biometric verification, for example via fingerprint or integrated eye-scan technology in some smartphones.

The easiest vote = more votes?

As Tusk pointed out, a fundamental principle of democracy is the participation and commitment of citizens. If no one votes – or only a select group of heavily partisan voters – then the elections do not serve the purpose that the founding fathers intended.

UCSB's US presidency project shows voter turnout in the US presidential elections that remain steadily below 60 percent from 1968 to 2012 and below 55 percent more than half of the election. A study by the Pew Research Center found that the United States ranked 26th among the 32 developed democratic states. Many of the countries that pass the United States have mandatory voting laws, for example, Australians who do not vote must pay a fine of $ 20.

Voting is not so difficult; you sign up in advance, present yourself at a polling station on election day and make your vote. You may have to wait in line, or be late for work, or face bad weather or traffic or any other minor nuisances, but it's only a day every few years, and it's a privilege that millions of people around the world they do not have.

Nevertheless, what would happen if the minor annoyances of the vote were in reality obstacles that prevent people from voting? Would the convenience of voting directly from our phones make a measurable difference in participation?

A study called Voting cost found that factors such as deadlines for voter registration, initial and absentee voting laws, voter requirements and voting hours influenced voter participation in the 2016 presidential election, with a greater turnout in states where voting is easier.

Easier Voting = best vote?

For every ardent supporter of the blockchain vote, there is an even more fiery detractor – or two. The most convinced criticism is, without surprises, security.

Blockchain is famous for its safety and immutability. But, at least with the Voatz app, the votes do not go directly from the voter to a blockchain, and there's a widespread concern about what might happen in the space between.

Rather than a blockchain-based app, Voatz can be more accurately described as an app with a blockchain attached to it, according to Marian Schneider, president of the UN elections Verified Voting, an organization totally opposed to any form of voting on the Internet.

A 2015 report by the US Vote Foundation to assess the feasibility of verifiable end-to-end online voting found that risks in voter authentication, client-side malware, network attacks and DDOs (distributed denial) attacks of service) were too high to overcome the advantages of online voting, reaching the sad conclusion that "Unless and until these additional security issues are resolved satisfactorily and simultaneously – and may never be resolved – we should not consider no voting system for the Internet to be used in public elections ".

A team of researchers from the CryptoCurrencies Initiative and Contracts, firmly opposed to the blockchain vote, has raised many of the same concerns, including the threat of malware interference and network attacks. They also believe that voting on a blockchain could make voting easier and stress that Voatz (along with other voting machine manufacturers and online voting systems), assuring the public of the security of the app, has refused to provide public access to its cryptographic protocols.

A new and nebulous was political

Blockchain as a tool for voting on the Internet is both imperfect in its current state and promising as a possibility. But advocates and opponents should keep in mind that it is far from mature technology.

Five years on Facebook and other social media platforms, we did not imagine that these sites would be used to spread hate speech or targeted propaganda, and we did not realize that they could influence our policy choices until we they had already done.

Likewise, outside of security hurdles, the blockchain must be clear to become a viable voting tool, it can contain risks and challenges that we are not yet aware of.

Technology has presented a series of challenges to modern politics and balancing the damage it can cause with the good it can do is not a trivial task. It is a problem that will be solved incrementally and probably slowly.

As for getting more people to vote, Bradley Tusk also recognizes that blockchain may not be the answer. "This is not about voting on a blockchain," he said. "If tomorrow emerges something that is better than the blockchain vote, it's fine for me".

The West Virginia experiment today will be, if nothing else, an indicator of where to go from here.

Credit image: Breaking The Walls /

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