Many Americans scrutinize the ballots, wondering if their votes really matter. For foreign voters in Canyon County, in Idaho, in the recent mid-term elections, it was not just speculation: it was a reality. Their votes were forgotten on election day.
Forgotten votes were placed in a separate box when they arrived in the days prior to the election. On election day, not for dishonesty but simple supervision, the box was neglected. The election officials discovered it when they returned the following day, but only after all the districts had reported their election results and the candidates had made speeches of concession or victory. The cards were finally tabulated on November 13, a full week after election day.
Fortunately, these votes were counted before the county commissioners certified the final counting of the votes. Yet this electoral incompetence is symptomatic of a major problem with the American voting system, from this rural county of Idaho to the densely populated Broward county of Florida. Electoral ballots are too easily lost or forgotten, especially votes sent by post. There is a solution for our elections that can guarantee that every vote is counted: blockchain technology.
Blockchain made its public debut as the technology behind Bitcoin cryptocurrency. Quite simply, blockchain is an electronic means of creating and archiving a record every time a transaction is made. Every transaction carried out on a blockchain network is stored as a block of data that every individual on the network can see and nobody can change.
For Bitcoin, this means that no one can exchange a token that he does not own. For the vote, this means that nobody's vote will be forgotten or tampered with.
There is evidence of the real world that shows that it works. West Virginia has just completed the first trial of a blockchain election in the United States. US citizens who voted abroad – the same group of voters whose votes were forgotten in Canyon County – were allowed to use a blockchain to present their votes in the mid-term elections.
Overseas voters had to verify their identity with a government identity document and a facial scan on their smartphone to receive a copy of the ballot from their district of residence. Once they have sent their vote, it has been uploaded to the blockchain network and tabulated with the rest of the votes on election day.
This pilot project was announced as a success by the office of the Secretary of State of West Virginia. Of course, it was safer and more anonymous than the e-mails that many now use to send their votes.
While this was the first time the blockchain was used in the US federal election, it was not the first use of technology in voting procedures. More than 1.7 million votes were cast for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame using blockchain. The private company has proved to be willing to trust the blockchain with high shares: in 2017, a subsidiary NASDAQ used the blockchain to conduct a shareholders' vote for an international banking group of $ 275 million. A municipality in Switzerland used the blockchain for a local referendum, and in any case, the participants thought the blockchain was a success.
Blockchain technology can protect the privacy, security and security of all votes cast in an election. The votes remain private and anonymous, as only a voter can see a copy of their vote using a private key or access code. The vote can be protected from end-to-end tampering. Face ID or fingerprint could be used when a voter makes his mark. Once the run-off was launched, although long before election day, it would be placed in a sort of electronic safe, where it can not be displayed until it is counted.
Security is guaranteed through decentralized voting storage. Whenever a vote is cast, you can back up records in multiple locations: county electoral offices, state election officials, and more.
We live in a "era where many worry about Russia's ability to hack voters' votes and swing our elections in their favor. To prevent foreign or domestic interference, many have supported the elimination of electronic machines from our electoral process, but it would be a step back in time. We should take a step forward and use blockchain as a tool to protect ourselves against the real risk of hacking.
With a blockchain database, hackers should penetrate all computers on the network, rather than a single computer. If hackers tried to make changes, there would be a permanent record of this change and any other computer would be informed of the violation.
Blockchain networks are not completely immune to hacking. Safety will have to improve continuously. But there is no perfect electoral process that guarantees total security, convenience, cost, timeliness and anonymity. Paper cards – the Holy Grail for many electoral security analysts – are prone to their problems, just like being forgotten, like in Canyon County. Blockchain allows us to enter the digital world and improve many features of our electoral process without compromising security, as would many other digital advances.
This step forward is necessary. During the presidential election of 2016, I was one of almost 300,000 Americans who tried to cast my vote from abroad, but they were unable to do so. Sending my vote from the Middle East to be counted in Alaska was not an easy task. I can attest that the absenteeism process can be a nightmare for foreign voters. Blockchain offers the opportunity to reform this cumbersome process and secure our elections against both foreign and domestic threats.
Phil Haunschild is the senior political analyst at the Idaho Freedom Foundation and a contributor to Young Voices. He is the author of "Blockchain & Government" and his work on blockchain was published in the National Review and in newspapers all over Idaho.