Will Blockchain Voting Replace Paper Ballots?

Written by John Butler
Posted November 11, 2018 at 7:00PM

Last week, the U.S. held the midterm election.

I voted. It’s an important civic duty that we eligible voters should take seriously.

This country was built on the right to vote for our leaders. Marginalized groups like women and people of color had to fight with legalities and protests to earn their votes.

People have even lost their lives to ensure we have voting rights.

We are currently in a voting system where we vote on a paper ballot and have them scanned electronically for record purposes.

With blockchain technology now being used for more than just crypto, like tracking produce and money transfers, people are thinking of other ways it could transform society.

Now, people are thinking of using blockchain for voting in elections.

The idea has both supporters and opponents alike. Some think it will revolutionize our voting process for the better, while others think it will cause more problems than it solves.

This week, I’d like to touch base with you on the pros and cons of voting through blockchain and its implications for our democracy.

Pros

There are some who think using blockchain technology to vote is a great idea. Supporters note that our voting system is old and outdated — created ages ago, before any leaps were made in communication technology.

And they aren’t necessarily wrong, either. Our voting system has basically been unchanged since before the telegraph was invented!

To that end, they think blockchain voting is the present and future way of having our voices heard.

Blockchain voting could benefit us in a few ways. First, it could energize a lot of people, namely youngsters, to vote. About half of America’s eligible voters actually go to the polls on Election Day.

That’s pretty sad.

Among the various reasons for this phenomenon is that people can’t or don’t want to get to a polling station. Between finding transportation, babysitters, and time from school or work, voting seems like an inconvenient burden to many.

And I can’t really blame them. I wasn’t a happy camper, either, driving in traffic on Election Day to stand in a 20-minute line to vote when I had just finished a busy day at the office.

Supporters for blockchain voting argue that with the ability to vote on mobile devices, many more people will vote since they can do it right in the comfort of their home, school, or job — inconvenience free.

Younger eligible voters may be more excited to vote, giving them an opportunity to do so using the newer blockchain technology rather than filling out a piece of paper the ancient way.

Another benefit is that blockchain is known for being transparent and secure. Supporters argue that having one’s vote on a blockchain is much safer from fraud and unauthorized alteration than our paper ballots.

With that transparency and security brings peace of mind and confidence. If more people were convinced that their vote actually counts, they would vote, subsequently raising the turnout rate. Supporters are confident that blockchain voting would provide people with enough security and transparency to see voting in a different, more positive light.

There are some who actually have used blockchain to vote. In last week’s election, West Virginia allowed its citizens to vote through Voatz. Voatz is an application on mobile devices that allows users to vote, and the vote is then put on a blockchain. The app uses biometric values such as a retina scan and fingerprint for authentication purposes.

West Virginia offered Voatz’s services to citizens who were abroad or on military duty.

Almost 150 West Virginians voted through the blockchain app by Tuesday’s end. West Virginia’s Secretary of State Mac Warner plans to use blockchain voting next election, but excluding domestic West Virginians, as he’s reserving it only for “that specific segment of our electorate — overseas and military.”

Cons

On the other hand, there are a couple reasons blockchain voting wouldn’t work.

First, critics note that while blockchain does have attractive, secure, and transparent qualities, it isn’t completely hack-proof.

Hackers could get into the network of computers on the voting blockchain and obtain voter information. This would be unlikely but certainly possible. The hackers could take that information and phish for more personal information or even fool citizens into thinking they successfully voted.

Second, voters having issues with their submitted votes would prove troublesome. Someone could use the blockchain but report a voting error after the election has ended. There would need to be verifications and recounts, which take time. That causes a problem akin to the 2000 presidential election, when George W. Bush had to wait for his official win because of a recount in Florida that took weeks.

And if, like Florida, any of those votes are thrown out, you’ll have citizens who took the time to vote but ultimately had them tossed in the garbage.

The goal for an election is to be reliable, the results to actually be final, and everyone’s vote to count. If those aren’t met, it dampens society’s already low opinion of elections, worsening the turnout rate.

Blockchain voting wouldn’t work if it just caused more issues and weakened the finality of the election’s outcome.

In conclusion, I think using blockchain to vote in elections is a great idea and may be the solution to getting more citizens to have their voices heard. It appears that it would make the voting process faster, easier, and more efficient, which could improve voter confidence and its subsequent turnout rate.

It’s clear, however, that blockchain voting is not ready yet. There are things that need to be addressed and factored in before our devices become the polling station. This includes beefing up blockchain security and being well prepared to address voting issues post-election.

I believe the best course of action is to spend the next election cycle or two really investing in blockchain voting for the future. I believe that with enough money and support, we could indeed be voting from our phones in the next decade.

Happy investing,

John Butler, Jr.
Contributing Editor, The Token Authority

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