Andrew Yang Iowa Democratic caucus blockchain voting
Politics,  Technology

Iowa primary debacle could boost blockchain-based voting

The first Democratic presidential primary fell flat after reporting problems that might have been avoided with blockchain balloting

It’s hard to make a better argument for blockchain-based voting than Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s claim to have “shocked the world,” during last night’s Iowa caucus. 

He was not the only candidate to make a somewhat suspect “victory” speech, after a disastrous switchover to an unready-for-primetime app for manually reporting precinct vote tallies left the results of the critical, first-in-the-nation primary vote completely unknown amid claims of unspecified “inconsistencies” and chaos.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Ver.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Joe Biden, former Indianapolis Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and pretty much every other primary candidate made some version of that “I did better than anyone imagined” announcement in the wake of the 2020 version of “hanging chads.”

But only blockchain-enthusiast Yang had called for a potential solution to the problem nearly six months earlier.

Yang called for transitioning the U.S. voting infrastructure to a mobile, blockchain-based system in an Aug. 22 policy proposal, citing the technology’s potential to improve election security and increase turnout.

“It’s ridiculous that in 2020 we are still standing in line for hours to vote in antiquated voting booths,” he said on his website. “It is 100% technically possible to have fraud-proof voting on our mobile phones today using the blockchain. This would revolutionize true democracy and increase participation to include all Americans—those without smartphones could use the legacy system and lines would be very short.”

Yang also noted that the current Internet-connected polling-place voting machines are prone to tampering and hacking.

Which isn’t to say that there are no concerns about blockchain-based voting solutions. Common Cause released a report this year looking at security issues in internet voting systems that found blockchain technology did not resolve what it called “the insoluble security issues inherent with online voting.” These include denial-of-service, server penetration, and disruption attacks, as well as mobile device malware.

Blockchain-based voting in action

Companies like Overstock-owned Voatz, Votem, and SecureVote are expanding the use of blockchain-based voting systems after successful trial runs in local U.S. elections over the past two years.

On Nov. 5, Utah’s oldest registered voter, 106-year-old Salt Lake City resident Maccene Grimmett cast her ballot in local Utah County elections using a Voatz mobile voting app, television station Fox 13 reported. It was an expansion of a pilot program the county had previously aimed at serving military and overseas voters. The state is looking into expanding the program to the elderly and disabled population in other counties.

Utah’s program is one of a small but growing number of localities using blockchain technology to help enfranchise military and overseas voters, who often have logistical problems with paper absentee ballots. Last year, Tusk Philanthropies expanded a mobile voting program tested in West Virginia in 2018 to localities in Denver and Oregon.

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Leo Jakobson, Modern Consensus editor-in-chief, is a New York-based journalist who has traveled the world writing about incentive travel. He has also covered consumer and employee engagement, small business, the East Coast side of the Internet boom and bust, and New York City crime, nightlife, and politics. Disclosure: Jakobson has put some 401k money into Grayscale Bitcoin Trust.