Eighteen years after the Florida hanging chads debacle cast the legitimacy of an American president into doubt, the voting technology introduced to fix those problems remains so vulnerable to hacking that the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in September urged a return to paper ballots and an end to Internet voting.
That’s a problem blockchain developers think they can fix.
The latest example came on March 7, when Overstock.com-owned blockchain voting company Voatz announced that it was running a pilot program to allow active-duty military personnel, their dependents, and other eligible overseas absentee voters to participate in the Denver municipal elections scheduled for May 7. Voatz created the blockchain-based smartphone app that was used in the groundbreaking West Virginia Mobile Voting Pilot program during the 2018 midterm primary and general elections.
“With this pilot program, Denver is leading the effort to make voting more convenient, accessible and secure,” said Nimit Sawhney, CEO and co-founder of Voatz, in a statement. “The latest developments in smartphone hardware, encryption, and blockchain technology make mobile voting a reality. This is a significant stepping stone that I hope many other states and cities will follow.”
Tusk Philanthropies and the National Cybersecurity Center (NCC) also participated in the test.
“The application of blockchain in our election system provides for secure, auditable, transparent and accurate counting of ballots and the increased integrity of our election system,” said NCC CEO Vance Brown. “Through the testing and continued adoption of these emerging technologies, people in the United States of America can one day regularly vote using a mobile device and a blockchain application that is more secure and less costly than our current approaches.”
That’s not to say that blockchain will prove a panacea. Recent concerns about Russian propaganda and cyberattacks intruding on the 2016 U.S. presidential election hark back to 19th century scandals around vote-tampering and ballot-buying techniques perfected by political machines like New York City’s Tammany Hall. Hacking a voting machine may be the most efficient way of influencing an election’s outcome, but even with the vulnerability of the current technology, it’s not necessarily the easiest.
That said, the U.S. isn’t the only country to experiment with blockchain-based voting. South Korea’s largest opposition party, the Liberty Korea Party, in February announced that it was moving its internal voting to a blockchain-based system provided by Taiwan’s ioeX, beginning with its March youth committee elections. Municipalities in Japan and Switzerland have also run small-scale, non-election trials of blockchain voting.
And on February 26, the news agency TASS reported that upcoming elections to the Moscow City Duma (regional parliament) would include a test of electronic voting protected by blockchain technology. Voters personal data will be stored separately from voting results said Dimitri Vyatkin, an MP with the ruling United Russia party.
Blockchain voting beyond elections
Nor is blockchain voting limited to elections. The financial messaging service SWIFT, through which virtually all international monetary transfers run, announced on March 6 that it will conduct a proof-of-concept test of blockchain-based e-voting for stockholder meetings in partnership with the Singapore Exchange (SGX), Paris-based SLIB (which offers e-voting technology for shareholder meetings, among other trading and post-trading software solutions) as well as Deutsche Bank, DBS, HSBC, and Standard Chartered Bank.
The goal is simplify and make more transparent the time- and resource-consuming shareholder voting process, with special attention to the complex and potentially error-prone proxy voting process.
“Shareholder voice in corporate decision-making is stifled by the existing paper-based voting process,” said Tony Lewis, head of securities services, for HSBC. “Technology is the solution to enhancing shareholder say. e-Voting using distributed ledger technology (DLT) has the potential to create greater efficiencies, transparency and participation.”