West Virginia's capitol building
United States

America’s first blockchain voting system is here, and it’s military-only

The Mountain State leans in to distributed ledger technology for voting.

This is the beginning of the end of the notorious “hanging chad.”

West Virginia isn’t about to be mistaken as a Silicon Valley-style tech hub, but the state has announced a blockchain-enabled voting system to be used in this year’s federal election. It’s the first of its kind in the United States, and for now, it’s only available to active-duty military and their eligible dependents.

Service members can currently vote via mail, fax, or email wherever they’re stationed. As the government’s pilot program brings blockchain-enabled voting to military personnel registered to vote in Harrison County or Monongalia County, those constituents can now vote from their Android or iOS device with all the confidence of someone selling bitcoin for a major gain.

Blockchain technology is good news for voting in the same way that it’s good news for financial transactions. A voting app that records data on the blockchain brings anonymity, security, and accuracy to a process notorious for human error. If this type of voting should become mainstream and widespread, we’d see election results more quickly and the entire election would be transparent and auditable by whoever wanted to dig through the data.

The West Virginia government released this voting platform in cooperation with Voatz, a Boston-based tech company that specializes in mobile voting applications. Founded in 2014, the company’s software has been used by 70,000 voters participating in town meetings, budget votes, labor union, and university elections. Now a select set of active duty military with West Virginia addresses will use its technology to determine their congresspeople.

Two counties in one state is better than nothing, but America is far behind the crowd when it comes to using such emergent technology to tame the political process. Other governments are already gleefully implementing the blockchain at a much grander scale. Brazil wants to use Ethereum to sort out its troubled electorate process. A South Korean province used a blockchain solution last year for its own community vote. Estonia has a robust initiative to take all its government services online, and there’s more than a little blockchain involved.

This stuff goes mainstream very slowly, but its ripples are real. It’s good and interesting news that the Voatz system will be available to some Americans, but it’s only a fraction of a baby-step toward the hypothetical headache-free voting solution of the future.

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Dylan Love is an editorial consultant, contributing reporter, and fiendishly curious technology enthusiast. He owns no cryptocurrencies.