West Virginia's capitol building
United States

The United States just held its first blockchain-enabled elections

West Virginia lays claim to the most technologically savvy voting process held in America

In the wake of its federal primary elections last week, West Virginia now bears the distinction of having hosted the country’s first blockchain-enabled voting process.

If you’re just tuning in, this was a relatively lightweight application of blockchain voting technology. This technologically-enabled voting process was limited to eligible UOCAVA voters (“Uniformed and Overseas Absentee Voting Act”) and their families in two West Virginia counties: Harrison and Monongalia.

That said, the ability to vote using a mobile app had some serious appeal for those who were eligible. It was facilitated by Boston-based technology company Voatz, and a company spokesperson filled us in on how it all went.

“One particular overseas voter voted for the first time in over 15 years, so that was particularly heartening for us and a small indicator of the potential impact of this new platform.” As this was a mobile-based voting system, the spokesperson indicated that there was a small learning curve to be conquered, but was overall a very smooth process.

Voatz’s system validates votes using the same technology that bitcoin uses to validate financial transactions. In the same way that bitcoin scaled to serve the world, it stands to reason that this system could work in a major national election without any talk of the notorious “hanging chad.” But the Voatz spokesperson clarified that there are “lots of hurdles to cross before we get there. It will be a hard, long process.”

This specifically refers to legal and logistical hurdles, as well as building trust among the population at large. Cryptocurrency technology has a notorious association with illicit criminal activity despite having a number of completely valid, serviceable purposes.

For now we’ll skip the heady lecture about how technology is neither good nor evil itself, it is the application of technology that earns these distinctions. If cryptocurrency technology can be used to reanimate voters who haven’t participated in the democratic process for more than a decade, then that strikes us as a distinctly good thing.

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