America’s faith in domestic elections is now buckling. Elections are now among the many enduring institutions; that the American people are losing trust in. Whether it was the investigation into meddling in the 2016 Election or the claims of voter fraud costing Donald Trump reelection, Americans have lost faith in elections. Voting, much like other segments of political life, perception carries more weight with the public than reality. An axiom keenly observed by Machiavelli centuries ago; appearance is everything.
63 % of adults polled indicated that they favor abolishing the electoral college. An NPR poll claims that 64 % of participants believed that democracy was in a state of crisis. One survey suggests that many Americans favor reforms to increase ballot access. US voters have concerns regarding the fairness and legitimacy of domestic elections. Both sides of the aisle are worried, but their distress is generally limited to situations of ideological interest. For example, 70 % of Republicans believed that the 2020 election, that ousted Trump out of office; was manipulated. A notable 72% of democrats suspected Russian interference in the 2016 Election was likely.
Could the faith be restored in American elections if we scrapped the current voting methods for one that made the process more transparent and accessible? A potential solution could be implementing a blockchain-based voting system. This would entail that each vote is permanently recorded on a publicly accessible ledger. Each voter “transaction” would then be confirmed by blockchain validators, in effect decentralizing the vote authentication procedure. Providing greater transparency, fewer barriers to the ballot box, and anonymous consensus on the majority vote. It would be possible for there to be a two-tiered blockchain system, one environment for voters and the other for the electoral college. This way, we do not have to restructure the legal framework of voting in our Democratic Republic. But also, this avoids the controversy of “faithless electoral” (the issue was adjudicated in Chiafalo v. Washington), as the electoral representative’s fidelity to the popular vote would be visible and immutable.
Some municipalities throughout the United States, such as Chandler, Arizona, have run pilot programs to identify problems before mapping this system to a local election. Taking precautions such as a trial run is a wise approach. It is imperative to conduct such experiments before implementation because such a cutting-edge voting system is largely untested. However, it is also advantageous to consider the hypothetical benefits and cost of blockchain voting; to be valid if even it is worthy of drafting a formal proposal to local policymakers .
Benefits of Blockchain Voting
- Prevents tampering with votes; “…blockchains generate cryptographically secure voting records. Votes are recorded accurately, permanently, securely, and transparently. So, no one can modify or manipulate votes..” (p.3).
- Blockchain voting would increase voter participation by eliminating some barriers and coordination costs associated with in-person voting and mail-in ballots (p.4).
- This system could make the vote counting process more efficient (p.4); “… with an automatic tally that can be publicly disclosed after the fact, election officials will be able to simply add the digital votes to the votes cast otherwise…” (p.430).
- Greater transparency because “… recording votes onto a blockchain allows for an easily accessible method for a voter to audit their respective vote..” (p.430).
Drawbacks of Blockchain Voting
- There is potential for the blockchain validators to succumb to external interests (bribery, threats of violence, etc.) and collude to alter the election results.
- As with blockchain environments for cryptocurrency transactions, this system would only provide pseudo-anonymity. Ultimately, the validator would be the “key holder” and possess the ability to decrypt the voter’s identity. Utilizing a voting protocol that would have a two-step (having the voter “re-vote”) process may add a layer to ensure privacy, making the process more complex.
- Blockchains are still susceptible to the cybersecurity threat of attacks from hackers. “…If a user loses their private key, they can no longer vote, and if an attacker obtains a user’s private key they can now undetectably vote as that user… happened to cryptocurrency exchanges, which have lost hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cryptocurrency to attackers or through bad key management..” (p.14).
- Decentralized ledgers are managed by multiple validators which can make “.. coordination difficult..” (p.15).
It is impossible to develop a voting system with zero margins for error. Regardless of the format, the potential for mistakes and devious machinations will always lurk in the background. Most individuals in the political establishment and the academy are not receptive to blockchain voting. Below is a conclusion from a widely cited MIT paper on the topic:
“…A summary of this article’s takeaways follows. 1. Blockchain technology does not solve the fundamental security problems suffered by all electronic voting systems §3. Moreover, blockchains may introduce new problems that non-blockchain-based voting systems would not suffer from. 2. Electronic, online, and blockchain-based voting systems are more vulnerable to serious failures than available paper-ballot-based alternatives (§2). Moreover, given the state of the art in computer security, they will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. 3. Adding new technologies to systems may create new potential for attacks. Caution is appropriate in security-critical applications, especially where political pressures may favor an expedited approach. (§3.4). The article has also provided a collection of critical questions intended as a reference point for evaluating any new voting system proposal from a security perspective (§4) and provided references for further reading on this topic (§5). Blockchain-based voting methods fail to live up to their apparent promise. While they may appear to offer better security for voting, they do not help to solve the major security problems with online voting, and might well make security worse…”.(p.19)
Although the conclusion in the above white paper may be reasonable objections, this does not mean that developers could not attempt to correct these shortcomings. For the ivory tower intellectuals, it is easy to dismiss this concept on technical grounds alone, but virtually no one is supplying any solutions. Even though numerically, a person’s vote has no chance of influencing the outcomes of an election, voting still operates as a form of political expression. Since there is a great deal of disillusionment with the current political system, it is critical to find a way to provide greater transparency in elections. Political strife and division have already taken their toll on American society for the past decade; no need to continue down this dark and fruitless path.
- This observation is not commentary nor a critique on the institution of the Electoral College. The only aim of this statement is to address the popularly held misgivings about electoral voting systems.
- The detailed lists of the positive attributes and negative qualities of blockchain voting are not exhaustive.