Voting with Veracity: How Blockchain Technology Can Safeguard Your Right to Vote

By: David McDonald

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State” on account of race, color, sex, or age.[1] So says the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, and Twenty-sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, apparently there is no constitutional amendment that guarantees American voters the right to vote free of any interference. As the 2020 election approaches, lawmakers are renewing their focus on vote cybersecurity and accuracy.[2] Following the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, American voters are acutely aware that foreign interference in elections is possible.[3] However, Russia is not the only bad actor.[4] Countries such as Iran and China have also been considered potential threats to election security.[5]

Even at home, election machines are vulnerable to tampering and interference.[6] The 2020 Iowa caucus created an embarrassing fiasco when a smartphone app, meant to speed reporting results, crashed unexpectedly.[7] In the days following the debacle, the app developer and the Iowa Democratic Party (“IDP”)  were heavily criticized for failure to effectively anticipate issues with the rollout of the app.[8] However, the contract between the two entities showed that the app developer, aptly named Shadow Inc., was required to provide the Democratic National Committee (“DNC”) with “continual access” to the app’s software.[9] This provision in the contract was specifically requested by Seema Nanda, the CEO of the DNC.[10] While the DNC communications director, Xochitl Hinojosa, stated that the party only wanted access to the app to address security concerns and blamed the app’s code, a source from the IDP blames some issues on the DNC and independent security consultants selected at the DNC’s “sole discretion,” another provision of the contract.[11] There is no direct evidence that any of the parties involved actively interfered in the results, but the amount of uncertainty following the events of the Iowa caucus is worrisome, especially in a tight race like this year. The IDP declared that former mayor Pete Buttigieg won the most delegates, but Senator Bernie Sanders won the popular vote.[12]

With all of these issues surrounding election technology, there is a clear need for updated and secure methods of calculating vote results. A 2014 report by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (“PCEA”) named “addressing the impending crisis in voting technology” as a key issue.[13]  The recommendation is based on the fact that existing voting equipment, much of it deployed in the years immediately following the 2000 election, is reaching the end of its useful life.

It is an opportune time for the U.S. to adopt blockchain technology as a component of calculating election results. Blockchain technology can provide verifiable and immutable results, and several startups, such as Follow My Vote and BitCongress, are already developing apps or being incorporated into state election processes.[14] Blockchain ensures that there can be no vote manipulation or double-voting by matching one person with one unchangeable vote. While some skeptics argue that “civil voting just isn’t a good application for blockchain,”[15] these arguments appear to be based on bad actors’ application of the technology to scam people through fraudulent Initial Coin Offerings (ICO’s) or simply an inherent mistrust of technology to accurately count votes.[16] However, a report from tech analyst firm CB Insights notes “[b]lockchain tools could serve as a foundational infrastructure for casting, tracking, and counting votes – potentially eliminating the need for recounts by taking voter fraud and foul play off the table.”[17] While multiple methods of counting votes should always be used to protect the integrity of results, adopting new technology that can protect the sanctity of citizens’ right to vote is vital when international and intranational powers have vested interests in denying or abridging that right.

[1] U.S. Const. amend. XV, § 1; U.S. Const. amend. XIX, § 1; U.S. Const. amend. XXVI, § 1.

[2] Maggie Miller, House passes third bill aimed at preventing foreign election interference, Hill (Oct. 23, 2019).

[3] Philip Ewing, What You Need To Know About Foreign Interference And The 2020 Election, NPR (Sep. 1, 2019) (“For Americans, the best-known case [of foreign interference in elections] is that of Russia in 2016, which sought to keep Hillary Clinton from being elected and to help Donald Trump win.”).

[4] Lulu Friesdat, Voting machines pose a greater threat to our elections than foreign agents, Hill (Opinion) (Oct. 2, 2019).

[5] Id. (citing Eric Geller, U.S. busts ‘massive’ Iranian hacking scheme, Politico (Mar. 23, 2018); Adam Segal, Will China Hack the U.S. Midterms?, N.Y. Times (Opinion) (Oct. 5, 2018)).

[6] See id.

[7] David Knowles, Technical debacle in reporting vote clouds future of Iowa caucuses, Yahoo! News (Feb. 4, 2020).

[8] Hunter Walker, Documents reveal DNC was ‘intimately involved’ in development of troubled Iowa caucus app, Yahoo! News (Feb. 13, 2020).

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Nat’l Conf. of St. Legislators, Election Tech. Overview (Aug. 27, 2018).

[14] See Jack Tatar, How Blockchain Technology Can Change How We Vote, Balance (Jan. 9, 2020); Stephen Shankland, No, blockchain isn’t the answer to our voting system woes, cnet (Nov. 5, 2018).

[15] Shankland, supra note 14 (quoting Matt Blaze, a University of Pennsylvania computer science and cryptography professor and expert on electronic voting security).

[16] See Shankland, supra note 14.

[17] See id. (citing CB Insights, Banking Is Only The Beginning: 55 Big Industries Blockchain Could Transform (June 11, 2019)).

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