In August of 2018, West Virginia became the first state to use a blockchain based app to allow citizens to vote in a federal election. Participants in the program were able to use their smartphone to vote instead of going to the polling station. In order to verify their identity a voter had to upload a picture of their government ID as well a video showing their face. With this data the voting platform used facial recognition software to confirm the user’s identity. Once their identity was confirmed they were allowed to vote through the app and their choice was recorded immutably on the blockchain. Users reported that the process was simple, intuitive and fast.
The Potential Downside of Blockchain Voting
Of course not everyone is impressed with the new technology. The chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, Joseph Lorenzo Hall, has stated that “mobile voting is a horrific idea.” His main concern was the unreliability of cellphones and their vulnerability to being hacked. He also stated that servers “are very difficult to secure without a physical paper record of the vote.”
However, if Hall had a deeper understanding of blockchain and its immutable nature he might not take such a negative view towards the technology. As long as the blockchain that the votes are recorded on is secure, changing a vote after it has been confirmed would be impossible.
In addition, one feature which could significantly improve security is if every cellphone came installed with an approved voting app, thus eliminating the concern that a person may download and use a fraudulent app by accident.
Blockchain Votes Leading to Increased Government Transparency
While it is too early to tell how blockchain voting will be implemented, it’s possible that voting could take place on a pseudononymous chain. In this scenario it would be impossible to tell who casted a vote, but the total number of votes for a particular candidate would be visible to everyone. This would save thousands of hours of work now spent on physically counting ballots.
In addition, and more importantly, blockchain voting would increase the transparency of elections in countries like Venezuela, Uganda, Egypt, Russia, Ukraine, etc. Since politicians or other nefarious actors could not change the results after they were recorded on the blockchain, it would be obvious who received the most votes in any given election.
Voter intimidation could also be eliminated as citizens could cast their ballot from home. People in politically unstable countries would not have to go to a polling station where they may be heckled or coerced to vote for a certain candidate.
Voting from Your Living Room, Looking Towards the Future
As an industry blockchain is still in its infancy and blockchain voting is only just now becoming a viable possibility. However, the promise of more transparent elections, cost savings and a huge increase in voting convenience all but guarantee that within the next decade blockchain voting will be the new norm. West Virginia might currently be the only state to offer that option in America but other states will soon follow their lead. With each new election we can expect to see more people staying at home and voting on their phone instead of waiting in line at the polling station.
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