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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, February 23, 2024

Anita’s Angle: If I say 'blockchain,' will you read this?


The 2018 midterm elections exposed a number of flaws in the U.S. voting process. In Palm Beach County, Fla., voting machines older than the very first MacBook overheated, setting back election officials by a full day in the race to recount ballots in the state’s disputed U.S. Senate race. We may have surmounted the hurdle of hanging chads, but today’s election infrastructure still seems like a relic of a bygone era. Outdated technology is just one half of the problem, as it only affects those who actually turn out to vote. The other half of the country did not even make it to the polls. Our voting system faces two main challenges when it comes to implementation: security and access.

In terms of security, we are not even necessarily aware of the scope of the threat. As we saw in 2016’s presidential race, foreign actors pose a significant threat to the integrity of the election process. The Senate Intelligence Committee released a report in May showing that in 2016, 21 states had their voter registration systems probed by hackers who, in some cases, were successful in gleaning information about voters and even altering their registration. Whether or not this happened in 2016 or 2018 matters far less than the possibility that it could happen on a much larger scale in our next election as hackers become more sophisticated. Election cybersecurity experts are generally pessimistic about our ability to respond, pointing out the numerous vulnerabilities in our election system that has been largely developed privately.Three electoral system vendors alone reach 92 percent of the country’s registered voters. Vox points out that “perhaps nowhere in American life is a private industry’s role so critical, charged with defending a core national security objective, yet so dimly understood by its own government.” Although outdated technology remains a pressing issue today, these companies can respond to the imminent threats with flexibility and resources that the government may not have. And if private industry outpaces the government’s ability to innovate and improve election security, they can also improve access to voting through technological improvement.

Perhaps it’s time to get Silicon Valley involved. Bradley Tusk, venture capitalist and former political consultant for Uber, thinks he has an answer-- blockchain-based mobile voting. He funded a pilot program in West Virginia, where approximately 150 military and overseas individuals voted via a mobile app using blockchain.The trial was largely successful, with only two voters reporting complications in using the app.The company behind the trial is the Boston-based startup Voatz, founded in 2014. Proponents of the idea say that with enough investment in security, startups like Voatz will eventually allow us to vote remotely (and securely) from bed, prevent voter fraud and cut costs for the government. Skeptics fear that no electronic voting system could be as secure as the paper ballot.

While election security experts have much more nuanced views on how to implement an electronic voting system than I do, the idea seems at least worth a serious shot, if we are able to tackle the two major issues of access and security. But until that investment occurs, blockchain will remain a buzzword used to boost a company’s stock price rather than a viable solution for our electoral system.