Since before the Cold War, powerful nations the world over have run ongoing covert operations to influence competing nations’ elections, and thereby their economies, and the overall distribution of international capabilities in their favor. The hacking of the 2016 United States election is the result of the government’s long-lasting neglect to build a robust 21st century cybersecurity infrastructure. Yet there are some bright spots on a seemingly dark horizon.
In the previous administration, President Obama created an outfit paired with the Executive Office of the President called the United States Digital Service. An inter-agency IT consulting initiative, it drew and continues to draw top talent from the likes of Facebook, Google, eBay, Yahoo, and other top US tech companies. This was the federal government’s first shift to focusing on 21st century IT infrastructure since the turn of the century.
Yet after the highly controversial 2016 general election and the Russian hacking investigation that has followed, agencies from across the federal government, NGOs, nonprofit organizations, and tech companies from around the country have called for the government to increase spending in cybersecurity infrastructure to undergird the US’ democratic election processes, citing underachievement in this area. All of them should be focusing on blockchain as the technology to underpin this singular effort.
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At Silicon NYC, we’ve covered extensively the many benefits of blockchain technology and the future ramifications of its usage across industries. Yet government is altogether different: its funds and programs are proposed and authorized by Congress, and are then dispersed throughout the inter-agency system and elsewhere as per authorization text and subsequent regulations.
Thus Congress would first have to approve funding for a program or series of programs implementing national adoption of blockchain in US democratic elections, most likely through programs attached to subsidies incentivizing state governments to replace their current voting systems with, or otherwise integrate, blockchain into their statewide election processes, at which point such a program or programs would need to proceed through the Federal Election Commission to determine appropriate regulations on the technology and its use in all 50 states.
After that, the programmatic elements of the technology’s adoption state-by-state would have to work through state budgets to gain full implementation and integration into state election processes. All things being equal in terms of federal legislative priorities, the process from start to full integration would probably take about 2 to 2.5 years.
Looking through this lens, integrating blockchain into the United States’ voting infrastructure would force voting commissions, politically active nonprofits, political consulting firms, and political parties on every level to refocus their workforce hiring priorities, at least in part, on cryptographers and cybersecurity professionals, and place more value on contracting 3rd party service providers with those skill sets in order to implement blockchain’s electioneering use case.
You can learn more about the future of blockchain from a panel of experts here.
As a result, though elections would become much safer, voter distribution by demographic in terms of age, race/ethnicity, and candidate preferences would change to favor candidates in districts where voters have ample resources to educate themselves to use the new technology competently. This suggests that two types of elected officials would benefit:
- Those representing wealthy, predominantly white neighborhoods that are able to quickly educate themselves about the new technology to turn out and use in in significant numbers.
- Those representing local and Congressional districts within large urban centers and metropolitan cities occupied by large numbers of nonprofits with robust voter education, voter registration, and voter turnout operations able to educate voters on the new technology and get large numbers of them out to vote.
The most significant effect of this would be that gerrymandering as it is known today would change from a demographic-based model to an education-based model, since the natural use of a blockchain is to disintermediate systems—including voting.
Yet, right now, twenty-one states and the District of Columbia allow some voters to return ballots through email or fax: Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Washington State, and West Virginia. In addition, Vote.org and several other sites allow anyone within the continental United States register to vote, check registration status, and acquire absentee ballots.
It is not difficult to imagine the advent of a mobile-based blockchain voting website linked directly to each state’s county courthouse (the final vote-counting entity), allowing anyone to verify their identities with their county courthouses through 1- or 2-step verification by submitting their government ID, driver’s license, and/or Social Security numbers, and then generating their unique voter keys before keying in their votes on the blockchain.
This would heavily disintermediate elections from voting precincts and polling places—of which there are 8,000 comprising 100,000 in total, respectively, with over 1 million people (about 1 person involved in vote counting per 100-150 voters) comprising and supervising the various aspects of the voting process throughout the country—allowing anyone to vote anywhere, anytime before the election with just a few touches on their smartphones.
It would also go even further than current voting does by allowing voters to audit the ballot box and watch elections progress in real time, offering unparalleled electoral transparency. Likewise, it would also markedly redistribute the balance of intra- and inter-party power on every level: election campaigns would need to become more focused on engagement—a kind of continuous campaign process where voters are demographically microtargeted and subsequently educated on and encouraged to learn about and get involved in issues that affect their lives.
As a result, campaigns would need to focus more on issues instead of promises, reviving a more trust-oriented voting standard and creating at least the beginning of an election culture of collegiality.
In summary, blockchain has the potential to positively change the voting process. Already, there are websites such as followmyvote.com pushing for this technology to be implemented in voting processes across the country. Yet for this to succeed, you need to call your Member of Congress, call your Senator, and voice your interest in making this happen.
Stay tuned for our ongoing 8-part series on the disruptions and innovations blockchain is poised to bring to New York and beyond!
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