By Susan Allen
Featured for the first time in a United States Midterm Election, “blockchain” provided voters in the state of West Virginia the opportunity to vote simply using their personal smartphones. The blockchain voting process appears simple enough: a user downloads the appropriate software and installs a virtual voting booth if you will It is important to note that the voter must be registered and approved to vote ahead of time. This involves registering to vote in a traditional manner and providing the necessary identity information to be verified. After completing this process, the voter then votes and submits his or her ballot anonymously, thus preserving the secrecy of the vote.
Despite the degree of convenience provided by blockchain voting, its introduction into major national elections has been met with controversy and much opposition. Critics of this technology focus on the greater security threats created through the use of this voting method. Such concerns are understandable, as voting security and voter system hacking remains a major national concern, two years after the 2016 Presidential Election. University of Pennsylvania cryptography and security researcher Matt Blaze explains that blockchain voting introduces new cybersecurity threats into the already-vulnerable voting system. He continues by stating that securing the vote tally against fraud “is more easily, simply, and securely done with other approaches.”
Further criticism exists as blockchain is without the necessary methods to fix internal problems inherent in online voting. Many of blockchain voting’s critics oppose online voting in the first place, mainly because of feelings that it is fundamentally insecure altogether They highlight the difficulty in protecting devices such as smartphones from external threats in less important phone activities, such as social media and game playing. Critics voice concern that developing a method to securely hold an election using a technology such as a blockchain, while preserving the democratic custom of American elections, would be “incredibly difficult to pull off.”
Nevertheless, proponents of blockchain voting are quick to support their opinion by emphasizing the positive effects of the technology. Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of this voting method is its ability to increase voter turnout. Through its heightened convenience and ability to allow voters to vote remotely, supporters hope that these benefits will be significant enough to silence critics. In fact, the first blockchain voting trials were conducted with Americans located abroad. Developers hope to someday use the technology with American military personnel deployed overseas. Using this technology would surely provide greater convenience and ease each voting season, by eliminating the need for the transportation of paper ballots to and from each base. Since a meager 20 percent of service members casted votes in 2016, any increase in this statistic must be viewed as a positive.
Blockchain may have the ability to create an entirely new class of voters, millennials and members of generation Z. Instead of having quite lame excuses about not knowing how to register to vote or not having the time to travel to a polling location, the youngest members of the nation’s voting population would now be able to vote in all elections by doing something that already comes naturally to them – using their smartphone. This ability would eliminate the excuses that plague the country and would undoubtedly increase voter turnout. As a result, the nation’s political parties may be forced to market themselves to the younger generation in a new fashion, thus hopefully creating a desire to be more involved in the political sphere. Whether one considers this as positive or negative is a matter of personal political beliefs, but it likely benefits everyone if more Americans fulfill their civil duty.
Student Bio: Susan Allen is a third-year law student at Suffolk University Law School. She is a Book Review Editor on the Journal of High Technology Law.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.