Editor’s note: Startup Spotlight on Mondays features an emerging entrepreneurial company in N.C. Today we offer an analysis of an emerging technology – blockchain – and our electoral process in the view of Nick Jordan, CEO at Smashing Boxes in Durham. Jordan’s firm focuses on software product development firm with an emphasis on healthcare, blockchain and Internet of Things.
DURHAM – The electoral process in the United States is broken.
Even amid one of the most highly contested and divisive elections in history, one thing we can all agree on is that something needs to be done to fix the process in which Americans elect their representatives on the local, state, and federal levels.
Take the most recent election for example – though this issue isn’t exclusive to 2020 – in the months leading up to early voting there were claims, on both sides, that voter fraud, hacking, and other abnormalities were going to invalidate or “steal” the election.
To make matters worse in 2020, there was a record number of mail-in ballots due to the pandemic. When we struggle to get it right and protect voter security and identities, this election was a recipe for disaster.
In an era where we can talk to our watch and have it tell us the temperature in any city in the world, there must be a better way. But what is it?
Blockchain is essentially a database that stores information in a very specific way. The data is stored in blocks and then chained together – when new information is added, it’s done so in a new block linking it back to the previous block to create a chain of data, hence blockchain.
While the primary use of blockchain to date has been with cryptocurrency, we’re starting to see companies like Twitter move to a decentralized blockchain system in order to protect its users’ information in an environment that has grown significantly more prone to data breaches.
With its secure, immutable, and verifiable technology, blockchain seems like a great fit for voting and the electoral process as these are all properties we want our elections to have. So far though, there has been mixed results at best.
Voatz, a platform built on blockchain technology with the goal of allowing voters to vote securely from anywhere, has received both scrutiny and praise. It has been used in elections in West Virginia, Oregon, Utah, and Colorado but a lack of transparency on the company’s part has left questions about its success rate.
Critics say the bugs in the app’s framework could compromise existing vote tallies and its users’ privacy. While advocates of Voatz praise its ability to allow for safe and secure voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Blockchain by itself does not solve all of our voting issues. However, blockchain is a great starting point to improving future elections. So, from a practical standpoint, what problems are we trying to solve?
Future ballot systems need to make the voting process easier, more accessible, and faster. The 2020 election saw a record turnout to the polls and there were also more reports of fraud, long wait times, and of course fear regarding the ability to social distance.
The voting process needs to be holistically more secure. This isn’t just about hacking, although we are well aware of a potential threat there. Security is also about not having a single point of failure. The current system is built on numerous centralized points of failure. We have seen some of that manifest themselves through leaked voter data and miscounted ballots due to hand counting.
Better doesn’t mean that the voter’s preferred candidate wins, but the results of an election should never be in question and they should always be clearly validated and certified. They should be delivered faster and challenges to the results should never be assumed.
Blockchain-based systems are advancing in ways that solve some of the issues with scaling a voting solution and they can enable a verifiable and fast electoral system that allows voters to cast their ballot from anywhere. Good user experiences can be built on top of it making it simple for anyone to understand and use. Decentralization minimizes, if not eliminates, today’s points of failure.
Blockchain, in other words, can and should be looked to for the future of the electoral process.