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An Unhackable Vote: Blockchain's Potential to Transform American Democracy

September 18, 2023

The integrity of the American democratic process relies heavily on faith in the voting system. Yet for years, experts have warned that our current voting infrastructure is outdated, inefficient, and vulnerable to hacking and manipulation. However, an emerging technology called blockchain has the potential to transform voting in the United States by making it more secure, transparent, and accessible.
Blockchain is best known as the underlying technology behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. But beyond finance, blockchain can serve as an immutable and decentralized public ledger able to track transactions and interactions of all kinds. When applied to voting, blockchain could eliminate many of the security flaws and inefficiencies inherent in our current election infrastructure, restoring faith in the democratic process.

The Need for Voting Reform
Many of today's voting methods derive from technologies and processes developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They predate the internet, smartphones, and even electric power grids. As a result, American elections remain prone to inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and tampering:
Voter registration systems are fragmented, incomplete, and filled with duplications or invalid data. Millions of voters end up left off the rolls or listed incorrectly every election cycle.
Voting machines rely on proprietary hardware and software that is susceptible to bugs, crashes, and hacking. Without paper trails, recounts and audits become impossible.
Vote tallying and reporting are often slow and opaque. There is no unified system for accessing and verifying results, which fuels public distrust.
Voter impersonation and fraudulent votes remain a threat. There is typically little to no identity verification at polling places.
Vote-buying schemes are rampant in some locales. There are few ways to prevent or detect illicit compensation for votes.
Absentee and military ballots are often delayed or discarded due to mail mishaps. Overseas citizens have difficulty accessing and returning ballots on time.
Suppression tactics like closing polling stations, purging voter rolls, or changing ID requirements inhibit voter access and turnout.
Implementing a blockchain-based voting infrastructure could address many of these systemic weaknesses. While no system is 100% tamper-proof, blockchain comes closer than anything before.

Benefits of Blockchain Voting Systems
A blockchain is a distributed digital ledger that records transactions or other data in "blocks" that link together chronologically. New blocks are created using advanced cryptographic techniques that make them practically impossible to forge or alter retroactively. Since copies of the blockchain are held by multiple network nodes (servers), there is no central point of failure. Even if some nodes go down, the network keeps running.

Here are some of the benefits this architecture could bring to voting:
Enhanced Security
- Blockchain voting systems are far less vulnerable to hacking, fraud, or attack than traditional ballot-casting. Their decentralized nature means multiple copies of the electoral roll and votes are held across all nodes in the network. To compromise the vote, bad actors would have to simultaneously corrupt at least 51% of the thousands of replicated ledgers on nodes across the country – a monumental if not impossible task.
Better Identity Management - By incorporating layers of public key-based encryption and multifactor biometric authentication, blockchain can guarantee that each vote comes from a specific verified voter. This prevents repeat votes from the same individual.
Faster Results and Auditing - Blockchains can instantly finalize voting results for each precinct and the election overall. All stakeholders can view these public tallies on the transparent ledger in real time. If any concerns arise later, the block-by-block record makes auditing and recounts easy.
Improved Access and Engagement - Citizens could have the option to vote remotely online or via smartphone apps rather than having to visit polling stations in person. This convenience results in higher voter turnout.
Public Verifiability - Voters can independently check that their vote was properly recorded and counted by viewing the blockchain. This transparency allows citizens to trust the system.
Cost Savings - By eliminating polling station staffing requirements, paper ballots, and some bureaucratic oversight, blockchain voting could drastically reduce expenses versus traditional elections.
Other Civil Benefits - The digitized identity management and irrefutable transaction logging features blockchain provides could also improve eligibility verification for government services, reduce abuse of welfare or unemployment programs, and strengthen record-keeping for taxes, vehicle registration, gun licenses, and more.

Real-World Blockchain Voting Implementations
A growing number of forward-thinking governments around the globe have already rolled out experimental blockchain elections and voting initiatives. For example:
In the 2016 Republican Utah primary caucuses, blockchain startup Smartmatic ran online voting on a private blockchain. Over 1,000 votes were cast on the platform.
In 2018, West Virginia allowed overseas citizens to return absentee ballots via a blockchain system developed by Voatz. The pilot was limited to about 150 voters but was considered a success.
In the city of Denver that same year, over 100,000 active duty military were able to participate in municipal general elections using a blockchain voting app.
Switzerland has held several non-binding trial votes on blockchain platforms as they consider integrating the technology into regular referendums.
In the Philippines, a blockchain-based voting system was recently used to collect over 400,000 votes in connection with presidential impeachment proceedings.
Nigeria became the first country to cite blockchain in an official election policy framework in 2021. They aim to reach 70% blockchain voting adoption by 2030.
Brazil authorizes the use of a blockchain voting system for citizens living overseas. Nearly 20,000 expatriates cast ballots via the platform in the 2018 presidential race.
In Russia, blockchain has been used recently to vote on city council legislation in Moscow. Authorities plan to expand the technology's applications.
Estonia has gone further than any nation in implementing blockchain governance systems. Most Estonian citizens now use blockchain ID cards that enable them to vote online securely.
India's Election Commission is researching blockchain to simplify voter ID programs, organize remote voting, and prevent fraud.

Limitations and Challenges

While promising, migrating voting systems to blockchain does pose some technological and adoption hurdles:
Internet access and computer literacy remain an obstacle
– Those without consistent online connectivity or digital proficiency may struggle to access blockchain voting. Provisions for in-person options are still needed.
Startup costs can be prohibitive for cash-strapped districts – Developing and deploying new infrastructure nationwide would require massive upfront investment.
Energy usage could be taxing – Running blockchain networks consumes significant computing power and electricity, especially older versions like Bitcoin's proof-of-work. Newer proof-of-stake models are far more efficient.
Anonymity concerns must be addressed – Ensuring voter privacy rights are upheld will require careful engineering of public-private key encryption.
Election management bodies require blockchain expertise – To avoid issues, regulators, officials, and IT staff will need training to implement and manage blockchain elections properly.
Scaling for hundreds of millions of voters poses an engineering test – Blockchain platforms have rarely been tested for nationwide U.S. election levels of traffic. Performance could get bogged down without the proper architecture.
Nonetheless, none of these obstacles seem insurmountable, especially given the magnitude of the benefits. With the right funding, design, and training, blockchain could usher voting into the 21st century and restore faith in the democratic process.

The Future of Democracy
Free and fair elections are the lifeblood of any democracy. When voting systems fail, public trust erodes, apathy spreads, and extremism gains ground. By making the electoral process more transparent, accessible, and fraud-resistant, blockchain could revive Americans' engagement with democracy.
Through blockchain, citizens would no longer have to wonder if their vote was tallied correctly or if improper votes from others were slipping through. The decentralized digital ledger provides a neutral, verifiable record that all stakeholders can observe. Although no technology is foolproof, blockchain is engineered to withstand even state-level attacks.
Upgrading voting infrastructure may take time and money, but the payoffs would be well worth it. In addition to more legitimate election outcomes, blockchain could increase convenience, and speed results, improve accessibility for disabled and overseas voters, reduce expenses, and restore the public's faith that their leaders are elected fairly.
Beyond transforming elections, blockchain could have many other positive impacts on American society. Governments could implement blockchain identity systems that safeguard privacy while reducing identity theft and benefits fraud. Government services and record-keeping can also be made more efficient through blockchain networks, saving taxpayer dollars. Citizens could even access digital wallets holding their licenses, documentation, and benefits on their smartphones.
In the end, blockchain is not a panacea. However, applied judiciously, this cutting-edge technology could modernize and secure the institutions at the heart of the American democratic experiment. Citizens may not always agree on platforms or candidates. But strengthening trust in the integrity of the voting process is in everyone's interest. By exploring blockchain elections, we can ensure the will of the people guides the United States far into the future.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about blockchain voting:

Q: Can blockchain technology be used for voting?
A: Yes, blockchain's architecture makes it highly promising for secure, transparent voting. Several nations have already rolled out limited blockchain voting trials and platforms with generally positive results. While not perfect, blockchain is far less hackable and tamper-prone than current systems. With proper implementation and monitoring, blockchain voting could transform and restore faith in strained U.S. election processes.

Q: Which governments are using blockchain right now?
A: Many governments worldwide are experimenting with or actively transitioning record-keeping, identity management, documentation, payments, and other functions to blockchain-based systems. These include Brazil, Estonia, Switzerland, Russia, India, Japan, and South Korea, along with others across Africa, South America, and Eastern Europe. However, China notably has banned and suppressed blockchain systems due to their free speech and anti-authoritarian qualities.

Q: How is blockchain used in government?
A: Blockchain's transparency, immutability, and encryption make it ideal for modernizing a variety of governmental processes. Applications being explored include digital identity records, voting/elections, benefits disbursement, property registries, taxation, central bank digital currencies, law enforcement evidence tracking, and streamlining bureaucratic paperwork. Blockchain reduces opportunities for fraud and errors while often cutting costs.

Q: What is blockchain for government digital identity?
A: Several governments use or are developing blockchain-based digital identity schemes to provide citizens with encrypted electronic identification. Blockchain identity systems allow safe, authenticated access to government services and records both online and offline. They help centralize identity verification data while still preserving user privacy against exploitation or surveillance. Moving identity management to blockchain makes identification more foolproof and flexible for all parties.

Q: How does blockchain prevent vote buying?
A: One major benefit of blockchain voting is the ability to defeat vote-buying schemes. Because votes are cryptographically anonymous, there is no way for bad actors to confirm that bribed citizens voted as instructed. Smart contracts can even be programmed to automatically nullify votes linked to suspicious blockchain wallet IDs associated with vote-buying groups. This undercuts the financial incentives for the practice.

Q: Can hackers manipulate a blockchain voting system?
A: Blockchains are engineered to be exceptionally resilient against tampering or revision. To alter votes, hackers would need to override at least 51% of the replicated ledgers on nodes across the decentralized blockchain network simultaneously. This is practically impossible, especially given redundancies across servers worldwide. While no digital system is perfectly secure, blockchain voting is far safer than existing alternatives.

Q: Doesn't online blockchain voting increase the risks of hacking or fraud?
A: Counterintuitively, well-designed blockchain elections are likely more -- not less – secure than in-person voting. Existing voting machines and tallying systems have repeatedly been shown to have vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit to change results. But decentralized blockchain ledgers are almost impossible to falsify or corrupt en masse. Proper identity verification and cryptography precautions also prevent the exploitation of online voting. Online blockchain elections could nearly eliminate the insider threats, voting machine hacking, software glitches, and human error risks that plague current elections.

Q: How does blockchain prevent multiple votes by the same person?
A: Blockchain voting platforms verify voters via layers of biometric-based authentication and public-private key encryption. Voters are issued a non-replicable digital token which gets submitted at the time they cast their ballot and becomes part of the blockchain record. If a voter tries to vote more than once, the system recognizes the duplicate vote attempt. Smart contracts can even automatically void any votes by the same ID after the first one. This structure prevents double voting or voter impersonation.

Q: Can blockchain voting scale to statewide or national elections?
A: Admittedly, rolling out blockchain voting nationwide poses challenges. No blockchain system has been tested for hundreds of millions of voters yet. However, through careful engineering and infrastructure upgrades, large-scale blockchain elections are achievable. Identity registries and voting rounds could be split across multiple interconnected blockchains to bolster capacity. And optimized consensus mechanisms like proof-of-stake help prevent congestion. With diligent development and monitoring, experts believe blockchain can handle state and federal voting.

Q: How does blockchain save costs for election administration?
A: Blockchain elections can significantly reduce both operating and capital costs versus traditional voting approaches. Operating costs drop thanks to fewer staffing needs for poll workers, reduced ballot printing/processing, streamlined auditing and oversight, and less transportation of ballots and machines. Capital savings come from avoiding proprietary electronic voting machine purchases, which cost hundreds of millions nationally. Additional savings stem from lowering fraud monitoring and insurance expenditures. Altogether blockchain could cut election costs by 25% or more.

At RWaltz, we are thrilled to see the momentum growing behind blockchain-based voting platforms. As leaders in decentralized systems and cryptography, we believe this technology can transform elections the same way it has revolutionized finance and economics. Our developers have hands-on expertise across the blockchain tech stack, from core protocol design to front-end interfaces. We are ready to leverage this knowledge to help election commissions, governments, and private partners implement secure, transparent blockchain elections and identity systems.
As a leading DeFi development company, NFT marketplace builder, token creation service provider, enterprise blockchain development services firm, and full-stack crypto development firm, RWaltz has the skills and experience required to make blockchain voting a reality. Our end-to-end services encompass designing sophisticated smart contracts, crafting scalable decentralized apps, and engineering blockchain protocols and architecture to power high-traffic voting systems. Trust RWaltz as your partner for creating the future of safe, innovative elections and democratic participation.

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