How to use a Blockchain to Prevent Election Rigging
Last Wednesday, after a mid-term election that saw more voters than any previous mid-term in more than 50 years, defeated independent candidate Tim Canova posted a video to his Twitter account. The video, shot by a concerned citizen, appears to show election officials driving up in their personal vehicles and putting provisional paper ballots into a rented box truck. Each of the alleged election officials who delivered the votes to the truck arrived alone, without a second person to watch the process, as required by law.
The video itself is telling. Taking place after the polls were closed and darkness had descended, it certainly looks like something shady is going on. The concerned citizen who shot the video can be heard saying “I don't think that's right.” She is likely echoing the thoughts viewers had as they watched the video.
For political junkies, the video was a shocking reminder of how fragile the credibility of even paper ballots can be. But the location where the video was shot, shocked no one.
Caught On Video: Concerned citizen sees ballots being transported in private vehicles & transferred to rented truck on Election night. This violates all chain of custody requirements for paper ballots. Were the ballots destroyed & replaced by set of fake ballots? Investigate now! pic.twitter.com/GUPZnz7Gny
— Tim Canova (@Tim_Canova) November 8, 2018
The video comes from Broward county. One of the counties where Tim Canova lost, by a large margin, to Debbie Wasserman Shultz. It also happens to be the same county where Brenda Snipes is in charge of ensuring a safe and fair election, and she has built a reputation for having issues making sure that happens.
In 2016, Canova was running against Shultz for the first time, that time in a primary. Shultz gained national infamy when she was forced to resign her position as the DNC's chair after it was revealed that the Hillary Clinton campaign controlled the finances of the party and exerted that influence to help her campaign at the expense of Bernie Sanders'. But when Shultz won against Canova, he requested to look at the ballots, as is his right. Snipes attempted to charge his campaign tens of thousands of dollars for that privilege. Canova opened up a lawsuit.
And then Snipes authorized the destruction of the ballots, against a federal court order telling her not to. She signed the folder, indicating that there were no open lawsuits relating to those votes. Additionally, she authorized the destruction of them a full year before they should have been, even without the lawsuit. She claimed that the destruction was a mistake.
A federal judge ruled the destruction illegal and stated that a dismissal of Snipes would be appropriate. But Governor Rick Scott declined to.
In addition, Broward county has consistently been one of the last precincts in the country to count its votes since Snipes took over the position in 2003, despite getting a three hour head start over the west coast states.
So that the video of the questionable ballot transportation happened in Broward county, under Brenda Snipes' watch, surprised absolutely no one that was paying attention. And now, lame-duck Governor Rick Scott, who lost a closely contested Senatorial bid, is suing none other than Brenda Snipes, over possible election fraud. Even President Trump got involved, tweeting out that it was an embarrassment for the country and “election theft”. And Friday afternoon, she was ordered by a judge to immediately allow the viewing and copying of all ballots in question.
I rarely agree with the President, but it is hard not to look at the video, considering Shultz and Snipes' history and not think something is going on.
There were other accusations of election rigging in Georgia as well. Along with long lines and the constant worry that the voting machines are less than secure.
Blockchain is the solution for all of this. And the solution wouldn't be hard to build or difficult for the average voter to use. All we need are open-source voting machines that can generate keys and an open blockchain that anyone can use to verify and add transactions (votes) to.
Imagine this, you go to a polling station and see a few employees working there. They ask for your name and check it against the voter rolls. You give it and they give you your ballot. You go and fill it out in a booth. So far, everything is as it normally is.
Then, the computer asks you to create a password of at least eight digits. You enter one and it uses that password and your voter roll information to create a key or “voter number”. Then you slide your ballot into the machine, it uploads your vote to the voter blockchain and it gives you the associated voter number (key) to your votes. You can then go online, go to the government run blockexplorer (or a third party alternative) look up your voter number and ensure that your vote was counted correctly. No one would be able to tell who you voted for unless you revealed that voter number was associated with you. And if you noticed an irregularity, you'd be able to use your personal information and password to prove that is your voting number.
Eventually, users would be able to skip the voting booth altogether and simply vote from home using their personal computer or cell phone. But that would require people to keep track of private keys rather than generating them at the polling station. So for now, the safest way to do it is a hybrid between our current system and a totally digital one. One where the key pair is generated on site and hashed from voter roll information plus a simple password, rather than through random inputs.
It wouldn't be totally safe from say, an election official generating dozens of voter numbers for voters who didn't show up to the polls at all. But with the traditional oversight that prevents ballot stuffing right now, that shouldn't be a problem. There is a reason votes are more commonly destroyed than generated and that's because it is nearly impossible for an individual working at a polling station to submit multiple ballots without everyone else in the room noticing. If it became a problem, we could make it so the key is generated when you register to vote, preventing anyone from falsifying a vote. Though that would add some complexity for voters who would then have to remember or store a key or password.
With this system, destroying votes would be impossible. It would also make recounts a thing of the past. Since every vote would be counted and available on the blockchain, anyone, anywhere could count them manually or develop their own script that does it.
Of course, it wouldn't be a true blockchain unless it had real miners. In cryptocurrencies, miners need an incentive that comes in the form of monetary rewards. But with voting, the integrity of the election itself would be the reward that secures the chain. Of course both the DNC and RNC would put significant resources in making sure the other doesn't gain too much power on the voter blockchain, but it should also be open to anyone who wants to join. “Do your patriotic duty and secure our elections with your computer!” a future PSA could say. Anyone, anywhere could download voter verification software and run it at home. If they didn't trust any available block explorer, they could check the blockchain that they download themselves.
And if that didn't prove to be enough incentive, miners could be rewarded with coins that could give them a tax break. Alternatively, we could use an already secure blockchain, like Bitcoin or Ethereum's, though that may cost some taxpayer money in the form of transaction costs.
The idea of using the blockchain to prevent election rigging and voter fraud isn't new. Coins, tokens and dApps have been using blockchain voting as a means of governance for years. And even the idea of putting our elections on the blockchain has been floated in the past. But I have yet to see one that is as simple to use as what I am proposing now. I recently received an email about former Coinbase engineer Tanooj Luthra, who is creating a decentralized application called Elph on the Ethereum network. It would enable digital voter IDs and storing votes on the blockchain. That would be an effective way to do it, but I fear the digital voter IDs would be susceptible to being lost or stolen. Still, it is good to know someone is working on something similar to my proposal.
Because I have neither the coding talent nor connections to make it myself. I did ask Nathan Wosnack, founder and CEO of Ubitquity, if he thought my proposal was feasible. Ubitquity has some experience in this, as they already upload records to blockchains for businesses. Not only did he think it was, he thought it would be relatively easy.
“That's actually a really good idea. Truth is, I bet Ubitquity could build something like this as we're working with an aviation client that only sends us a hash of airplane certificates that we manage and upload to the blockchain of their choice via Ubitquity API.”
He promised not to steal my idea, but I want it stolen. As I said, I cannot create this, but someone could. And if they did, it would not only prevent election rigging, election fraud, and recounts, it would elevate blockchain technologies in the consciousness of the American people. If it can secure our elections, why not our money? And then we would have millions of political junkies, not only more interested in bitcoin, but with a far better understanding of it.
I cannot think of anything that would be better for our country, or the cryptocurrency community.