To say that our current voting system is plagued with problems would be an extreme understatement.
We currently have to deal with insecure, hackable voting machines, a lack of transparency, voter fraud, inept polling center volunteers misplacing millions of votes, billion-dollar election administration costs, and other polling center issues that can discourage large percentages of people from voting.
Perhaps the most shocking issue is the number of vulnerabilities present in many voting machines. Researchers have found ways to "hack the machines to swap votes between candidates, reject ballots or accept 50,000 votes from a precinct with just 100 voters."
Princeton University researchers found that machines could be hacked in 7 minutes -- with only $10 and a 8th grade science education -- to steal votes from one party and give them to another. Yet millions of voters still use these machines, most of which are made by only two manufacturers and paid for with tax dollars, to vote.Even if there is no evidence of these machines actually being hacked to influence an election, it doesn't mean they haven't been and it certainly isn't something our tax dollars should continue to support. The fact that they are provably insecure should be enough to persuade people to find superior voting methods.
Since the invention of the Internet, holding public elections online has often been theorized as the ideal method through which to vote, but the preventative concern has mainly been whether the Internet is secure enough to play such an integral role in elections.
But through uncrackable, asymmetrical cryptography, a decentralized, verifiable public ledger system, and open-source software, previous security concerns -- as well as almost all other major voting issues mentioned above -- have been solved and/or greatly reduced.
A few organizations are currently working to develop such decentralized, trustless voting applications. One of these groups is Follow My Vote, a first wave organization in a set of many that will present decentralized, blockchain-based voting solutions over the next few decades.
I recently had a chance to speak with CEO and founder of Follow My Vote, Adam Ernest, and he discussed his organization’s efforts and how the software will function.
“What's really most important in any election is who counts the votes," he said. "In other words, those who control the ballot box, meaning the person or persons counting the votes within the ballot box and reporting the vote totals of an election, are really the ones who control the outcome; whatever they say it is, it is."
"The only way you can truly be assured that the reported results of an election are accurate is if you actually have the opportunity to audit the ballot box and count the votes yourself. It comes down to the honesty, transparency, and trust that our system provides, which the existing voting systems can't offer. That's the real benefit of decentralized voting applications.”
All votes are recorded into the publicly verifiable transaction ledger and every participant can track their vote and see that it was applied correctly. Votes are verified for authenticity by a group of delegates prior to being recorded in the block chain.
"We definitely see a use for hosting government-sponsored elections for all levels of government in the United States and abroad. The system could also be used to host elections for student government associations across the country," Ernest said. "However, voting in government elections is just one area. It could be used by corporations for proxy voting, allowing shareholders to elect their board of directors, or polling companies like Gallup."
"The idea is that anyone who wants to gauge consensus on a particular issue can use a voting DAC to create an election or a poll and open it up to the people for a vote," he added.
So if the U.S. government wanted to hold an election, it must first download and install the software, create an account, and purchase voting tokens (Ernest said the price of these tokens will be determined by the demand for them on cryptocurrency exchanges). Anyone who wants to participate in the election must also download and install the software on their computers and create an account.
As user accounts are created, users receive both a public and private key. Users are known to other users within the system as their public key in order to protect the user's privacy.
Some account holders would serve as identity verifiers and certify that various aspects of a person’s identity are true and accurate (i.e. being over 18 and a U.S. citizen), ensuring that the user is, in fact, eligible to participate in elections that require certain certifications.
Users that have the necessary certifications in order to participate in U.S. government-sponsored elections would be sent tokens to participate in these elections should they choose to do so. The election official would send tokens to users by sending them to the user's public key.
When voting day arrives, voters would use their tokens to request and cast their ballots -- all from the comfort of your own home.
Follow My Vote plans to have a proto-DAC out sometime in late September, which won't be a fully functioning beta, but will be a version with limited functionality where people can create an account, get their wallet, and transfer shares back and forth with each other.The organization hopes to have a proof of concept out by the November midterm elections and a fully functioning version will be out in 2015, which “will ramp up over time and be in position to host something in parallel to the 2016 presidential election.”
As with any new technology, there are still security issues that need to be solved. One immediately apparent vulnerability has nothing to do with the software itself, but the possibility that a voter's personal computer could be hacked.
An individual's computer is where the software that holds the private key is stored. This key is used to request and cast a ballot, and if a malicious third party were to gain access to it, they could potentially cast a vote for someone else.
However, Follow My Vote insists that the software that counts and stores the votes cannot be tampered with.
“What we think is unique is that the ballot box itself uses blockchain technology, making it virtually bulletproof," Ernest said. "Unlike other voting systems in use in elections today, you can't hack the ballot box and manipulate vote totals for various candidates. There’s really no way to do so. It's just not possible.”
He added that Follow My Vote will address any security concerns that arise before the fully featured version of the software is released and used in government-sponsored elections.