Blockchain Voting: Another Tech Ideation to Explain to my Parents

I can’t explain blockchain to my parents. It’s like your checkbook, but with algorithms, encryption and global server farms. Hell, I don’t fully get it myself. It’s a public ledger of transactions. Decentralized. Reconciled. Transparent. The concept is simple enough, but trying to find the vocabulary to illuminate the baby boomers in my life leaves me wanting. Hey mom, it’s math. How will I get them on board with Blockchain Voting? Not happening.

The dream of online voting persists as fodder for podcast discussions and think pieces. Everyone has phones, they say. It’ll be so easy, the promise goes. I’m confident that one day we’ll elect President Kardashian via a Facebook election, but that time is (thankfully) not now. But it’s coming.

Voter turnout in America still stinks. The November 2018 election saw record numbers of voters for a non-presidential election, but too many eligible voters are still disinterested in having a say on how dysfunctional our republic becomes. Those record numbers tout 47% of eligible voters. Some innovators think online voting is the path to full participation.

In November, approximately 150 deployed military personnel voted in their home state of West Virginia through an online app, call Voatz—built on blockchain. Bridging the geographic gap for soldiers overseas is a noble mission and I applaud the results. Should proponents such as former Uber advisor and political consultant Bradley “The Fixer” Tusk get his way, we will all be voting on our mobile phones in the near future. He successfully navigated politics in Chicago and New York and then steered Uber through troubled waters. But will his magic work for us, the voting public?

Tusk wants to be the Thomas Alva Edison of online voting. For our sake, let’s hope his marketing doesn’t include electrocuting elephants.

Change the inputs, change the outputs, says Tusk. Enlisting more civic participation is a noble goal but quips won’t remove vulnerabilities in the seven layers of network infrastructure. Good intentions won’t repair outdated compilers, international cloud servers and unpatched operating systems. There are many reasons to be concerned about election security. Democratic ideals won’t prevent gullible phish bait from clicking that embedded email link. Quips won’t convince mindful luddites that the magical computer is now trustworthy.

I stand with the election security organization Verified Voting in the opinion opposed to Internet and mobile phone voting. Whether voting via blockchain or alternate digital technology, even with security upgrades like two-factor authentication and facial recognition, the risk is currently intolerable for mass implementation. Adding paper ballots for audit trail is a simple demand, but begs the question—why not just use the paper.

In West Virginia, the voting app produced a paper ballot scanned much like those multiple-choice tests you took in high school. Count the paper ballots—you’ll need to do it anyway. Having decentralized elections, often tallied at county or city levels, is an effective security measure to keep on central piggy bank of votes away from meddling digits of agents both foreign and domestic.

I’m all for voter inclusion—automatic registration at age 18, voting by mail, early voting, expanded number of precincts and operating hours. Give me Saturday elections. Give me a national holiday for national elections. We still have a day for Christopher Columbus and people hate this dude. Make it a holiday and make it mandatory.

Faith in elections is the foundation for the entire democratic process. Fear of fraud, corruption, hacking and a thousand other plots make even the most tested, “hacker proof” system untenable to millions of folks who don’t understand how to update their phone’s operating system. I know Boomers who can’t find settings in their phone or send a location pin let alone what that “s” means in “https.”

We are not ready for internet voting, even if powered by blockchain. We simply cannot employ a technology to streamline and centralize the one process granting access and control to all our tax dollars where millions of lives depend on a functioning bureaucracy. Government won’t survive an Uber revolution. Sorry, Mr. Tusk.

We are not ready for internet voting, even if powered by blockchain. We simply cannot employ a technology to streamline and centralize the one process granting access and control to all our tax dollars where millions of lives depend on a functioning bureaucracy. Government won’t survive an Uber revolution. Sorry, Mr. Tusk.

Related Podcasts:

The Gist with Mike Pesca, “In a Political Bind? Call Bradley Tusk,” 11/8/2018

The Moment with Brian Koppleman, “Bradley Tusk,” 9/11/2018

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