It was in J.K. Rowling’s world of Harry Potter where we learned that neither Harry Potter nor Lord Voldemort could live, while the other survived.
Similar to Rowling’s magical prophecy, when it comes to American politics, a true democracy without voter participation, also cannot survive. With the 2018 U.S. elections right around the corner, there’s no telling what the polls will look like.
But, if there’s one vision the crystal ball can present, it’s that states and advocacy groups are now turning to a new technology—blockchain.
A New Prophecy: The Blockchain
Representatives whom are chosen by a small portion of their constituents, lack legitimacy and often ignore non-voters. Consequently, those voters who feel neglected, often respond by avoiding the polls. This is a never-ending circle that seems to be hurting our political climate. Unfortunately, if historical trends hold true, fewer voters will be heading to the polls in comparison to 2016.
Thinking Globally, Acting Locally
Many of America’s political challenges can be traced to that cycle. Voter participation has been in decline for half a century. Barely half of voting-age Americans made it to the ballot box in 2016, putting the U.S. turnout rate behind the vast majority of OECD countries.
Even by U.S. standards, overseas voter turnout is abysmal. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense, approximately seven percent of the 3 million American adults living abroad, voted in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.
For this year’s upcoming election, one state in particular, West Virginia, is not leaving it to chance. In April, the state implemented a first-in-the-nation blockchain system, for your phone. The application allows for its citizens living abroad to vote securely if mail services or polling places are unavailable. Specifically, it helps to enfranchise members of our U.S. Military.
“There is nobody more deserving of the right to vote, than the men and women out there putting their lives on the line,” said Mac Warner, West Virginia’s Secretary of State, in a recent interview with CNN.
3-Part System To Maintaining Election Security
West Virginia’s mobile application uses a three-piece system for election security, a key part of restoring confidence in elections:
- First, users will need to take a photo of their government-issued identification, and record a “selfie” style video, showing their face before casting their ballot.
- Second, once the ballots are submitted, they are then made anonymous within the Blockchain.
- Lastly, those casted ballots are recorded on an indelible public-ledger.
Nobody Puts Voters in the Corner
While citizens of other states will have to cast their ballots the old-fashioned way, there’s always another alternative in spreading the good word about the blockchain technology.
#1 –”Rock The Vote” With A Younger Demographic
For the past three decades, Rock the Vote has been at the vanguard of voter drives, outreach, and education. This year, the nonpartisan nonprofit is partnering with Sweet, an online social marketplace and loyalty platform, to gamify voter outreach.
With support from names and figures including the Black Eyed Peas, Sweet rewards users for watching election-related videos, educating themselves on the issues, and sharing content. Users earn Sugar tokens for these actions, which can then be redeemed for unique rewards in Sweet’s Rock The Vote Rewards Marketplace.
“More than ever, young people want to engage, but don’t necessarily know how,” said Tom Mizzone, CEO of Sweet. His hope is that this system will connect new voters, providing them with the tools to both participate in the political sphere, and make it a fun, social experience. This innovative technology drives home the kind of payoff civic engagement can have.
#2 –Making Earth Great Again
Although the midterm elections will be the Blockchain’s first test as a civic engagement and voting aid, some entrepreneurs envision an entirely new election system.
Headed by Santiago Siri, videogamer-turned-political theorist, nonprofit startup Democracy Earth has a radical idea for a blockchain-based civic community—building a social platform where the currency isn’t “likes”, but rather, “vote tokens”, which can be spent by users who state their preferences on an enormous range of questions.
Corporations could conceivably ask shareholders to use the tool to vote for board members, while municipalities could put local ordinances on the platform for members to support or oppose with a single click.
“We are not in the business of selling e-voting machines or helping modernize governments with internet voting,” Siri explained to Wired Magazine.
“We want to empower people down to the individual level without asking the permission of governments.”
But, don’t expect Democracy Earth’s platform to host U.S. elections anytime soon, though. Siri and his team are still unsure how to balance transparency and anonymity on the network, not to mention how to democratize the tokens.
The company plans to mint up to 500 million tokens priced at 12 cents each, which will be used to compensate employees and investors. It’s tough to see, however, how the principle of “one person, one vote” could survive in a market environment.
#3–Voting With “My Number”
Tsukuba city, known for its technology-forward agenda and a center of scientific research in Japan, has joined a growing list of governments that are now turning to blockchain technology to power and secure voting solutions.
Last month, the government of Tsukuba introduced its own blockchain powered online voting system, enabling residents to vote on local social development programs.
With the first-of-its-kind digital vote in Japan, Tsukuba will use Japan’s “My Number” system – a 12-digit social security identifier afforded to all Japanese residents. This helps to verify voters’ credentials before securing the vote from being falsified or accessed through decentralized blockchain technology, the Japan Times reported.
While the digital vote wasn’t a complete success, as several voters forgot their passwords, reportedly, leaving them unable to cast a vote, this is still a step in the right direction. The voting system presumably required an additional layer of security in the form of passwords to verify the person present at the ballot, beyond merely scanning his/her social security card.
Vote for the Blockchain
On this cycle for the upcoming election, the use of blockchain technology is on the ballot as much as any candidate or issue. Whether the technology can increase turnout by rewarding engagement, facilitating overseas voting, and/or keeping out troublemakers, are all questions up for debate.
If the experiment works, expect to see other jurisdictions join West Virginia and other countries like Japan, in the online voting camp.
If it exceeds expectations, get ready for groups like Democracy Earth to push for a new election system entirely.
And if it crashes and burns? Give entrepreneurs and officials some credit–they’re trying to build a more perfect union, one new tool at a time.