America has a voter turnout problem. Around half of the voting-eligible population turns out for each major election, and the effectiveness of get-out-the-vote strategies appears to favor the Democratic Party. The ability to successfully engage the American public determines this country’s future, and the future is trending in a disturbing direction. It’s about time we modernized our voting system in a way that more accurately represents the will of the voters.
In the past two elections, we’ve seen anomalous outcomes. An underwhelming presidential candidate from the party supporting the deeply unpopular COVID lockdowns won in 2020, and in 2022 a predicted massive red wave in the wake of economic woes exacerbated by the Administration significantly under-delivered. The big difference here was in voter turnout. The Democratic Party has invested heavily in finding the best strategies to maximize voter turnout, and it has paid off handsomely.
The time-honored voter engagement strategy has relied heavily on canvassing through phone calls and door-knocking. This strategy has shown diminishing results with each passing cycle as landlines fall out of use (and mobile phone strategies for avoiding spam develop), and as younger generations become less disposed to engaging with canvassers outside their houses.
More importantly, the Democrats found out that maximizing the usage of mail-in ballots during 2020, when in-person contact was still taboo, and absentee ballots in 2022, allowed them to engage voters more effectively. The window of time and location flexibility by remote options proved to make a significant difference in getting voters to actually vote.
Notice what all these advantages in voter turnout actually do: they get people to actually go out and vote who otherwise would not have. The real question we should be asking ourselves is: Why aren’t they voting? Are they against voting? Largely, no. Do they care at all about the issues at stake? Most do, yes. Do they care enough to go out and vote? That’s the real question, and all too often the answer is “no”. But it’s a problem that can be approached from two directions: getting people to care more, and needing them to care less.
When designing end-user applications and products, fine-tuning the user experience is critical to ensure the most possible number of users continue to use the product in question. Each extra second a user has to spend and every extra step they have to take before getting the outcome they want results in a significant drop-off. Color contrasts, button visibility, font readability, and countless other seemingly-trivial factors play a critical role in determining whether or not a user will be a user at all. In-person voting’s user experience is simply too poor due to the wide variety of physical limitations. At some point, it’s a probabilities game: each day that people can’t vote on causes a number of voters to drop off, every physical location they can’t vote from does the same, and so on until we end up with a situation like today where the vast majority of people simply don’t vote, and those who do only do so because their party did a good enough job convincing them to overcome their hurdles to voting. So far, the party with the significant edge here has been the Democrats.
The answer is to implement blockchain voting. This means using a secure, public digital database that can be audited by anyone. Surprisingly, this technology has been implemented by several organizations for years. The system I’m most familiar with is the Dash cryptocurrency network, which operates a grants system where applicants submit funding requests to the network, and these are either approved or denied by stakeholder vote on a monthly basis. (The network is run by stakeholders, similar to how Congress is elected by voters. Stakeholders are anyone who owns some of the currency.) All this is done in a completely transparent and auditable manner where anyone can verify election results at any time. I have personally participated in both the voting and grant request sides of this system numerous times, and the system has been operating continuously for almost eight years now.
Of course, this isn’t as easy as saying, “Just use a blockchain for US elections,” and being done with it. There are some unique challenges. First, when voting on a public digital ledger, all votes are public information for all the world to see. This doesn’t affect the Dash network’s voting since it deals with pseudonymous participants where you know which node voted for what, but you don’t know who is behind them (and it doesn’t particularly matter). But it does affect American citizens where their votes becoming public knowledge is a huge privacy and safety issue. Another challenge is ownership over voting keys. This also doesn’t affect Dash voting because anyone who possesses a certain amount of the currency can vote, regardless of who. With our nation’s voting system, however, we need to be able to prove who is voting and prevent others from fraudulently voting on their behalf. And finally, access to technology and training in new voting systems could pose a challenge to older generations.
That doesn’t mean that these are insurmountable challenges, and as the technology improves, they will become easier and easier to solve. To address voter privacy, the likely solution is to employ zero-knowledge proofs. This privacy-preserving technology is implemented by cryptocurrencies such as Zcash, and allows mathematically proving that an answer to a problem is correct without knowing that answer. A common use case is private financial transactions, where you can send funds to anyone without anyone else knowing the details of the payment, not even the computers that process the transaction. This means that a zero-knowledge proof-leveraging voting system can confirm that a vote is valid and from a registered voter, and count that vote for them, without actually knowing who the voter is. We could allow anyone to audit the entire voting process accurately from their own computer without violating anyone’s private information. The trickier problem is voting keys, or how we ascertain that someone is who they say they are. More perfect solutions are sure to arise in the future, but one possible setup would be a combination of three voting keys: a biometric (such as a fingerprint), a password, and a physical device (like a thumb drive). A vote can only be placed if all three are used together. If any of these are lost or compromised, a voter can have their keys destroyed and reissued.
Of course, a system such as this couldn’t be implemented overnight, especially with older generations potentially struggling to successfully manage a radically new system. However, this could be implemented alongside the current system, with each new election boasting a higher number of blockchain voters. An ideal system would allow anyone to vote remotely and securely during a weeklong or similar time window, have all their votes counted instantly with 100% accuracy and auditability, all but eliminating the possibility of voter fraud and significantly cutting down on barriers to voter turnout.
Overhauling America’s elections is a daunting task, and we can’t expect to have it solved in a few short years. However, it’s important to begin having the conversation now before we find ourselves trapped in a system that has been increasingly mastered by those who would take our freedom away. It’s time to start talking about blockchain voting.