In addition to banking the unbanked, we must prevent those who would manipulate our antiquated and vulnerable voting systems by shouting over and silencing others to ensure every voice is heard, giving voice to the voiceless.
November 9, 2022
NOVEMBER 9, 2022
Last updated November 12, 2022
The Case for Blockchain-Based Voting
The sun is shining and crisp leaves crunch beneath my feet. A brisk breeze floats a freshly fallen crimson one across my path. I deeply inhale the same cool air orchestrating the autumn dance of foliage. I feel their melodic whispers echoing in my steps. The breathtaking nature of the day is on full display. I walk past a smiling stranger and nod back to him with a grin. And I know the glimpse of natural and social harmony is not an isolated affair, because today we all come together, put our differences aside, and make decisions we believe to be for the betterment of our future.
Today, we look beyond ourselves and make a concerted effort to address our misgivings, maintain our positive resolutions, and make new ones in order to improve further. It’s wonderful to live in a country where we have the opportunity to meditate on our intentions and diplomatically parse out our disagreements.
Although not officially a holiday, for all intents and purposes it is. After all, today is Election Day, and no storm could possibly shatter the communal spirit it evokes.
Wait, that’s not how you feel? Have I entirely misread the pulse of the nation? Are our collective hearts closer to flatlining than fluttering with joy? Have leaves in the wind stolen my sight from the present danger of black thunder clouds rolling in?
If you think so, please forgive my fever dream. Allow me to return back to coarse reality, an unfortunate antithesis of the preceding paragraph.
The truth is, this is not a day the citizens will come together anywhere beyond their local polling place. No matter the outcome, unhappy players will dispute the results of the election. Accusations of voter fraud, no matter which side is victorious, will be rampant. The strings of western liberalism and our democratic institutions have become tenuous. Practically frayed to the point of assured disintegration. No matter who wins, all short-term gains ring hollow, and we, as a people, will be no closer to righting this ship gone astray.
When we reflect on how we have reached this point, there is no shortage of controversial potential causes. The cyclical nature frames human history as a series of ebbs and flows. It indicates that our current predicament may be nothing more than the natural recession away from some high point most feel is well behind us; leaving our generation no choice but to live through interesting times.
Despite my belief in this view, we should not resign ourselves to playing proverbial fiddles (or more likely becoming DJs like half the people I know) while flames ignite around us. Whether or not we are determined to march towards a crisis, it's the way we choose to address it is not. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I believe we possess the means to not only correct course, but create lasting change for the better. Which if nothing else, would free us to focus on addressing other problems.
I am not immune to partisan beliefs, but for the sake of the nation, I am setting them aside in favor of a singular political goal for the benefit of all. In order to restore trust to our democratic processes, we must make them trustless. It is time to transition to a blockchain-based voting system.
In Satoshi Nakamoto’s introductory email containing the first distribution of Bitcoin’s white paper, he stated, “I’ve been working on a new electronic cash system that’s fully peer-to-peer, with no trusted third party.”
Nakamoto’s contention was that those responsible for guiding our financial system neglected their duty to serve the best interests of the people. How? By continually debasing their money and betraying their trust in the favor of special interests who have become entrenched at the top of the pyramid via regulatory capture.
Nakamoto championed the idea that the fault within our financial system was primarily the result of trust. More precisely the necessity of it. On a superficial level, trust is a great thing. It's a prerequisite for the success of healthy relationships, but just like a relationship, the more people you involve, the more complicated it becomes.
By the time you scale to the state level, trust becomes as much of a liability as it is a necessity, because the ramification of simple decisions are too complex to ever satisfy everyone, and kowtowing to a majority leaves millions in contempt. And that’s just assuming you’re behaving honestly with the trust given to you. God forbid you become corrupt.
So perhaps you are wondering how Satoshi’s ideas are relevant to our voting process? Our voting system is vulnerable due to several potential points of failure. It relies on voting machines operated by private companies with private intentions whom we must trust to carry out their duty impartially.
Paper mail-in ballots, which are far from immune to counterfeiting, make up a significant portion of the total votes in each election. Voting rolls across the nation are isolated systems incapable of self-maintenance and accounting for individuals who pass away or move to another district.
Most places do not have measures in place to prevent anyone from improperly voting, whether it be voting more than once, impersonating someone else, casting in the wrong district, or being unregistered. Readers should note, I am not making any accusations, but only drawing attention to the problem that their potential exists at all.
As stated earlier, Bitcoin was originally proposed as a digital cash system, but time has allowed our view to evolve. Not only from cash to gold, the decentralized reserve currency backing all other iterations worth having, but transcending money entirely as our focus is drawn more towards the invaluable largest, most secure, decentralized and censorship-resistant network on earth. Simply put, Bitcoin’s value reaches well beyond finance.
Merged mining gives Bitcoin miners the ability to secure additional blockchain networks by sharing their proof-of-work without expending additional resources. Which then expands Bitcoin’s ecosystem and augmenting it to support capabilities like smart contracts not innate to its own chain.
By building atop Bitcoin in this manner, we grant Bitcoin greater utility, and transform our view of Bitcoin from payment processor to the ultimate settlement layer, a transparent adjudicator recording the information, the truths it receives.
[Full disclosure: I work for Syscoin]
Syscoin is one such project who uses Bitcoin’s network as the basis of its security through merge-mining on their UTXO chain. Which then runs in tandem with their EVM-based chain, scales transactional throughput on both sides via several mechanisms in order to bring blockchain and smart contract technology to the level of maturity needed for widespread, global adoption.
The possibilities that communities build atop such infrastructure are endless, but the relevant ones for our conversation include a public voting system along with a form of Digital Identity. (The technology that makes this possible deserves a deep dive of its own, but I will leave that for another day.)
Digital ID would require a major overhaul to connect many disparate systems. It is such an undertaking, there is no doubt it would serve several applications beyond a means to vote. However, the question is not if democracies implement such a system, but when.
The important question is how the world will implement it in a way it respects people’s privacy. Thanks to cryptography, we do have the means to make it only verify the existence or requisite data. As opposed to transferring or storing it elsewhere. With such a system in place, a country of more than 330 million, in the case of the United States, would be able to concretely state we do indeed have free and fair elections. You don’t believe us? Look at the blockchain.
Once in place, we could enjoy unheard of advancements. Such as self-correcting voter registration lists that automatically account for status changes in the form of death certificates, criminal records, or even renunciation of citizenship. No longer would we need to rely on paper ballots counted by machines operated by private companies. Nor would we face the logistical problems of needing to get away from work or families to potentially go stand in a long line at a polling place.
As long as your credentials are in good standing, there’s no reason you wouldn’t be able to vote from your phone or a computer. Provided we can overcome the pesky issue of proper operational security for the general public (I believe we can). Recounting votes would become a problem of the past, because every submission would be automatically tallied, and we would have the instant gratification of knowing the results as soon as the deadline for voting arrived.
Connecting the disparate systems required to operate a Digital ID system like birth and death certificates, drivers licenses, criminal records, address changes, and social security numbers would be a massive organizational endeavor; spanning each faction of government from the local, state and federal levels, and would no doubt take the longest to achieve. The actual means of implementing an easily accessible voting system designed to be compatible with the Digital ID system is a walk in the park in comparison. However, to paraphrase a great American leader, Nothing worth doing does not require effort, pain, or difficulty.
Although I am American and this essay is written from my perspective and published on a significant date, the question of electoral integrity and the answers blockchain technology provides is relevant to wherever public votes are held (and perhaps those irrelevant places should reconsider their mode of operation). Since America’s political dysfunction is on full display for the entire world to see, we are not alone. In the wake of a pandemic, failing economic policies, energy shortages, supply chain issues, crop failures, war and the threat thereof, political discontent is growing. And it will continue to worsen for the indeterminable future.
Free and fair elections are a necessity of any democratic nation. When people lose faith in the system they may resign themselves to apathy, disengage and refuse to contribute when they do not believe they can have any meaningful impact. Resulting in the further entrenchment of corruption as society continues to crumble. We can see this in the quiet quitting and lying flat phenomena. On the other hand, the passionate allow their antipathy for the way things are to compromise their ethics and embrace more extreme solutions. All of which we can witness in the resurgence of certain ideologies the world over.
We must do everything we can to salvage what we can, beginning with the restoration of confidence in our elections. I will not pretend this is a panacea. But it is something which can be achieved in a relatively short period of time and go a long way in at least letting people know their voices are being heard.
Despite the complications of instituting a Digital ID, it can be completed in a piecemeal fashion. Which will then begin as a better voting system that is perfected over time as more data is integrated. If we refuse to act, these previously mentioned movements will only become more ubiquitous. Assuring our assorted ailments metastasize, thus forcing those of us who are lucky or unlucky enough to remain to rebuild from the ashes rather than renovate a dilapidated system with a strong foundation and robust frame.
Therefore, I call for a new movement. Even a political party, nonpartisan in its pursuit of a singular purpose: restoring democratic trust and transparency through the institution of a trustless voting system built on Bitcoin.
Just as Nakamoto championed a new financial system based on these principles, we should carry the torch onward by applying it to democracy itself. Financial freedom is inherently political in nature, but why should we stop there? In addition to banking the unbanked, we must give voice to voiceless by preventing those who would manipulate our antiquated and vulnerable voting systems by shouting over and silencing others. We must ensure every voice is heard.
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