Over a decade after its concept was introduced in Satoshi Nakamoto’s “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic technologicalCash System,” blockchain cryptography still stands as one of the hottest game-changers of our time.
The United States government is among its biggest fans. According to the folks at Fortunly, technology has already been adopted by the First State. In hopes of increasing accountability while reducing paperwork and curbing fraud, the Delaware Blockchain Initiative was launched.
With politics now in the mix, however, it should not be surprising to hear blockchain in the news. The participation of Voatz, a Boston-based tech company that develops a blockchain-driven smartphone app, is one of these instances.
The company’s app was used for the pilot mobile voting programs of West Virginia in 2018 and of Denver and Utah in 2019 to allow overseas voters, particularly military personnel, to participate in the elections digitally.
The idea was embraced by many, and Voatz claimed that the submission of ballots was successful. Election experts beg to differ, though. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has now entered the scene too.
The biggest criticism directed at Voatz’s technology is the fact it sends the digital overseas ballot to the country clerk for printing and for tabulation back home without proper verification by the voter.
Even if a voter believes that the information the ballot contains reflects their true intent, there is no telling whether the same data is fed into the scanning tabulator. In a paper-based system, the voter has the chance to check the physical ballot during the vote-casting process.
The company said verifiable receipt is emailed to each voter and an anonymous copy is sent to the county too. Experts argue that such a process does not guarantee that the digital receipt an overseas voter sees and the printed ballot an election officer in America holds actually match.
Voatz’s reluctance to allow absolute transparency is adding fuel to the flame. The company tapped security experts as auditors, but their reports can’t be released to the public and their identities can’t be revealed because of their nondisclosure agreement.
Voatz maintains its policy to protect any proprietary information about its tech, but it does little to quiet its detractors. Until the company finds a way to enable voters to verify their vote in the blockchain themselves, its critics are not going to relent.
During the 2018 midterm elections in West Virginia, there were attempts to tamper with the Voatz blockchain-based voting system.
The hacking efforts failed and the Internet Protocol addresses from the devices the cyber attackers used are now in the hands of the FBI. Apart from unmasking the hackers, the investigation aims to find out if and which crimes were committed.
As a side note, Patrick Byrne, the former chief executive officer of one of Voatz’s investors, Overstock, had a romantic relationship with a Russian agent, Maria Butina. Although Butina pled guilty to a conspiracy charge regarding her mission to infiltrate an influential gun rights group in America, Byrne immediately stood down as the CEO after revealing his affiliation with her.
The scandal may have not nothing to do with Voatz and its recent pilot mobile voting projects, but the company’s association with Overstock might hurt its credibility later on because of it.
Blockchain can be a potent tool to ensure election integrity. Given Voatz’s controversies, however, it might be too risky to use its technology for the 2020 elections at a larger scale for now. For other great articles check out cripto-valuta.net/.