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Blockchain-based elections would be a disaster for democracy

If you talk to experts on election security they’ll tell you that we’re nowhere close to being ready for online voting. “Mobile voting is a horrific idea,” said election security expert Joe Hall when I asked him about a West Virginia experiment with blockchain-based mobile voting back in August.

But on Tuesday, The New York Times published an opinion piece claiming the opposite.

“Building a workable, scalable, and inclusive online voting system is now possible, thanks to blockchain technologies,” writes Alex Tapscott, whom the Times describes as co-founder of the Blockchain Research Institute.

Tapscott is wrong—and dangerously so. Online voting would be a huge threat to the integrity of our elections—and to public faith in election outcomes.

Tapscott focuses on the idea that blockchain technology would allow people to vote anonymously while still being able to verify that their vote was included in the final total. Even assuming this is mathematically possible—and I think it probably is—this idea ignores the many, many ways that foreign governments could compromise an online vote without breaking the core cryptographic algorithms.

For example, foreign governments could hack into the computer systems that governments use to generate and distribute cryptographic credentials to voters. They could bribe election officials to supply them with copies of voters’ credentials. They could hack into the PCs or smartphones voters use to cast their votes. They could send voters phishing emails to trick them into revealing their voting credentials—or simply trick them into thinking they’ve cast a vote when they haven’t.