Motivations

Every eligible individual should be able to actively participate in democracy by easily and safely voting when, how, and where they want. Democratic institutions generally subscribe to this philosophy, yet do little to implement it in practice. The guiding philosophy follows:

“We should be guided by the dynamics of the voting public we serve — seniors whose needs include accessibility and readability of materials; persons with disabilities who have a reasonable expectation of fair and respectful service that allows for a private and secure voting experience; busy professionals who seek options for voting that match their mobile lifestyles — before and on Election Day; citizens with an array of cultural and ethnic backgrounds who depend on increased language accessibility and voter assistance; and future voters whose expectations may include things not yet considered.”
Dean C. Logan | LA County Registrar-Recorder | August 8, 2013

To realize this grand vision, it is impossible to envision the future of democracy where elections remain void of technology and modern design practices; digital democracy will be the global standard. Unfortunately, there exists a wide gap between this inevitability and the progress actually being made towards secure remote voting. In fact, most recent efforts, technically and legislatively, have been focused on in-person, paper-based voting.

As major corporate system hacks and election meddling by foreign nation states dominate the news cycle, it is no surprise that digitally enabled systems pose serious challenges. In the context of elections, these challenges revolve around reconciling the tension between strong privacy and security requirements; it is difficult to both guarantee the correctness of the results and the inability of voters to demonstrate how they have voted. Furthermore, this must all be done in an environment where everyone is potentially adversarial and no one is to be trusted (*).

However, moving backwards towards anachronistic electoral practices ignores an increasingly demanding, mobile, and connected society with a need for broader access, public transparency, and individual verifiability. As opposed to working collaboratively to find solutions to these problems, many are trying pull the industry back into the past.

Society no longer rides horse and buggy despite the risk of auto accidents introduced by cars; the mere existence of risk should not preclude technological progress. Compromises are made to optimize for the trade-off between a technology’s realized human benefit and potential risk. Risk is mitigated to control for the likelihood of any postulated threat transpiring and for the effect that transpired threat may have is known and acceptable.

Objectives

Restore Trust in Elections. Our current election infrastructure does not earn the trust of those using it, rather, it demands it without offering the verifiable proof that a voter’s vote was cast and counted as intended. Voters must be provided sufficiently convincing evidence that election integrity has not been compromised.

Make it Easy to Vote and Impossible to Cheat. The unfortunate downside of in-person, paper-based elections is that access to voting is reduced, negatively impacting an increasingly mobile society. Mobile technology is passed its point of ubiquity; imagine if your only option for filing your taxes was to appear at the IRS in person, your only option for banking to show up to your local branch at their hours, and your only option for shopping to go to the store. With elections, it is not just a matter of convenience; people risk their lives to participate in elections, and far too many lose their lives doing so.

Make Elections Transparent. It is inaccurate to say that paper ballots increase transparency and trust (1); there is a distinct lack of clarity in our current voting process as made notorious through “black-box” systems. When a voter casts a paper ballot in a polling place, how does she fundamentally know that her vote was properly submitted and tallied? In most elections today, even with procedural and legislative support, paper trails are not worth the paper they are printed on.

Voter trust is fundamental to a sound democratic process and, without it, election results have little to no value to those participating. Despite the tremendous efforts put forth by every dedicated elections official across the U.S. during the 2016 election cycleless than 1/3 of all Americans were confident that votes nationwide were counted as intended and only 66% of Americans were confident that their own vote was counted as intended (2).

This is indeed a crisis of trust and indicative of a tremendous civic problem as confidence in elections has been waning over time and today is at historic lows. It is clearly time to rethink our voting systems in a voter-centric way. In consequential governmental elections, a more transparent and publicly-verifiable process is needed. Ultimately, a method that is independently and easily verifiable by election management bodies, trusted independent authorities, and individually by each voter, is the only true solution to push democratic decision making towards greater dependability, accuracy, and accountability while restoring the trust of those participating.



(*) Blockchain architecture specifically addresses one of the most difficult factors challenging electoral integrity — the trust model. Blockchain ensures trust is distributed amongst a set of mutually distrustful parties, all of whom are potentially adversarial, that participate in jointly managing and maintaining the cryptographically secure digital trail of the election. By distributing trust in this way, blockchains create a trustless environment whereby the amount of trust required from those participating in an election is minimized.

(1) Selker, Ted, and Jon Goler. “Security vulnerabilities and problems with VVPT.” (2004).

(2) Massachusetts Institute of Technology — Department of Political Science 2016 Survey of the Performance of American Elections

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