Voting for a Mobile World

The problem

Blazing wildfires consumed thousands of acres of woodland across Eastern Kentucky on November 8, 2016 – more than 400 Kentucky first responders took to the 38 active infernos in an attempt to curb their progress and quell the State of Emergency. These brave firefighters sacrificed not only their safety, but also their vote. Unable to make it to the polls on Election Day, these women and men simply could not partake in the democratic process.

Most eligible Americans should remember November 8, 2016 as the day when they voted – but the truth is that 44.6% did not vote…that’s over 100,000,000 people who can vote but are not voting. While not all of these voters shared the experience of the admirable Kentucky first responders, many did. The estimated 96% of the 2.6 million Americans living overseas can certainly empathize; only 4% of eligible overseas citizens voted. When first responders and America’s military, the very people putting themselves on the line for the democratic process, are disenfranchised from the process itself, we have a massive problem.

Furthermore, voter confidence in our election process is waning, in fact:

  • Only ~30% of voters trust that ballots were counted as cast at a national level
  • Only ~65% of voters trust their own ballot was counted as cast
  • Only 41% of voters believe the election was fairly determined
  • 45% of voters believe voter fraud could have affected the outcome of the election
  • 36% of voters trust national elections less after learning that a majority of states use voting machines that are at least a decade old *

The takeaway is simply that too many voters don’t trust the integrity of the US election system.

While some of this skepticism is unfounded, much of it is reasonable. Even when you are aware of:

  • the checks and balances in place to prevent fraud;
  • how the decentralized nature of the system makes it difficult to orchestrate an attack on 10,000 independent local jurisdictions;
  • the post-election reviews and audits of results to ensure accuracy and integrity;
  • the physical security of machines

It is still easy to find flaws in the process itself. For example, postal service obstacles caused roughly 17,000 ballots from our citizens overseas to not be recorded. *

Ultimately, to be a strong representative democracy, there are two staples we should strive for in our election process:

  1. Everyone who is eligible to vote, should be able to
  2. Integrity of the vote

It should be easy to vote (maximize participation) and impossible to cheat (maximize trust & security).

Access and integrity are not mutually exclusive

In elections, many believe there is an inherent tradeoff between ease of use and integrity of the process; by making it easier to vote you are necessarily weakening the integrity of the vote.

This is a fallacy. Think about online banking. Think about autonomous vehicles. Think about online voting in other countries (Estonia, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, France, New South Wales, even in some jurisdictions here in the US).

Increased convenience and accessibility can coincide with an increase in overall security and integrity. Voting has its own nuances that make it distinct from other technological challenges, but these challenges should not prevent us from attempting to work through them.


  • 8.1 million Americans with visual impairment
  • 7.6 million with auditory impairment
  • 30.6 million who use a wheelchair/walker
  • 19.9 million who have difficulty lifting and grasping (including pencils)
  • > 2.5 million UOCAVA (Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act) voters
  • 53% of voters citing inability to physically make it to the polls as the primary reason why they don’t vote*

…we do not have a choice.

Voting for a mobile world

So we’ve set the stage – It’s time to take a deliberate pause and think about the state of our democratic process:

We have millions of skeptical voters who don’t trust the process, millions of people who do not vote because they physically don’t make it to the polls, and an election infrastructure built many years before the first iPhone.

To increase turnout and make elections as accessible as they should be, we have to bring the process into the 21st century.

The internet is not the same internet it was back in days of dial-up when our turn-of-the-century election technology was state of the art. Historically, our elections have taken place almost entirely offline; and even today, most systems are not connected to the internet, including tabulation (vote counting) machines. Technological challenges of authentication, security, auditability, and robustness inhibited us from even considering the possibility of online elections. However, in a world where the digital divide is narrowing and an overwhelming, growing and tech-savvy majority have access to mobile technology, the internet not only becomes technologically feasible but also a powerful enfranchisement platform. Furthermore, Blockchain is the technology that makes the internet a viable medium to transact in a world where no one trusts anyone else. 

As Satoshi Nakamoto said best, we now have the technological capability to provide a voting system “for electronic transactions without relying on trust…the network is robust in its unstructured simplicity.” *

Voters want a level of transparency to know that their vote was cast as intended, counted as cast, and auditable. Voters want to know that the results were not tampered with. Voters want to feel and assure that their vote counts. Blockchain does these things – it offers process efficiency, immediate transparency of election results, much higher data security, data interoperability with existing voting systems, lower cost than our legacy systems, fraud elimination, increased auditability, and error reduction.

In practice

Let’s think about how this plays out in real life taking a disenfranchised Marine serving abroad and comparing what their experience looks like today relative to what it could be.


“…challenges faced by military voters are immense. As America’s most mobile population, military voters are constantly on the go moving from one duty station to the next. If they have any hope of voting, military voters are required to navigate a confusing array of state absentee voting laws. In many cases, the request for an absentee ballot never comes or comes too late to vote.” * 

The military are subject to an incredibly logistically complicated process with complete lack of transparency into any of it – did their request for a ballot go through? Did it make it back to the US and in time for the election or was it counted provisionally? If it made it back, did their marked ballot get tallied properly?


…on a mobile Blockchain voting platform, a submarine-stationed Marine somewhere in the mid-Atlantic can request, receive, mark, return, and verify their ballot in a matter of minutes. Furthermore, leveraging cryptographic proofs and modern encryption methods, this Marine could cast their vote through the Blockchain platform, with full transparency into the process, having their vote authenticated and validated by trusted election auditors in real time, without ever compromising their privacy – voter secrecy is maintained.

To the future

A Blockchain mobile voting platform ultimately reduces the level of blind trust required in election administrators as voters can guarantee the integrity of the election. The platform is exponentially more convenient and accessible to the voters and to administrators. The platform is financially responsible relative to the high-costs associated with paper elections. And, because the Blockchain produces an immutable audit trail, skeptics, voters, non-voters, and anyone else can verify the accuracy of the election.

This is not to say we can actually do this tomorrow and that it will be easy to implement, integrate and offer mobile voting as an alternative medium to traditional methods; nor is this to say I’m a legitimate psephologist or Satoshi Nakamoto incarnate. There are plenty of security, usability, accessibility and other technological challenges to work through, but we should recognize this is not a senseless hypothetical – this is well within the realm of possibility.

Champion the prospect of making it easier to vote and harder to cheat!

* Sources – Pew Research Center (12.2016), MIT (12.2016), Democracy Fund (11.2016), Smartmatic (12.2016), US Census (2014, 2016), FVAP (11/2016), mvpProject, Nakamoto, Satoshi. “Bitcoin: A peer-to-peer electronic cash system.” (2008): 28.

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