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Andrew Yang wants to put voting on the blockchain

U.S. Democratic Presidential candidate Andrew Yang wants to modernize the U.S. voting system by putting it on the blockchain. Is he on to something?

U.S. Democratic Presidential candidate Andrew Yang comes from a tech-friendly background. He was the CEO of Manhattan Prep and he founded the non-profit fellowship program, Venture for America. In a political field comprised of aging politicians, many of whom struggle to send an email, Yang stands out as a savvy technologist determined to harness the best technology solutions to mitigate against the worst technology caused problems.

The Freedom Dividend

Yang is running on a UBI (universal basic income) platform. Yang’s position is that in the next 12 years, 1 out of 3 American workers are at risk of losing their jobs to new technologies. On his campaign website, he says that unlike the past, this time new jobs will not appear quickly enough or in large enough numbers to make up for it.

“To avoid an unprecedented crisis, we’re going to have to find a new solution, unlike anything we’ve done before. It all begins with the Freedom Dividend, a universal basic income for all American adults, no strings attached – a foundation on which a stable, prosperous, and just society can be built,” he says.

The crypto candidate

Yang is certainly the most crypto-friendly candidate on either side of the aisle. Back in 2018, Yang made it possible to donate to his campaign using crypto assets, and he is supportive of the US becoming a crypto innovator.

“Investment in cryptocurrencies and digital assets has far outpaced our regulatory frameworks in the US. We should let investors, companies, and individuals know what the landscape and treatment will be moving forward to support innovation and development. The blockchain has vast potential,” says Yang on his website.

Now, Yang has gone further. He wants to modernize voting by using mobile phones as the voting interface, and a blockchain to ensure security and identity verification. This would dramatically increase participation in all elections, whether local, state or federal. Considering the advances in technology, according to Yang, there’s no reason why people should still be waiting in line at polling stations to cast their vote. By making it a difficult and time-consuming to vote, this discourages voting and rewards extreme points of view, as opposed to the popular will of the people.

So what’s the solution? On his website, Yang says “It is 100% technically possible to have fraud-proof voting on our mobile phones today using the blockchain. This would revolutionize true democracy and increase participation to include all Americans – those without smartphones could use the legacy system and lines would be very short."

Blockchain not a proven solution

While this sounds like a promising idea, Yang’s website is punishingly short on details. While it’s true that the US electoral voting system is antiquated, inefficient and vulnerable to attack, it’s not yet clear whether blockchain can provide a solution.

On a recent Crypto Conversation podcast, I spoke to Ed Felten, a Professor of Computer Science at Princeton University who served in the White House as Deputy Chief Technology Officer to President Obama. Felten is a co-founder at Offchain Labs, and a blockchain expert.

In 2008, Felten and his team of researchers at Princeton uncovered serious vulnerabilities in the Diebold and Sequoia voting machines that the U.S. electoral system uses. A decade later, Felten said that worries remain.

“The good news is that many more places in the U.S. use more secure voting machines that create systems in which there is a paper record of the vote which the voter examines before casting the vote. Those are the best systems from a security standpoint and the proportion of U.S. voters who use that kind of system continues to go up. The bad news is that there is still a substantial number who are voting on less secure systems.”

In the meantime, says Felten, the nature of the threat to elections has evolved. There are new threats around disinformation and attempts to undermine the public discourse. Felten says that a majority of decision-makers understand there is an issue but getting them to act against one threat in preference to acting against another is one of the challenges from the standpoint of policymakers.

“I can tell you from being in those policymaking rooms in the Obama Administration that the cyber security space is home to a huge array of threats and the need to choose which things to address and which to leave until later is constant. Even though you wish you could address them all now, it’s not always possible and unfortunately, our election systems have been left behind in a lot of places.”

While there is a general skepticism amongst security professionals towards online voting, the problems of maintaining a free and fair electoral system are many and complex. Felten says that blockchain is unlikely to provide the answer.

“I’m skeptical of the use of blockchains for voting in public elections. The reason that public elections are so difficult from a security standpoint is that you have two strong security requirements that are in tension with each other. First is the need to protect the secrecy of every vote. The secret ballot is important to protect against the threat of vote-buying. Secondly, we need to be certain that every vote that is counted matches up with one voter who was authorized to vote and came and voted. So you need to have a strong one to one correspondence between counted votes and voters on the one hand, and on the other hand, the voter and their vote cannot be linkable together. Blockchains are good at public record-keeping and the creation of a public audit log of what happened. That is not as useful for voting as one might hope because of the secret ballot requirement and so unfortunately I think we need to look in other places for the bulk of election security.”

Can Andrew Yang and the #YangGang make progress in this area? He’ll have to win the nomination to become the Democratic nominee first, and realistically, he’s an outside chance. Still, strange things can happen in American election cycles, and with a growing social media army, and a successful viral appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience, it’s too soon to count him out.


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