Blockchain Technology: A potential solution to systemic voter suppression

On February 10th the World Jurist Association hosted a side event at the United Nations, entitled Blockchain: Highway to a Deliberative Democracy. Experts in financial, legal, technical, and philosophical industries came together and presented the different ways that blockchain technology can be leveraged in order to improve Democratic Governance. The audience comprised government officials, academics, and technological leaders. Joseph Lubin, the founder of ConsenSys and a major player in the blockchain space, presented the concept of a decentralized web 3.0 as enabled by blockchain technology, and the ways in which this development is uniquely positioned to aid people in both the developing and developed world through the creation of self sovereign identities.

“Blockchain is the first global, long term, permission-less, transparent and, non-reputable shared database. It is really the first appropriate context for establishing global identity,” Lubin said. “In the developing world, a person could establish their own blockchain identity and have their social context, launch attestations that share reputation with the person being identified, and in that way, establish a portable reputation on the blockchain, and perhaps get a micro loan.”

Secure voting, and the protection of voter rights are core values of democracy, that often find themselves challenged in governments around the world. It’s well documented that there are systemic problems within the U.S. voting system that prevent impoverished people and minorities from having an equal voice in our political system.

According to the Associated Press Election Research Group more than 70% of American citizens who make more than $50,000 dollars a year vote in presidential elections. Not even 50% of Americans making less than $50,000 a year vote. These numbers also mirror education levels, as more than 70% of college graduates vote, while about 50% of citizens with only high school degrees make it to the polls. It is true that some people make the conscious decision of exercising their right to abstain from voting, but many impoverished people simply do not have the opportunity to do so. If a single mother working two jobs takes the time off to vote, her children may not be able to to eat that night. A construction worker who was injured on a job site and is living off of disability may find it too difficult to take public transportation to the poll, and cannot afford to pay for a taxi.

Along the same lines, 11 states currently require the presentation of a current photo I.D. in order to vote. Impoverished people don’t have passports, they often don’t have licenses, and sometimes have to travel as far as 250 miles to obtain a state issued I.D. card. As the Washington Post reported, lawmakers in these states justify these I.D. laws as necessary in order to prevent voter fraud, but truthfully these laws are in place because conservatives are fear having the poor and minorities be able to vote. Our voting system is antiquated, and prevents a large portion of our population from participating in our democracy. Poorer americans are systemically excluded from our governance process because lawmakers fear that these voters will cost them elections. A change for equality is needed, and the technology to lead it is available.

By using blockchain technology, we can effectively end systemic voter discrimination while simultaneously creating a greater bulwark against voter fraud. Blockchains are immalleable databases that make every “transaction” publicly transparent. With voting dApps built on a blockchain, where votes are “transactions,” we can make mobile voting a reality. People won’t have to take the time to travel to a polling location in order to vote. The single mother that was previously mentioned can vote from her phone or a computer at work. The man on disability can vote from a tablet, or his local library. Citizens will no longer have to sacrifice time or money to vote.

But what about the I.D. issue, and the lawmakers’ fear of voter fraud? We can kill both these birds with one…blockchain.

FinTech company BanQu is creating economic identities for people in order to combat poverty. They are currently using a mash up of selfies, biometrics, and key physical attributes to help create a secure identity for displaced people in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp (learn more here), allowing them to participate in the global economy. By using these concepts and tools, we can create voting identities for people that will simultaneously combat voter fraud and the barrier to voting that is government issued I.D.’s.

An opposed party might argue that mobile voting opens a dangerous opportunity for coercion. What is to stop a group of individuals from patrolling a town and forcing citizens to vote for a certain candidate? This is valid concern, and may make mobile voting too dangerous of an option. In that case, why not use tools like uPort, a blockchain identity project aimed at creating a global, unified, sovereign identity system, in order to ensure that no matter what polling station a citizen votes at, their vote still counts for their home voting district. By tying one’s vote to a voter identity, and tying that identity to their home district, we can ensure that people who work far from their voting districts are still able to easily vote at the polling location closest to their workplace. While this may not open the vote to as many people as mobile voting, many people that the current voting system hinders would be able to cast their votes on election day.

These voter identities would ensure that people are who they say they are, appeasing lawmakers’ supposed fear of fraudulent voters, while simultaneously securing our voting system against fraud and other malicious actions. If someone were to cast a vote, using their voting identity, the occurrence of that “transaction” would be public, ensuring that the vote couldn’t be lost. At the same time, the nature of the technology means that it would be impossible for someone to tamper with that “transaction” without controlling 51% of all computing power utilizing that blockchain.

Removing the barriers that impoverished people currently face will drastically change the nation’s voting demographics, and may upset certain segments of our government. They will oppose blockchain voting innovations much like they have opposed the relaxation of voter I.D. laws, as they fear losing their seats. Unfortunately for them, the underrepresented members of our nation have as much a right to vote as any other citizen. Hopefully one day soon blockchain technology, along with civil rights and social movements, ends the exclusion of certain Americans from the governance of their nation.