Can Blockchain Save Democracy?

Published date26 November 2020
Law FirmMarks & Clerk
AuthorMr Matthew Pinney

Several weeks on from the US election, and despite victory having been called for Joe Biden, the perception persists in some quarters that the election was undermined by alleged voting irregularities.

The coronavirus pandemic, and social distancing measures, meant there were particular challenges in the administration of this election. Even in a normal year however, running an election which spans an entire continent, and with more than 230 million eligible voters, is a huge challenge. From manually counting (and re-counting) votes, checking postmarks and dealing with overseas voters or those who've moved from one state to another, the process is drawn out and difficult.

It's out of this difficulty that claims and counter-claims have emerged which, long-term, risk undermining faith in the result and more broadly in the democratic system. As with many problems however, there may be a technological solution to this challenge.

Voting Blocks

In a world where data is an ever more valuable commodity, blockchain technology promises to make data secure, thus ensuring trust in a given system can be maintained. A blockchain is a type of distributed ledger technology in which a shared ledger of records or transactions is maintained in blocks, it is designed to be immutable meaning that once information is stored on the blockchain it cannot be modified. A blockchain is open to inspection by the participants, and is decentralized meaning that it is not subject to any form of central control.

Until now, the technology has primarily been deployed in cryptocurrencies and financial services where the protection of customer and institutional data is of critical importance.

Could the same assurances of security help bolster faith in elections too?

The US election saw the first ever blockchain vote cast in Utah and, while it's a small first step, it could well be the shape of things to come. At Marks & Clerk we analysed recent patent filing trends in the blockchain field and found that, while patent applications geared towards financial services still dominate, blockchain patents geared towards electoral voting applications are increasing.

It is likely that blockchain technology will need to be implemented as part of a wider cryptographic solution to ensure complete security. For example, when voting remotely the phone or computer of a voter needs to be protected from malware to ensure the voter's vote is cast on to the blockchain to the candidate of their choice. Thus it is...

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