With the 2020 presidential election less than a few weeks away — encumbered yet again by questions and concerns surrounding ballot security and fraud — revolutionary blockchain voting technology is being piloted in small pockets of the country.
And last week marked the first time a vote has ever been cast for a US president in the general election using such an app on a personal mobile phone, Fox News has learned exclusively.
“This is a historic day not only for ballot integrity and election systems but for liberty and the republic itself,” Josh Daniels, a Utah resident, told Fox News in a statement.
His vote went to former “Mighty Ducks” child actor turned cryptocurrency entrepreneur turned 2020 independent candidate Brock Pierce.
“In true pioneer spirit, Utah County is honored to be the first place where a Blockchain vote was cast in a presidential general election,” said Utah County Clerk Amelia Powers Gardner, who implemented the “Voatz” platform as both a security and cost-cutting measure 20 months ago. “We are proud to lead our state and the nation on this innovative and cutting edge technology.”
Gardner, who has been using the system for five elections, says it is “one of the most cost-effective initiatives” that her office has undertaken since she was elected 20 months ago.
And much of Pierce’s own campaign is centered on the push for technological innovation to solve the plethora of problems nationwide and ensure America retains her spot as the global frontrunner in modernization and advancement across all major industries.
“The problem with the internet is that you can copy anything – songs, videos, pictures. Internet technology does not allow for the information to stay in one place only,” Pierce told Fox News. “But blockchain is a database at its core and that database is impervious to any type of duplication, meaning it cannot be tampered with and there can only be one version of it, so when we talk about voting, it is perfectly suited to elections. It ensures the absolute integrity of our elections; it ensures voters can vote with confidence.”
Just last week, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the FBI released a joint advisory warning of “advanced persistent threat (APT) actors chaining vulnerabilities—a commonly used tactic exploiting multiple vulnerabilities in the course of a single intrusion—in an attempt to compromise federal and state, local, tribal and territorial (SLTT) government networks, critical infrastructure and elections organizations.”
CISA stressed that it is “aware of some instances where this activity resulted in unauthorized access to elections support systems; however, it has no evidence to date that integrity of elections data has been compromised” – at least for now. From Pierce’s lens, this should all be a problem of the past – at least in elections to come – and is slowly becoming a staple of the present.
The US electoral system, for the most part, in Pierce’s purview, is still trying to use “20th-century solutions for 21st-century problems,” but through blockchain, “everyone can vote from their phone, with no need to go to a voting booth.”
For one, “Voatz,” was most recently used in the 2020 Utah State GOP Convention and enabled voting for almost 4,000 delegates in 40 races, in addition to the Arizona GOP Convention, South Dakota GOP Convention and the Michigan Democratic Party Convention.
It was also used as a temporary mobile voting solution to record votes for deployed US military members by West Virginia in 2018, during the 2017 Tufts Community Union Senate Election in Massachusetts as well as to authenticate delegate badges at the 2016 Massachusetts Democratic State Convention and
So how does the technology work?
The Voatz app, which requires a phone number, photo identification and an authenticating “selfie,” uses both blockchain technology and biometrics to verify the voter’s identity. A secure token is issued via fingerprint activation and once a vote is submitted, it is printed and fed into a collation machine for tabulation.
“Voatz is a mobile elections platform that allows disenfranchised groups access to voting, including overseas citizens, deployed military and people with disabilities,” a spokesperson for the company told Fox News. “It’s the only platform designed to meet the four criteria required for mobile voting: security, identity confirmation, accessibility and audibility.”
The spokesperson also underscored that “all submitted ballots are eligible to undergo a public citizen’s post-election audit, in which anyone is able to participate as an auditor, hosted by the National Cybersecurity Center.”
However, it is one of several blockchain applications cropping up across the US in what many entrepreneurs predict is a pivotal step in ensuring fraud-free and fair elections. According to data compiled by Pitchbook, a capital marketing company, more than $420 million has been poured into at least 27 election tech startups by 88 investors since the 2016 election, with the intention of revolutionizing the US voting system.
Supporters of the blockchain voting modalities are also quick to point out that it is a pro for both sides of the political aisle and one that will ultimately lead to increased voter numbers and civic engagement across the board, given its accessibility.
Average voter turnout in the United States for general elections over the past five decades hovers at around 52 percent, with local government elections often as low as under 10 percent.
“The accessibility will drive engagement. It will allow many more people to participate in the democratic process,” Pierce said. “And it’s a bipartisan solution – all parties want security and all parties want more voters and higher engagement.”
And in terms of ensuring that those without phones or in lower socio-economic community sectors, Pierce underscored that it need not be an “all or nothing” approach and that electronic voting should be utilized in addition to traditional polling booths.
However, turning to blockchain – and in due course, the thin rectangles that slip into one’s pocket – to carry out our constitutional right is one that is met with skepticism and security concerns by some experts, who say some of the touted technology just is not there yet.
“As common sense dictates, in lockstep with improvements in technology and information security, hackers have started getting more creative with the scams and hacks they carry out and blockchain breaches have been famously eviscerated with hacks,” contended Carl Herberger, vice president of security services at CyberSheath. “Through these hacks, we’ve learned that you could be one click away from malware that will cause harm to your files and crypto-assets. A blockchain hack could lead to far more systemic and scaled collapses as once hacked. Blockchain renders the entire system insecure.”
Yet the likes of Pierce still beg to differ, stressing that it is the inevitable way of the future.
“No one wants to turn this technology on in 2024; we are going to start seeing it much more in 2021 and 2022. I think by 2026 we will see it all over the world – people voting from their phones,” he added. “And people can have confidence in the system. Right now, many people lack that faith. This technology can restore that.”