The 2016 Presidential Election shined a spotlight on how vulnerable America’s voting system may be to outside influence, as Russian operatives used social media to sway voters and compromised several states’ voter registration systems prior to the election. Now, West Virginia has become the first state to attempt to bolster the election system using the same technology that powers cryptocurrencies, the blockchain.
In a March 28 statement, West Virginia Secretary of State, Mac Warner, announced the launch of a trial voting system for absentee voters in the military. Members of the military would cast their ballot using a blockchain-powered app. Warner hopes to roll this system out widely in time for the November midterms and went on Cheddar’s Morning Bell to explain how it would work.
“The county clerk provides to the vendor, who is enabled to vote, then the vendor sends an app notification to the soldier telling them they’re ready to vote,” he says. “Once they vote they have to [provide] a government-issued identity, then they take a selfie to verify you’re a live person. Then at the end of the vote you and put a thumbprint so you have another biometric identification that secures you are that person voting then.”
According to the project’s white paper this system will only be available for two counties in the state for now. But there are plans to offer it across all 55 of West Virginia’s counties.
The blockchain is an encrypted public ledger, or simply a growing lists of records that are secured using cryptography. Using a system like this is certainly more secure than traditional methods of storing voting information, but they shouldn’t be considered unhackable. A hacker collective known as “51 Crew” were able to take control of small blockchain networks being used for cryptocurrencies.
The underlying software of the blockchain is written by humans and is always subject to error. Hackers are constantly looking for these mistakes to exploit.
While this new voting system is a step in the right direction to improve voter security, it should not be looked at as an infallible system. Hackers are endlessly resourceful and thinking otherwise is a security flaw in and of itself.