Business of Fintech

‘A big step in the right direction’: Settlemint’s founder and CEO on blockchain e-voting

  • Blockchain e-voting has the potential to revitalize voting on a national scale.
  • Matthew Van Niekerk walks us through blockchain's possible impact on the United States voting system.
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‘A big step in the right direction’: Settlemint’s founder and CEO on blockchain e-voting

The week of the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, Tradestreaming published an article on the future of blockchain e-voting. We detailed the challenges of instituting a blockchain e-voting (BEV) system on a national scale, and what benefits this type of system could bring to underserved voters. We’re following up with an in-depth interview with Matthew Van Niekerk, founder and CEO of Belgian startup SettleMint, which built a BEV voting app specifically for the 2016 presidential election.

Some advocates are trying to revitalize the U.S. voting system with calls to do away with the electoral vote. Van Niekerk, on the other hand, explains how blockchain could be a serious contender for best changemaker in the U.S. voting system. The below remarks have been lightly edited for clarity.

Transparency about how delegates are allocated

It’s a complicated system that is different for each state, which set their own rules. It is actually rare that delegate counts match the percentage of votes that candidates receive in the primaries. In setting up a blockchain solution (admittedly, any replacement for the current system and not just a blockchain based one ) would require that these rules be universally documented and understood.

Election certainty

Once recorded, the results are immutable by design in a blockchain based voting solution so at the end of the voting period, click the results button and you have an incontestable result. The results can be stored in a fully anonymous way yet each and every voter can verify that the results were not tampered with. Over-writing or tampering with a traditional database (Oracle, MYSQL, etc) is as simple as executing a script to replace values that are recorded.

It is not to say that the owner of the database would act necessarily out of bad intentions (generally they are interested in representing the truth as well). However, once hacked, they are susceptible to the ill intentions of bad actors out there. The results of a vote in an election can be independently verified to ensure that no votes were changed or removed and no unregistered votes were added.

Cheaper and more accurate

Today there are a myriad of technologies used in voting in the federal election in the US. These range from paper ballots to online voting from central voting booths. This flexibility allows for local control over the methods used and the cost associated with voting.

However, the reconciliation efforts afterwards are costly and prone to human errors. The financial sector is seeing a lot of promise from [blockchain] precisely because it will remove the back office costs associated with reconciling records across participants in the system. Having a more streamlined set of technical options to cast votes will be less costly and remove risks of reconciliation errors.

More representative

We live in a digital age. Mobile penetration in the US is above 80 percent, and internet penetration, nearly 85 percent, has been flat for the past three years. Adoption is pretty much as far as its going to get. Contrast this with the 96 million eligible voters who did not vote (roughly 41 percent).

I believe that although many deliberately chose to abstain from the vote, a significant portion would have cast their vote if they were able to do so from the comfort of their home, their mobile device or another location where they have access to a secure online connection. If this were the case, the vote would be more representative of the will of the nation.

For someone deep in blockchain territory, Van Niekerk is realistic about blockchain’s disruptive properties, noting that a BEV solution to the U.S.’s voting challenges will take time and effort to implement. Nevertheless, he is “convinced that it would be a big step in the right direction.”

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