As the 2016 election results clearly showed, Americans are a deeply divided nation when it comes to core issues like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
However, if there’s one issue that could unite Americans from across the political spectrum, it’s the future of voting. The American people, it turns out, vote in the strangest places, including Chinese restaurants, laundromats, and lifeguard stations. And while stills of people waiting in line to vote at a garage are always good for a laugh, the truth is that the way that today’s voting booth system is set up has some heavy social implications. Mandatory voter IDs that are expensive to acquire, getting time off of work to vote in the middle of the week, and the long lines and fewer polling places all conspire to keep disadvantaged voters from casting their vote.
There are, however, new technology initiatives to shake up exclusive voting systems, and, unsurprisingly, its being brought to the public courtesy of that decentralized ledger system, the blockchain. The language used to describe these initiatives are still couched in the hyped-up terms so often paired with blockchain. The European Parliamentary Research Service, for example, published a paper on the topic entitled, “What if blockchain technology revolutionized voting?”
What if, indeed — blockchain is nowhere close to upending traditional voting. But the potential for what it can do to voting systems should pique the attention of social activists. The EPRS projects that Blockchain Enabled e-Voting would cut back on voter fraud and could make voting more readily accessible for all voters.
The ‘What if?’ of blockchain voting is being driven further towards actualization by companies like Belgian startup SettleMint, who built a BEV voting app specifically for the 2016 presidential election. While the app has not been actually approved or used by the U.S. government, it’s a tangible glimpse into the possible future of BEV.
SettleMint received an undisclosed seed investment from Overstock in November 2016, but they aren’t the only ones exploring BEV possibilities. For instance, in September 2016, Broadridge Financial Services acquired technology to develop blockchain applications for Broadridge’s proxy voting business.
As with anything, but especially with blockchain, what goes up must come down, and any blockchain hype is almost immediately followed by crushing reality. The EPRS’ ‘What if?’ paper delineates some of the problems BEV could entail: e-voting raises the risk of the voting coercion, could confuse voters with too many voting options, and, without government oversight, the decentralized blockchain could provide ample opportunities for voters’s identities – and how they voted – to be exposed.
Nevertheless, as a tool that has the potential to empower underrepresented, disadvantaged, or just lazy voters, BEV is something to look forward to. Whenever it happens.