USPS’ Blockchain Patent Won’t Solve Mail-In Voting Issues

Usps blockchain patent wont solve mail in voting issues

Amid the US Postal Service controversy, the agency itself seems to be investigating some security options. According to Forbes, the USPS filed a patent application in February for “a voting system that can use the security of blockchain and mail to provide a reliable voting system.”

“A registered voter receives a computer-readable code in the mail and verifies the identity and correct ballot information in an election,” the patent reads. “The system separates voter identification and votes to ensure vote anonymity, and to store votes on distributed ledgers in a blockchain.”

A USPS spokesman said the patent was “pending”. He did not comment further about any research that may be going on.

A new verification method

The idea of ​​using blockchain to store and validate identities is not a new one, but the idea of ​​using it in the context of polling presents a complex problem.

Blockchain is a technology that was developed as an Internet cryptocurrency bitcoin as well as a secure, decentralized ledger to keep track of bitcoin transactions. The idea was that it would be impossible to hack or change lasers if there is a continuous rotation of many different servers around the world, keeping all the information in bookkeeping. This idea has taken hold in many different sectors and industries as a potential new way of storing data safely.

Robert Gallerza is the CEO of the company TruTrace Technologies, which maintains blockchain-enabled platforms to track intellectual property. They feel that blockchain is the “truly future” of voting, and that the use of blockchain can “validate identity” and “ensure accuracy in voting results.”

If a voter can upload his photo ID or voter registration, is it automatically valid that whoever holds the master key for the ledger. “It will be like having a master voting record that will be there forever. No, no hanging sticks, no Russian hacking, ”said Galarza.

Only one piece of the puzzle

However, gaining a person’s identity is only part of the story when it comes to voting. While campaigners such as Galarza believe the use of blockchain in voting may be unavoidable (in fact, some municipalities in India and Russia have already tried), other software engineers and cryptographers do not share the same sun view. In fact, they worry that it may make voting worse.

In 2017, software engineer Ben Edida wrote a blog post explaining why blockchain is being used to vote. Adida is now the executive director of VotingWorks, the only non-profit election equipment vendor in the US. In the three years since writing that post, Adida told that not much had changed, and he believed the blockchain would not solve all the myriad problems in the voting system.

Adidas would prefer to run a tank at the grocery store to do the shopping, said Blockchain, using blockchain to secure voting. “You can do that, but why?” Adida told . “It’s hard to argue that the tank won’t get you there, but that’s not the problem I’m trying to solve.”

In other words, driving a tank to the grocery store is a super-cumbersome way to solve a small part of the issues surrounding grocery shopping. Similarly, in the complex question of voting and the best to do it, Edida said, there is not much to add to the blockchain. And in fact, it can make things more complicated.

First of all, the idea that America is not ready to vote online for the first time is a topic largely covered. However, with the technical glitch in the Iowa caucus over the years, experts still agree that mail-in voting would be the safest and healthiest way to conduct a poll this year.

“If you vote online, the main problem is how to maintain voter privacy,” said Adida. “Nobody, but you should know your vote.” This is a requirement that does not exist for anything else online. You expect your bank to know how much money you have. You expect your doctor to look at your health record. If you are voting, how will you re-create a world where no one knows how you voted, especially not someone running the server? “

This is something that the blockchain cannot solve. “The central challenge of voting – instilling confidence in results while maintaining individual voter confidentiality – is not solved by the blockchain,” Adida said. “So really, the whole discussion is sideways. There is nothing fundamental that brings the blockchain.”

“The core problem is solving the idea of ​​secret voting,” Edida said. He said, “The only way we know how to solve this is to give a paper ballot to every voter. They can look at the ballot and say, ‘Yes, my vote was recorded XYZ way,’ and they don’t need to tell anyone how they voted. As you put an iPhone or server between you and your ballot, how do you know that you are viewing your ballot? This is the problem of voting, and nothing is done to address the blockchain. “

Digital mess

Sebastian Meunier, a consultant to popular fintech, published a similar treatise earlier in 2020, around the same time that the USPS filed the patent. Meunier did not respond to a request for comment, but in his post, he argues that “blockchains were specifically designed to curb the double spending of digital cash without using central third parties. Public voting a lot There is a different problem, it requires a different solution. “

Matthew Green, a professor of cryptography at Johns Hopkins, explained in a Twitter thread how blockchain would complicate matters rather than provide security solutions. Then, he raised the issue of trying to keep the votes secret and force-free and implementing such an arrangement would create another digital glitch.

Meunier pointed to studies conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the wake of the 2016 US presidential election, which found that a voting app claiming to use blockchain security could easily be disbanded, and the votes changed.

Not to mention, it seems that previous attempts to secure voting with the blockchain resulted in software that was easily hackable.

Either way, it seems that nothing related to blockchain is imminent in the American voting system. In its statement to , the USPS stated that “nothing will happen this year.” And while Galaraja called the final integration of the blockchain “a natural evolution into a better system”, he too thought there was no way it could be implemented by November. Adida agreed.

“If you want to vote by mail, make sure you request a mail ballot as soon as possible, and send it back as soon as possible,” Adida said. “We all want the Silver Bullet, but there is no Silver Bullet in voting, just a lot of bullets.”

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