The Iowa Caucuses this year were an absolute catastrophe. The New York Times called it “a systemwide disaster.” The Politico hailed “The Death of Iowa” (as the first-in-the-nation nominating event). CNN said, “The Iowa caucuses just died forever.” Their credibility is undoubtedly in question. But it wasn’t the people of Iowa who failed. A buggy failed app was at the center of the complete and total meltdown of the voting process. And a shadowy political consulting firm that designed it.
Cryptocurrency-friendly presidential candidate, Andrew Yang quipped:
It might be helpful to have a President and government that understand technology so this sort of thing doesn’t happen.
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) February 4, 2020
The Iowa Voting App Fiasco
But it’s not exactly the president who could have prevented this. The state Democratic Party of Iowa commissioned the app. This year was its first real-world, live test in an actual caucus. The party hired a former Clinton campaign veteran to build it. The name of the political consultant’s firm is literally “Shadow.” That got a lot of conspiracy theories going. Especially since the founder is married to a senior strategist for Mayor Pete Buttigieg. And Buttigieg won in Iowa this week.
But the failure of political operatives to do tech right should not be surprising to us. They’re experts at law and electioneering, not code and engineering. That’s why Yang is partially correct, but when it comes to who is designing voting software – it needs the blockchain ethos, and apolitical software engineers to design and implement it.
Bitcoin was among the first manifestations of the blockchain. A transparent, independently verifiable, and an immutable financial record was the goal that shaped its design philosophy. But in the 2020s, democracy needs a ballot blockchain, a transparent, independently verifiable, and immutable voting record.
Blockchain Voting Is The Future
If elections are to be run with software, this could be one of the most effective ways to safeguard democracy. Today, nearly all votes are entered and tallied by electronic voting machines. A public blockchain record of ballots can provide the immutable trust that is required.
Electronic voting machines have proven to be hard to trust. They run on opaque, proprietary software. It’s often written by hardly disinterested vendors, but groups invested in election outcomes (like Shadow).
And they don’t know what they’re doing. Voting machines are vulnerable to exploits by hackers. In 2018, an 11-year-old amateur hacker cracked a Florida voting machine in 10 minutes at DefCon, a hacker conference in Las Vegas. So think of what motivated, professional, well-equipped, and funded Russian or Chinese state actors could do? Or U.S.-based malicious actors who want to steal an election? Or completely non-malicious political consultants who can’t get the app to work? And because it’s not transparent and open-source, there’s no public code review to prevent that.
But even if everything is fine, there’s no hacking, and there are no software crashes– one can never be sure the result is legitimate. Not unless the software that delivers it lives in the open like Bitcoin. Only then can the results be trusted.
Disclaimer: This article is the opinion of the author, and does not represent professional financial or investing advice.
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