By David Houston
Election results should be reliable and transparent, while voting should be user friendly and encourage participation. This is in keeping with the highest principles of democracy and relates directly to the Department of State’s voter monitoring responsibilities. However, voting and holding elections in many parts of the world are frequently problematic endeavors for several reasons. Enter blockchains. This nascent technology, often associated with cryptocurrencies, is a vast and complicated topic (this page on Diplopedia offers a good introduction). Nevertheless, the way that blockchains store and verify data without the need for a trusted central authority—an authority that is not always perceived as trustworthy by election stakeholders—could potentially revolutionize the entire process.
For the past several months, enthusiasts of this topic—ranging from policy advisors in Washington to members of the Document Security Alliance to first and second tour officers serving in Embassy Panama—have cast their vote as part of a Department-wide mock election with a simple proposition. Two canines (a beagle versus a short-haired pointer) each with an equestrian running mate (a colt and a stallion) compete to be top dog; Voters leverage the capabilities of blockchain technology to choose which dog/horse team they prefer. But amidst all this pageantry, there are several properties new to this electoral model that participants explore.
For example, voters may opt to change their vote one time, and even more uniquely, opt to delegate their vote to another approved voter. Anyone can inspect the candidates’ current vote count in real time and cryptographically verify the voting records. Finally, and of chief concern amidst a pandemic, registered voters may vote from any location with an internet connection up to the election deadline. Many aspects of this verification occur without the need for a central authority, relying instead on the inviolable laws of math that uphold the consensus within the network, securing the election integrity.
The dog and horse candidates were selected because they are each recent winners of the Westminster Best-in-Show Competition or the Triple Crown, respectively. At the time of publication, the pointer was leading in the polls. Voters registered by coordinating with the developer of this project and following certain steps within a web browser to interact with the underlying technology. The project is part of a broader effort to showcase and flesh out the use cases for blockchains among various stakeholders across the Department. For more technical details, please view the open-source code on GitHub.
David Houston is an information management specialist at Embassy Panama.