Crypto Voting + US Elections: Reality and Science Fiction

Alex Berke

This is a two-part project. One part is about reality. The other part is science fiction. Both are about mobile, blockchain, and cryptographically secure voting systems in the context of US elections.

Securing elections and increasing access to voting are critical for our democracy to function properly.  There has been recent focus on using mobile apps and blockchain-based systems to address these needs, but some of these systems can cause more harm than good. The Reality piece is about the innovations that can make secure and transparent elections possible, and where internet-voting, mobile apps, and blockchains fit in. 

The Science Fiction piece uses storytelling to explore how our voting systems can and should work. It looks ahead at two potential futures for US democracy that branch from our present. One story is a dystopia where technology is misused, resulting in a disengaged and disenfranchised public, where wealth determines voting power. The other story is a utopia where elections are celebrated holidays, where technology makes voting more secure, and social changes make voting more accessible.

This work came out of the MIT Digital Currency Initiative’s Blockchain Ethics course.

Crypto Voting + US Elections: Reality

On the security of blockchain, internet, and end-to-end verifiable voting systems, including the  cryptography behind how they work.

Election security is a matter of national security, yet “black box” voting machines that can be hacked are commonly used to tally votes. This is despite the fact that “end-to-end verifiable” voting systems have been developed that can ensure the security and transparency of elections, all the while keeping individual votes secret. The Reality piece provides illustrated descriptions of how these secure systems work.  It is written for both non-technical and technical readers, with a deep-dive into the cryptography and math behind the described systems saved for the appendix.

Crypto Voting + US Elections: (Science Fiction) Short Stories From Potential Futures

These stories consider two potential futures for US democracy, branching from our present. One is dystopian, the other utopian.

Making voting easier must be balanced with making voting more secure.  Both pieces discuss why voting over the internet remains insecure, and how claims that “blockchains” fix this have been misleading.

Technology, such as the  "end-to-end verifiable" voting systems developed by cryptographers  and computer scientists, can make elections more transparent and secure.  

Social changes, such as extended in-person voting periods, or an Election Day holiday, can make voting more accessible.