New MIT Paper Rejects Blockchain-Based Voting Systems

As media outlets waited to announce a winner until the Saturday following the election day, calls for how blockchains would have made this process easier emerged, most prominently perhaps by  Changpeng Zhao, CEO of Binance, as well as Vitalik Buterin, who added that, though there are technical challenges, the call for a blockchain-based, mobile voting app “is directionally 100% correct.”

A new report from MIT, however, strongly argues against the idea of blockchain-based e-voting, largely on the basis that it will increase cybersecurity vulnerabilities that already exist, it fails meet the unique needs of voting in political elections and it adds more issues than it fixes.

The report’s authors are Ron Rivest, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) professor and one of the creators of RSA encryption; Michael Specter; Sunoo Park; and Director of MIT’s Digital Currency Initiative (DCI) Neha Narula. The paper will be published in the Journal of Cybersecurity later this month.

“I haven’t yet seen a blockchain system that I would trust with a county-fair jellybean count, much less a presidential election,” said Rivest in a blog post accompanying the report.

Why online voting isn’t like digital banking

The report recognizes the desire for people to want the voting process to be faster and more efficient, but pushes back on the idea that just because we do things like shop or bank online, that means elections should be done in the same way.

One reason is that those systems have “higher tolerances for failure.” For example, if an issue were to occur, such as credit card fraud, you could block your card and a bank might even reimburse you. But when it comes to election, there is little remedy if a vote is altered or not delivered, particularly given that online voting systems might not always recognize when one of these actions occurred.

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