KEY POINTS

  • USPS wants to use blockchain to combat mail-in voting fraud, as alleged by President Trump
  • The system, according to USPS, would separate voter identity and the vote to ensure anonymity
  • This blockchain-based voting system would not be available by November

The United States Postal Service (USPS) has applied for a patent pertaining to a blockchain-based voting system to be used in U.S. elections.

USPS’ idea is to use the security of blockchain combined with mail to provide a reliable voting system that is safe and not vulnerable to fraud. To verify identity, the registered voter would receive a “computer-readable code” through mail. The system would then separate voter identification and the vote to ensure anonymity. The stored votes would be recorded on the blockchain. To make the system more difficult to hack, the blockchain would distribute the vote across computers globally.

But it will not be available by November, inciting criticisms that the patent filing is merely to grab patent rights rather than to invent anything.

Initially filed in February, the patent publication was made public following mail-in voting fraud allegations by President Donald Trump, who publicly stated that mail-in voting could result in fraudulent ballots being filed. The president also said he is looking to block USPS funding in favor of new coronavirus packages.

Election experts, however, have advised against the use of a blockchain voting system even though there is really no chance that such a system would be used in November. According to David Jefferson, a computer scientist at the Center for Applied Scientific Computing at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the filing looked like grabbing rights to an idea even before that idea is a product. "The whole thing strikes me as a quick attempt to grab a big swath of patent rights rather than to actually invent anything original," the computer scientist told news outlet Decrypt.

Another threat to the blockchain voting system is the rise of quantum computing. Because blockchain relies on  complicated cryptography to protect data recorded within, it would take even the fastest computers at least a septillion to brute force or crack a single private key. But some analysts say quantum computing could one day be at a level where it could solve complicated cryptography in no time. "If somebody figures out a way to break the encryption, then all that data and information will be out there," said Jeremy Epstein, vice chairman of the Association for Computing Machinery's U.S. Technology Policy Committee. Epstein told Decrypt paper voting works just fine.

A number of blockchain-based election pilots have happened in the previous years. Most notably, West Virginia used a blockchain voting app called Voatz during the midterm elections in 2018. This year, the state announced it is pausing voting through the app, citing a security concern found by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Voatz’s technical infrastructure.