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The recent surge in the value of cryptocurrencies has drawn attention to the millions that are being made by investors in altcoins like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and LiteCoin. It makes for a nice headline, but these stories rarely delve into the underlying technology that enables cryptocurrencies, a technology that could be as transformative as the internet: the blockchain.
I know what you're thinking: What does this have to do with campaigns? Well, lots. At least, eventually.
At its core, blockchain is a database. Boring? Not really, actually. Blockchain is a new type of database developed in 2008. What makes it different? Blockchain is a shared database where entries can be verified, and trusted, without a central authority like a bank, or Google. This is achieved by advancements in cryptography, the way data is protected online.
In a public blockchain like Bitcoin, the database is accessible to anyone with an internet connection. While anyone can view, and store copies of the database, they cannot remove, or modify entries once they are on the blockchain. This eliminates the need for the central authority to secure and manage your data, as well as the risk that entries are tampered with.
In short, blockchain will put individuals in control of their own data, not companies like Google, Facebook, Chase, and Equifax. Blockchain technology will also enable far greater transparency, and security to data that’s publicly available since it’s very good at protecting data that should remain private.
Below are a few ways blockchain technology is likely to impact campaigns.
Voter registration and data
Now, 38 states have some form of online registration so this is nothing new. This will become more seamless by allowing citizens to register to vote with their verified online identity, stored on the blockchain. Right now in Estonia, you can use your government verified digital ID to pay taxes, travel within the EU, or get a marriage license.
As far as to how the data, and subsequent changes to the voters registration will be stored, and made available, this will be done on a public blockchain. The data will linked to the verified online identity of the voter. This means the publicly available data for each voter will be much cleaner, trusted, usable, and transparent, also minimizing the risks of voter fraud.
Any voter data deemed by the individual state to be public record would be available in realtime to eligible individuals, organizations, or campaigns. In many states this includes party affiliation, vote history, age and phone number.
This will have wide ranging impact on the way campaigns engage with voters on the ground, with mail, and digital. Voter contact can be reimagined.
The accessibility of voter data on the blockchain will enable campaign technology platforms to instantly and automatically communicate with newly registered voters, or voters who have recently moved into their district. Campaigns would be able to track early voting in real time, creating incredible efficiencies in GOTV programs.
Okay, I’m going to put on my futurist cap for a minute. At some point, all voting will be done online. It’s not likely to be in the near term, but the development of blockchain technology will accelerate its adoption.
Why will blockchain technology be the driving force to bring elections online?
1. Trust: The source of the data on a blockchain is verified, and trusted. In this case, each voter will have a private data key, known only to them, that’s linked to their verified online identity.
2. Security: As mentioned earlier, data can only be added to a blockchain. Previously added data cannot be removed, or modified in anyway. Therefore, votes cannot be changed by hackers.
3. Reliability: When a glitch takes down an airline's computer system, it grounds flights all over the country. If your bank's technology crashes, you can't get your money. This does not happen to data on a blockchain because it isn’t stored in a central location. Rather, it’s distributed across thousands of networks. The chance of losing data is zero.
The biggest obstacle to online elections on the blockchain will be political. Many will fear that exposing voting data online will invite interference by foreign governments. The fact is, our current outdated, disparate systems are more at risk than they would be on the blockchain.
Ukraine will begin testing blockchain based online voting in unregulated types of elections like petitions and advisory notes this year with an eye towards implementing it for national elections. This is in response to the rampant corruption, and voter fraud during their 2014 election. Clearly, the government has evaluated any security risks and determined blockchain to be a solution to voter fraud, not a potential cause.
People will always fear new technology until it can prove itself to be safe and reliable. Think of the first people that filled the walls of their home with electricity, or got on an airplane. Right now, the first adopters of blockchain technology trust that their cumulative $70 billion in Bitcoin is secure, despite the fact that it exists only online, and is exposed to hackers around the world.
Obviously, we can't assign a value to our voter data and election process. But the rapid adoption and trust in Bitcoin as a currency has taught us that blockchain technology can safely store valuable data of any kind.
Justin Gargiulo is the founder and CEO of VoterTrove, a data management platform.