U.S. Postal Service Counters Trump Attacks On Mail-In Voting With A New Blockchain Patent


Published by FORBES.COM

Summary generated on August 16, 2020


    The application is reported as filed on February 7, 2020, and the invention is described as, "A voting system that can use the security of blockchain and the mail to provide a reliable voting system. A registered voter receives a computer readable code in the mail and confirms identity and confirms correct ballot information in an election. The system separates voter identification and votes to ensure vote anonymity, and stores votes on a distributed ledger in a blockchain."

    Chief among Trumps's complaints against mail-in voting are doubts about whether or not the person whose name is on the ballot actually cast the vote, and whether or not the ballot was tampered with after it was sent.

    In both instances blockchain offers tantalizing possible solutions.

    Blockchain identity services are already being widely developed and by moving the vote to a shared, distributed ledger, the votes would transmit almost instantly, drastically reducing the ballot's vulnerability to tampering.

    The Postal Service had no comment at the time of publication.

    The patent application provides a number of illustrations as to how blockchain technology would secure voting, including the one above.

    The USPS says in the patent, "Voters generally wish to be able to vote for elected officials or on other issues in a manner that is convenient and secure. Further, those holding elections wish to be able to ensure that election results have not been tampered with and that the results actually correspond to the votes that were cast. In some embodiments, a blockchain allows the tracking of the various types of necessary data in a way that is secure and allows others to easily confirm that data has not been altered".

    Paul Madsen, Technical Lead at Hedera Hashgraph, a distributed ledger technology invented by Dr. Leemon Baird, commented on the application by the USPS by noting, "Blockchains, or more generally Distributed Ledger Technologies, fundamental value is that they can provide to a community with potentially adversarial members a trusted and shared view of data without relying on some single provider to control that data. To do so, they first allow the community to come to consensus or agreement on the order of transactions that change the data."

    Madsen explained these functions could be useful for recording votes in the election, explaining, "Both functions could be useful for recording the votes in an election - as proposed by this USPS patent. The votes of individual voters would be recorded, either on the blockchain or effectively timestamped and then recorded elsewhere - and so both help to mitigate the risk of double voting, or vote manipulation as well as give the voter confidence through transparency of the process." Madsen makes clear that, "Blockchains are no magic bullet for voting platforms," and identifies the identity verification as the more critical component, something which he indicated the patent also acknowledges.

    Blockchain technology was utilized at the Utah Republican Convention as well as in Arizona to send delegates to the Republican National Convention after each State decided to hold their conventions remotely.

    The technology was used in the 2018 West Virginia elections for absentee ballots of overseas military; however, a report by MIT showed potential vulnerabilities of the vendor software.

    The USPS Office of Inspector General encouraged the Post Office to start looking at the benefits of blockchain technology back in 2016.

    Four key use cases for blockchain outlined in a report were 1) Financial Management, 2) Device Management, 3) Identity Services, and 4) Supply Chain Management.

    Identity services, an area the USPS could prove to be very strong on for some time, would play a critical role in securing mail-in voting by blockchain technology as well.

    References to patent filings by the USPS are also made in a 2017 report by the Department of Homeland Security DHS. The DHS report indicates that, "As of September 2017, the USPS filed a patent to implement a 'digital trust architecture' made up of a 'user account enrollment and verification component' based on user identity information; a 'key provisioning component configured to generate a public and private key for the user account;' a user email component for signing the email with a private key; a data access component for accessing sensitive data; and, a blockchain component for adding the records to the blockchain".

    The Postal Service is not alone in exploring the benefits of blockchain technology when it comes to voting - the U.S. Senate's Permanent Select Committee on Investigations issued a report earlier this year that recommended blockchain technology for potential use in votes by Congress.