Monday, April 04, 2016

The problem of election fraud isn't technological, it's political

In the primary election in Arizona held March 22, 2016, we saw Hilary Clinton win a decisive majority. While hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people were still waiting in line to vote after the polls were scheduled to close, she had already declared victory. Many people alleged that their party affiliation had been changed without their consent. Lifelong Democrats complained that they could not vote in that election due to a change in their registration records. There have been allegations of hacking in the Arizona voter database and understandably, people are worried that it could happen again.

The party affiliation in the registration record is important because Arizona has a closed primary, meaning, if you're not a Democrat, you can't vote to choose between Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Now people are looking to New York, also with a closed primary election, to encourage people to check their records to ensure that it has not change before the day of the primary election.

The schedule for primaries at RealClearPolitics.com shows that most of the contests going forward are closed primaries or caucuses. If you're not a Democrat, you don't get to vote for the Democratic presidential nomination in the primary election. The fiasco in Arizona is perhaps the best example of what might be called election fraud that we've seen in a long time. It's also the best example to date to justify an open primary or caucus. I suspect that open contests are going to be on the legislative agenda pretty soon in Arizona.

All of this could have been prevented. The conditions that prevailed to allow such problems to persists in Arizona are a matter of public policy in that state and the United States. Such conditions are largely dictated by the top 1% income earners in the United States, for they have the greatest influence upon our elected representatives.

A fair number of people have pointed to work done by the Supreme Court to gut one of the essential provisions of the Voting Rights Act as playing a decisive role in the Arizona Primary. The Nation covered that story, which can be summarized by saying that the Arizona government cut the number of polling places in Maricopa County by 70% just to save money. The cuts meant that there was one voting place for every 21,000 residents. Every other county had one polling place per 2500 people. Those cuts were allowed under the Voting Rights Act as modified by the Supreme Court.

Since the results favored Clinton, and President Obama has openly supported Clinton, we can fairly surmise that the Department of Justice will turn the other way. Even if they wanted to investigate, without section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, there is little they could do about it. The results may have favored Clinton, but it's not going to be pretty in November if they do not increase the number of polling places.

Had the Supreme Court not intervened, there might have been more polling places. But we still need to address the integrity of the voter records. From what I can see, we're still using databases that could be subject to modification after the fact. In other words, we're using standard SQL databases that are subject to change in bulk with a script. A script is a program that can run a simple set of commands against a large set of records in the database. A script can be designed to select certain records that meet certain criteria and then change those records. This can be done without detection.

But there is much better way to track voting records: Blockchain databases. Blockchain is a distributed and encrypted database system that records transactions in such a way that the integrity of every transaction depends on the integrity of every other transaction. As transactions are recorded, a history of transactions is created. Unlike standard SQL databases, Blockchain is not designed to allow records to be changed in bulk. Each transaction depends upon encryption to create a unique signature that is factored into the transactions that follow. It is hardened against tampering by design.

The database is distributed and is maintained in a peer-to-peer network. This means that there are many copies that are maintained to check the integrity of the database against other copies. When one computer on the network records a transaction, every other computer on the network with a copy of that database is updated. So any attempt to modify the records without authorization will more easily be detected.

This is off-the-shelf technology. All that is required is the political will to integrate it and use it. Blockchain databases can be used to record the registration and votes of every voter. Blockchain databases are so secure, that they are used to record transactions for real money. Blockchain databases were introduced with Bitcoin, the first cryptocurrency.

Bitcoin depends on encryption to generate and store wealth that can be exchanged for products and services. Bitcoin isn't the only one, as there are many cryptocurrencies to choose from. Wall Street has taken an interest in cryptocurrencies in general and is currently evaluating investment opportunities in the same.

We would do well to invest in Blockchain databases for our voting records. That would eliminate a significant opportunity for election fraud.

There is one more piece to this puzzle. Open source software. All of our election software should be open source software so that anyone can look at the code and see what it does. We should be using open source software from the voting machines to the servers that tabulate the votes. All of that software can record the registration and voting transactions of every voter to a Blockchain database that is hardened against tampering with multiple copies to verify the integrity of the same. Note that Bitcoin is open source software.

Implementing a modern voting system is not a question of technology, it is question of political will. The reason we have aging voting machines that run Microsoft Windows and use Microsoft Access, both of which have been proven to be easily hacked, is because the 1% said so. They have primary influence on public policy. If there are problems with our voting systems, we can lay them at the feet of the 1% and demand a change for the better. We can demand Blockchain voting.

Apparently, there is demand for open source voting in San Francisco. They are planning to implement an open source voting system by 2019. An open source voting system will provide transparency and cost savings over proprietary software. It will be owned by the state, but can be used by anyone who wants to build a machine and sell it. I don't know if they're using Blockchain technology, but there is already a company offering a voting system for sale that uses Blockchain for record maintenance: FollowMyVote.com.

To address the physical failures of the Arizona primary, we can be vigilant about our voting systems and demand that there are enough polling places so that we're not waiting in long lines on Tuesday night, long after the polling places are scheduled to close. If we don't get that, we can follow the legislative records that created a system that is not adequate to record the will of the people on election day. Then we can vote out the people responsible for denying access to the polls. We will have to work around the damage done to the Voting Rights Act until we can fix it.

It would seem that at least some of the 1% would rather not have the rest of us around, watching, recording, and voting. If power concedes nothing without demand, then we're going to have to make demands. There is no other way to set things right. At least now, we know what to ask for.
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