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The Ballot is Busted Before the Blockchain

As faithful blog readers, you've figured out that we are concerned about online voting apps, particularly unverified systems being pushed with the smokescreen of "blockchain" as the miracle cure to the security issues around internet voting. The Blockchain Papers series was created with the aim of collecting expert statements on this topic.

Here is the latest contribution to the series - no less than an actual security analysis of a certain blockchain system, Voatz, executed by a group of experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). You will find this analysis fascinating; in particular, the exposure of the use of third parties for voter authentication and the potential privacy violations that may ensue. The privacy risk to the voter, compared to other voting methods, is exponentially higher. Such risk, coupled with the lack of transparency, is enough to put an "Iowa chill" into anyone's bones. I invite you to read the report from Specter, Koppel and Wietzner; and the insightful articles published at the time of its release.

The Ballot is Busted Before the Blockchain: A Security Analysis of Voatz, the First Internet Voting Application Used in U.S.Federal Elections
By Michael A. Specter, MIT; James Koppel, MIT; and Daniel Weitzner, MIT; February 13, 2020

MIT researchers identify security vulnerabilities in voting app
Mobile voting application could allow hackers to alter individual votes and may pose privacy issues for users.
By Abby Abazorius | MIT News Office, February 13, 2020

Voting on Your Phone: New Elections App Ignites Security Debate
Excerpt: "...researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say the app is so riddled with security issues that no one should be using it."
By Matthew Rosenberg | New York Times, February 13, 2020

If You Ever Read An Article on Online Voting: Make It This One

Introductory note from Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, President and CEO, U.S. Vote Foundation and Overseas Vote: I've been reading voting and elections articles every day for 16 years straight. If I add up an average of 2 - 3 per day, that gets me near to 17,000 of these articles. That's why all I need to tell you about this one is that out of those approximately 17,000 articles, I profoundly enjoyed and learned from this one, written by Alex Berke, MIT Media Lab, more than any other. She has figured out a genius-level creative way to explain and convey a large chunk of what those 17K articles conveyed, but with such an imaginative and compelling approach that for the first time, I am really excited about the impact of words on a page when it comes to this subject of online voting. And in full disclosure, I was interviewed by Alex, but the depth of work, the brilliant thinking and refreshing ingenuity here are all her own. She cracked it, and you, dear reader, will love it.

Do NOT get frightened by this title - you can get this. Start in and you will be hooked!

Crypto Voting & U.S. Elections: (Science Fiction) Short Stories From Potential Futures
by Alex Berke, MIT Media Lab

These stories are from a two-part project. While this part is science fiction, the other part is about reality. Both parts are about mobile, blockchain, and cryptographically secure voting in the context of the U.S. election system. (Reality Piece: link)

These stories consider two potential futures for U.S. democracy, branching from our present. One is dystopian, the other utopian.

Mobile Voting, Lost Choices, and Plutocracy

From Crypto Voting & U.S. Elections: Short Stories From Potential Futures (Dystopia)

The year is 2040 and today is election day. Alice is on her way to where she will vote, but it’s not the polls. The polls are open, but more out of adherence to a national tradition and heritage rather than utility. Alice still hears about people going to the polls in some places, mostly to protest what has come to be, but the media always portrays those folks as “tinfoil hat wearers.” These days, almost everyone votes remotely from the devices installed within their hands. Although history may see it as a small technical change, remote voting brought about radical changes to U.S. democracy. [Read the full article]

Note to the reader: after you read they dystopian version, continue to the utopian version entitled, What our Voting Systems Should Provide. Like a lot of things, these two are better together.

U.S. Vote Foundation Inside: How US Vote’s Civic Data Powers Get-Out-the-Vote and Voter Registration Efforts

By Joshua Greenbaum, US Vote Social Media Program Manager

35 million. 70 million. 140 million. 250 million.

What do all these numbers have in common? If your first thought was that they have something to do with voting, you’re on the right track. And if you think these numbers have something to do with U.S. Vote Foundation’s (US Vote) role in getting out the vote, you’re even closer.

But for a perfect score, you’d need to add one more element: these numbers highlight the role US Vote plays in providing data and technology to the valuable, and highly valued, licensing partners that share US Votes’ mission to make sure Every Citizen is a Voter.

Knocking on the Door: How Canvassing Takes Down Barriers and Builds Bridges to Increased Voter Turnout

By Ryan Ockenden, US Vote Volunteer

I’ve always been interested in national politics, but my knowledge of local politics was lacking. Although local politics often doesn’t make the news, it certainly impacts us with equal weight as does national politics. As a way to offer a tangible contribution to local political efforts, I volunteered to work on local campaigns for county-level and town-level candidates. In national politics, messaging seems to happen through social media, national news, and news articles. On the local level, the success of messaging relies on meeting voters in person.

This was one of my concerns entering this process. I feared that people would be unreceptive at the door which would make the canvassing door-to-door a frightening feat – this ultimately was not the case. Many people were so thankful for the candidates taking the time to meet them, and even just meeting a representative of the campaigns to personally pass the information was welcomed with a general sense of appreciation.

Blockchain: A Lesson in Obfuscation

By Jim Waldo, Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Computer Science

One can hardly throw a brick in Silicon Valley these days without hitting the CEO of a new blockchain startup. Whether it be cyber security, supply chain management, voting, or most anything else, it doesn’t matter what the question is. The answer is blockchain.

As the characters in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy discovered, knowing the ultimate answer isn’t much good without knowing the question. But there is no question associated with blockchain. Instead, the enthusiasm and hype around a hopelessly flawed technology leads us to another Theranos moment, when hope, enthusiasm, and vision bring us to the point of committing fraud on the non-technical public. We should know better.

Let me be clear that I’m not talking about some of the individual ideas behind blockchain. Having a public ledger that can’t be changed by using cryptographic hashing functions may be useful; it has been well known (under the name of a Merkel chain) for a considerable period of time.

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Press Releases

U.S. Vote Foundation Releases 2018 Post Election Summary Report

Introduction

The 2018 Election Day Voter Experience Survey conducted by U.S. Vote Foundation (US Vote) together with its Overseas Vote initiative from November 6-12, 2018, provides insight into 5,100 American voters’ experiences of casting a ballot (or not) through five different voting methods, both domestic and overseas; key points are presented here.

217,411 survey invitations were sent to voters on the US Vote and Overseas Vote mailing lists on November 6, 2018 and were further promoted through social media and partner mailing lists including those of American Citizens Abroad and Democrats Abroad. No reminders were sent. Altogether, 5,100 responses were collected before the survey was closed on November 12, 2018.

U.S. Vote Foundation Announces Unprecedented Rise in 2018 Midterm Election User Activity

Website and data services have become an invaluable resource for millions of voters worldwide

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 31, 2018 - U.S. Vote Foundation (US Vote) and its Overseas Vote initiative experienced a tremendous rise in user activity for the 2018 election cycle with over 1.75 million users, a stunning 10-fold increase over the 2014 midterm elections cycle.

Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, President and CEO of U.S Vote Foundation and Overseas Initiative claims that “…this dramatic growth is a result of the tremendous press coverage and the growing awareness of voting rights and resources, particularly for US citizens overseas.”

Overall, US Vote’s technology supported 1.9 million sessions and 6.9 million page-views for this 2018 election.

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