The Associated Press’s (AP) 2020 election results will be recorded on a blockchain database, a first for the nearly 200-year-old news agency.
Announced Thursday, the collaboration between the not-for-profit wire service and the Everipedia tech startup will see more than 7,000 state and national election race calls recorded on a blockchain, with a publicly accessible user interface displaying the results. Everipedia’s database runs on top of EOS, the 14th-largest blockchain network by market cap, according to Nomics, though the race calls themselves will be recorded on the Ethereum blockchain.
Chainlink was chosen as the intermediary between the AP data and Everipedia, according to a press release.
Everipedia will publish the final results declared by AP after sufficient votes are counted, said Dwayne Desaulniers, the news organization’s director of enterprise, environmental, social and governance and data licensing.
“For us this is different and very interesting,” he said. “We’re watching very closely to see how our work can be applied to this media. Everipedia has been good to work with, a solid partnership. We do the race calls, they do the technical stuff.”
The AP will call the presidential, Senate, House of Representatives, state and local elections, in a process that could take anywhere from a few hours to days depending on how results are reported by election officials, Desaulniers told CoinDesk in a phone call.
“We’ll watch the data and whenever we see enough data that’s complete, that factors in all the mail-in [ballots] and all of the votes. Whenever our race callers then decide to declare a winner they’ll do so,” he said. “Most of them will be on election night … We’re ready to make really great race calls whenever the data and rules tell us that we’re good.”
Everipedia, a sort of decentralized alternative to Wikipedia with its own token, will be recording the results for posterity, said Sam Kazemian, the project’s president and co-founder. It launched its mainnet on top of the EOS blockchain in 2018.
While this is the first time AP’s election results will be recorded on a blockchain, the company has worked with other blockchain initiatives in the past. AP tried to license articles with now-defunct blockchain startup Civil in 2018.
Roughly 4,000 AP employees will be deployed across the U.S. on Election Day, working from polling centers, city halls and clerk’s offices around the country. As precincts begin reporting numbers, these employees will start recording the vote results in an internal system, updating as new numbers roll in.
The proprietary system will compare the results with similar data from two, four and six years ago in an effort to prevent any major errors from creeping through, Desaulniers said.
This data will, in turn, go to race callers, individuals who are familiar with the politics of the region they are in. (Desaulniers is a race caller for the U.S. state of New Hampshire.) These individuals compare current data with historic data and internal models that AP builds to declare if and when certain races are won.
“It’s very intense,” he said. “I think it’s the biggest journalistic enterprise that we’re aware of.”
Everipedia takes over the process at this point. Once a race is called, that information is entered into another internal AP system. Everipedia will pull the final declaration from an API and record it on its own ledger, permanently storing what AP sees as the final result.
“So when we declare a governor has won, Everipedia will get that data immediately from our systems and they’ll be able to publish that,” he explained.
What Everipedia will not record are the vote totals; while most races will be called on Nov. 3, not every race will be. Those that are too close to call or which may end up going to a recount will not be called, Desaulniers said.
On top of the normal races that are tight and require time to call, 2020 has a massive number of voters who are using mail-in ballots so they can avoid large crowds during the coronavirus pandemic, which might make it difficult for precincts to report voting numbers quickly.
As of Oct. 14, 13.2 million absentee ballots have been returned with a further 68.6 million yet to be returned, according to the New York Times.
“This is sort of an extraordinary year,” Desaulniers said. “There’s no one system, one set of rules. Some states will only begin counting the early votes on election night, and therefore in some counties, in some races, it will extend into Wednesday and possibly later.”
For AP and Everipedia, this means the running list of races called will be continuously updated past Election Day itself.
In Kazemian’s view, working with AP is a matter of trust.
The organization is a non-governmental, unbiased arbiter with close to two centuries’ worth of history, and has earned its reputation, he said.
It’s a different approach from projects that hope to solve the problem of figuring out which sources to trust by creating a system wherein token holders vote on what the “truth” is for a given story.
“This is one of those times where I’m super pro-blockchain but, like, it might probably be better to actually trust the centralized organization that’s professionally done this for over 100 years right. This is a good example of that,” he said.
This lets Everipedia focus on making the data easily accessible on-chain and publicly readable, he said. In this collaboration, Everipedia will handle all aspects of storing the data on its EOS-based network.
The 2020 election is a sort of proving ground. Kazemian envisions other efforts with different news and media organizations.
Storing AP’s race calls on its network can be beneficial for prediction markets or “futures-defined products” that are focused on the election, he said.
These markets might be looking for a specific result at a specific time, but it is likely that the projected winner of the election might change depending on how mail-in ballots are counted and when the full results roll in, Kazemian said.
“It allows people to build prediction markets that resolve around what a verified organization says or reports or … allows people to vote or reward or create smart contracts, autonomous systems around whatever information is being put on-chain,” he said.
In a statement, Chainlink head of business development Daniel Kochis noted that the process would result in a “verifiable, tamper-proof record” for tracking the election.
Kazemian noted the uncertainty around this year’s election timing, where President Donald Trump might appear to be in the lead as in-person votes are counted, but Democratic challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden may be declared the winner after the mail-in ballots and early votes are counted, as one scenario.
CORRECTION (Oct. 16, 2020, 06:30 UTC): Everipedia does not have its own native blockchain as this article originally suggested; the data is being recorded on the public Ethereum ledger.