US Senate Staffers Float Blockchain Voting if Chamber Goes Remote

U.S. Senate staffers, hunting for tech to keep their chamber legislating through crises, floated blockchain voting in an April 30 continuity of Senate memo.

May 4, 2020 at 8:40 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 8:36 a.m. UTC

U.S. Senate staffers on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, hunting for tech to keep the chamber legislating through crises, floated blockchain voting in an April 30 "continuity of Senate" memo.

Coming several days before the Senate’s planned return from its COVID-19 recess, the 29-page memo, which is not a proposal to change Senate rules or from the committee that reviews them, preceded the subcommittee’s Thursday roundtable on crisis-time continuity solutions.

Blockchain-based solutions were included on the list of suggestions.

“The Senate may consider blockchain” if its 100 members must vote remotely, staffers wrote. They also proposed voting on end-to-end encryption platforms, and via a military-esque “air-gapped” communications system akin to those presidents and generals use.

Blockchain is perhaps the most controversial of the three suggestions when it comes to remote voting. Over the past year researchers have blasted blockchain and internet-backed voting platforms as insecure and prone to bugs, prompting some election authorities to pull out of plans to use them. 

Staffers did not share researchers' fears.

“Although some have raised concerns about the use of online systems for voting, those concerns are more specific to secret ballot elections than they are to public Senate votes,” they wrote. 

That’s not to say a Senate blockchain would be a completely safe blockchain. The staffers were acutely fearful of a “51 percent attack” scenario in which a malicious actor seized the power of consensus by taking majority control of the voting chain. 

Assuming one could prevent a 51 percent attack and also shore up any bugs, cryptographic or otherwise, the staffers were bullish on blockchain voting in the Senate. They wrote that it adds transparency and  lowers the risk of incorrect vote tallies.

“With its encrypted distributed ledger, blockchain can both transmit a vote securely and also verify the correct vote,” the memo said. 

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