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Blockchain voting on U.S. Congress agenda given COVID-19 disruption

Capitol Building Congress Senate United States

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has not spared any aspect of human life, including governments and policymaking. Last week, the U.S. Senate held an online roundtable to discuss the use of blockchain and other solutions for enabling remote functioning of its two legislative houses. In many ways, using blockchain in this context is closer to proxy voting by shareholders than elections.

The U.S. Congress, comprised of the Senate and the House of Representatives, is tasked with writing, debating and passing legislation. Until now, Congress physically met to carry out these functions, but the current crisis demands alternative solutions for enabling the smooth functioning of the two legislative branches. Among the several solutions discussed during the roundtable, blockchain is being considered to allow remote voting on tabled issues. 

Blockchain, as an immutable ledger, can provide the means for securely transmitting a vote and verify from whom it came. Distributed voting systems have been previously explored in the U.S. in a different context, for elections. Many believe the technology is too early for use in elections, and the Voatz application recently attracted controversy because of alleged security vulnerabilities. Now, blockchain is being proposed to allow senators and house representatives to file their votes remotely. 

One of the challenges with blockchain voting systems is privacy, but it does not apply to public Senate votes. However, there is a concern of someone taking majority control of the blockchain. The U.S. Senate Homeland Security Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations recommends setting up a voting system that would eliminate the threat of a 51 percent attack so that any unauthorized person cannot control the voting chain. Meanwhile, other problems that need to be addressed include cryptographic flaws and software bugs. 

Previously, India’s Election Commission said it was exploring blockchain for public voting for its general elections. However, the voting system proposed for the U.S. Congress is more akin to proxy voting conducted by shareholders. 

One of the major players in blockchain proxy voting is Broadridge and its solution has been used in trials by Banco Santander at its annual general meeting.

U.S.-based AST Fund Solutions has launched ProxyIQ, a blockchain-based proxy campaign management solution for mutual fund issuers. And payments messaging system SWIFT last year conducted a trial for e-Voting using blockchain.