Citywire. June 2020.

Redefining Trust: Weaknesses in Modern Voting Systems

Emily Cockley
Published in
8 min readNov 5, 2021


Making digital voting accessible and secure via blockchain.

Societies have been using elections to reach consensus on public concerns for centuries. While we surely cannot know for certain how long people have been voting on local matters, we see the emergence of voting as early as 416 B.C.E. in ancient Athens. Unlike modern day voting as we now know it, where politicians are voted into office and regulatory measures are passed, early voting consisted of a means by which citizens could collectively ostracize any person in their community without trial regardless of their guilt or innocence. The implication is that anyone in the community with enough power and influence to cause potential harm to other citizens could be identified and removed through this voting process. By voting on shards of broken pottery, ostraca, the Athenian people could ensure that those in power likely to be a threat would not remain in positions of power [1]. Of course, if the final report is merely a manual count performed by individual, there is potential for manipulation without the proper checks in place.

The electoral process has seen many iterations: raised hands among a group of peers, the electoral college in the US, as well as quadratic voting and other voting mechanisms utilized in DAOs to name a few. In all voting processes, voters must trust the fairness and reliability of them in order to maximize participation and ensure governing members get a representative litmus of public opinion.

American School of Classical Study at Athens. December 2018.

Growing Complexity of US Elections

In modern day voting within the United States, rules and regulations have been put in place to qualify what society deems as fair and just voting practices. Extensive measures have been laid to ensure the right people are voting in the proper location for the races they are granted participatory rights in. The limitation of trust among citizens has made many of these specifics the topic of heated debate. Innovations have taken voting a long way from the physical, hand-written, paper ballots to the digital voting booths which keep record on spools of paper, fastened to the inside of the machines. These physical records are to serve as verification in the case of system failure or a checking mechanism in the case of a closely contested race. While this is considered an improvement over prior punch ballots, it is still a relatively archaic process to tally widespread opinion. With previous innovations, the key problem of scalability has been addressed. However, in the near future, the end of an era for the current voting processes may arise as people become more mindful of how we spend public time and resources.

While innovations have gone to great lengths to solve traditional accessibility concerns, lifestyles are changing and with that comes different expectations of the voting experience. From a Pew Research study regarding how easy they expected voting to be in 2021, 15% of people are discouraged by the voting process in the US and of those, 22% voice concern for the logistic problems associated with voting day [2]. Considerations of digital voting options have been made in an effort to find a way to ease voting by making it accessible via any internet connection. In doing this, voting could be as accessible as their local library, reducing the burden of a very complex voting process. Rather than shipping machines to every jurisdiction, we can reserve these resources to those who do not have an accessible internet connection. The primary reason an online system has not been adopted is due to a lack of faith in the current state of the internet. Security and transparency on Web 2.0 is lacking and citizens and politicians alike do not trust such a system to fairly host electoral races.

Despite the standard in almost every other industry to advance technology to increase efficiency, US elections still rely on hard copies of each vote to verify that results are accurate. The result is unnecessarily long reporting windows and an archaic means of manually tallying votes when margins are slim. While holding elections online in the past would have come with risk of hacks and potential data manipulation, we are approaching an era where growth in blockchain technology could facilitate a highly accessible, secure, and speedy election cycle. Blockchain technology has the potential to reduce logistical complexity and eliminate the need to distribute hundreds of thousands of voting machines across the country. While we do not have all systems in place to onboard voting to blockchain currently, there are many critical pieces built today that could facilitate election scaling and transparency once the foundational pieces have the proper connectivity.

Hans Pennink. USA Today.

Potential Solutions

Logistics & Accessibility

Given the importance of accessibility to the success of an election, the United States has put processes in place to ensure polling places are readily available, staffed with qualified personnel, and operational long enough to give the population a chance to vote. Complications to these issues can increase in rural areas with a lack of public transportation and fewer polling places. The logistic feat of getting voting machines distributed, assigning citizens and workers to an appropriate polling place, confirming voter identities, casting ballots, and getting voting machines shipped back to a centralized location for counting has many points of transition. With every point of transition comes another pass-off to an entity bound by trust mechanisms.

As we have explored in previous industry analysis, complexity and trust have high costs. By moving to an online format, transport of machinery is nearly eliminated, fewer people are required to run elections, and accessibility is improved for many. However, before blockchain, there has not been a way to securely store and transmit this information. No action has been taken in the name of accessibility alone since accuracy is a critical component to any election. Now that we have the technology to ensure that votes are encrypted and validated on a blockchain network directly from the source, we can begin exploring the digital voting ecosystem.

By utilizing blockchain technology, we can authenticate and authorize voters, maintain historical records, and operate election cycles remotely in order to increase accessibility and reduce logistics costs while maintaining the integrity of the results.

Security, Identification, and Authentication

With elections being such a complex process with little visibility in local communities, when an election produces outcomes different than local expectation, it can be easy for citizens to reach for fear of corruption as an explanation for the unexpected results. Across the political spectrum, there are reports of citizens and politicians who fear that elections may be misrepresenting the consensus of the people. Fears are based on various assumptions: duplication through absentee voting practices, whether the right to vote has been validated based on citizen rights or status, or misrepresentation from lobbying and bought votes. There is clearly an overarching concern for the security of the voting system which needs to be addressed.

In a decentralized blockchain infrastructure, there are robust mechanisms to ensure accurate consensus validates the blocks and that identity is properly authenticated and stored in order to participate in the network. Once in the network, blocks of information cannot be altered, and the smart contract would deny any attempt to change a cast vote. This is a critical component in moving voting into a digital format since verifying vote entry and voter identity is fundamental to maintaining trust in election results. One potential solution is the ERC-725 token, a Digital Identity Standard with the ability to interact with smart contracts to authenticate users in the same way our driver’s license or Social Security Number does in our current system.

In this example, an ERC-725 token would be assigned to each individual once they reach voting age. It would then directly reference sufficient information, such as a SSN and driver’s license, to confirm their identity and any participation limitations based on any pre-approved conditions fed into the smart contract. Rather than an intermediary at the Board of Elections going through manual processes to log pertinent documentation, that documentation would be fed directly into the smart contract from the owner of the documentation. The smart contract would then act as the authorizer and validator by accepting or denying any vote cast to the blockchain by that individual.

Criteria to approve or deny would be based on authentication metrics as well as the uniqueness of the vote. Technology such as zero-knowledge proofs could potentially be used to verify the uniqueness of the vote and authorize the ballot. By fully automating this process with emerging technologies, it remains trustless once consensus is achieved based on the design of the smart contracts and the methods used to validate each vote. This ensures that the person has met all criteria necessary to vote, has no conditions barring their right to vote, and has not voted more than once per race. Smart contracts would allow for this process to be completed without having multiple third-party entities communicating and transferring this information over various digital and physical locations.

RecFaces. December 2020.

The Future of Voting

While we are many election cycles away from being able to vote on blockchain, many of the critical pieces are currently being built. Introducing technology that can remove complexity and unnecessary transfers in both vote and data custody will streamline the voting process and make it even more accessible to citizens. Once the foundation is built, the potential for innovation will only grow. One innovation used in some DAOs is quadratic voting where voters receive a voting budget and can opt to cast multiple votes to a particular cause by exponentially forfeiting their total vote count. To illustrate: each voter wields the most voting power by casting 10 votes in 10 different races. However, if citizens are passionate about a single cause, they could spend 7 of their votes from their cycle budget to cast their vote 3 times on a single candidate or issue.

Whether or not this would be in the best interest for a political environment, it illustrates how the smart contract structure allows for innovative developments in voting processes. Additional complexity in the code that dictates a smart contract is an up-front investment without translating into long-term effects on efficiency and costs. With the introduction of blockchain, identification tokens, and first-party oracle solutions, data can be fed securely from the source directly to the smart contract that executes on the information. Such technology will revolutionize the voting process and allow us to focus on core issues rather than continue to reach for truth in a system based on broken trust.


Thank you to Mason Burkhalter for editing assistance as well as Erich Dylus and Saša Milić for final edits, technical guidance, and ideation.


[1] Britannica. History of Elections.

[2] Pew Research. Why People Find Voting Difficult.