The United States Postal Service (USPS) has filed a patent for a blockchain-based mail-in voting system, according to documentation published on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website late last week. A paragraph in the filing notes that the blockchain platform could be based on “the Ethereum open software platform or other similar platforms,” though there is no confirmation that the platform will be built at all.
The mentioning of Ethereum was spotted by Twitter user @shanecoin:
The Most Diverse Audience to Date at FMLS 2020 – Where Finance Meets Innovation
The new @USPS patent for a Blockchain-Based Voting System specifically calls out Ethereum as the potential platform it will be built on.https://t.co/9V6houCG5W pic.twitter.com/kaqqaF2Hx9
— shanefontaine.auth.eth (@shanecoin) August 16, 2020
Built on Ethereum or otherwise, the patent’s abstract reads that “a voting system can use the security of blockchain and the mail to provide a reliable voting system.” In other words, a blockchain-based mail-in voting system could be used to make mail-in voting safer and less vulnerable to fraud.
The system would use computer-readable codes to verify identity: “a registered voter receives a computer-readable code in the mail and confirms identity and confirms correct ballot information in an election. The system separates voter identification and votes to ensure vote anonymity, and stores votes on a distributed ledger in a blockchain.”
Could blockchain effectively address concerns about mail-in voter fraud?
The publication of the patent, which was initially filed in February, follows closely after US President Donald Trump’s allegations that mail-in voting would result in “ballots all over the place” and fraudulent ballots named “after dogs and dead people.”
Additionally, Trump is reportedly blocking funding for the USPS as part of a new coronavirus relief package, citing similar concerns regarding mail-in voting. However, a number of studies have shown that mail-in voter fraud is a rare occurrence.
Still, while it is unlikely that a blockchain-based system could be built and implemented before November’s election, it is possible that a blockchain-based mail-in voting system could increase the efficiency and security of mail-in voting in the future.
“The security of a voting system can be increased by using the dependability and security of the United States Postal Service or similar entity, and this can be incorporated with a secure computer system using a blockchain or distributed ledger to ensure vote security and to prevent tampering or modification of electronic voting results,” the patent reads.
The patent gave no indication as to if or when the system would be developed, tested, or implemented.
The USPS Office of the Inspector General began encouraging the post office to begin exploring possible use cases for blockchain technology in 2016. Forbes reported that four key use case areas were identified as a result of the exploration: 1) Financial Management, 2) Device Management, 3) Identity Services, and 4) Supply Chain Management.
The publication of the patent also follows news last week that United States Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard said that the Fed is actively conducting research and experimentation on the potential development of a U.S. central bank digital currency (CBDC).