Amid COVID-19 Disruption, Senate Considers Blockchain-Based Voting

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The unprecedented global spread of the novel coronavirus and resulting surge in COVID-19 cases has drastically changed the way we transact, traditional financial markets and many other ingrained aspects of our society. It should be no surprise, then, that blockchain-based solutions are emerging as new ways of maintaining business as usual.

Recently, one of the world’s most deeply-seated legacy institutions of all, the U.S. Senate, appears to be exploring the possibility.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the U.S. Congress’s ability to meet and deliberate — a state of affairs that has forced a rethinking of how America’s national legislature operates in a time of crisis,” The Block reported. “And according to a Senate memo dated April 30 … blockchain-based voting could be part of the solution.”

According to the memo, the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations sees blockchain technology’s aptitude for encryption, verification and tamper resistance as benefits the body may leverage to conduct voting without needing to gather members in person.

“Blockchain can provide a secure and transparent environment for transactions and a tamper-free electronic record of all the votes,” per the memo. “It also reduces the risks of incorrect vote tallies. Moreover, some firms have already begun to deploy blockchain-like technology to help countries, like Estonia, run elections entirely online.”

The memo went on to note some concerns about conducting Senate voting via a blockchain, including the potential of 51 percent attack, cryptographic flaws or software bugs.

Ultimately, however, it does not appear that the Senate is poised to adopt a blockchain-based solution anytime soon, even as COVID-19 health advisories continue to encourage social distancing. The technology was not mentioned during a subsequent roundtable regarding continuity of Senate operations. And the notion of remote voting in general still has a fair number of critics.

But this does mark more progress in some momentum-building developments for blockchain technology among U.S. lawmakers. The current 116th U.S. Congress has seen some 32 bills introduced regarding cryptocurrency and blockchain policy, most of which focus on regulatory framework and preventing illicit activities such as money laundering. It has indicated support for the growth of blockchain technology as part of larger considerations for advancing technologies that can help streamline the economy.

For instance, The Blockchain Promotion Act, which is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor, would establish a Blockchain Working Group that would report to Congress.

“The Blockchain Working Group is to conduct a study to examine a range of potential applications — including non-financial applications — for blockchain technology,” Forbes reported recently. “In addition, bills in this category include how blockchain technology could be used for better hospital data security for endemic fungal disease research to the inclusion of a briefing by the Department of Defense to the Armed Services Committees on potential use of blockchain technology.”

Only time will tell how quickly and to what extent the U.S. government may adopt blockchain-based solutions. But the ongoing coronavirus crisis seems to have accelerated that timeline.

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