- In a recent draft of a new paper, a team of MIT scientists asserted that blockchain voting is unsafe and prone to failures.
- Pete Martin, the CEO of a blockchain-based mobile voting company called Votem, has some thoughts.
- He suggested the concerns in the paper are focused on ideal circumstances, not the real world.
For as long as researchers have warned about the dangers of blockchain voting, blockchain voting companies have countered that, actually, blockchain voting is safe.
Back in February, MIT researchers released a paper claiming that blockchain voting app Voatz inadvertently allowed “different kinds of adversaries to alter, stop, or expose a user’s vote.” The CEO of Voatz responded to the paper by saying it was “riddled with holes.”
This week, MIT scientists released a new draft of a paper with an even broader scope, asserting that blockchain voting tech is prone to “nation-scale” failures. Pete Martin, CEO of Votem, which offers mobile voting via blockchain tech, says the paper doesn’t hold up.
On the latest episode of the Decrypt Daily podcast, Martin told host Matthew Aaron that the MIT scientists who co-authored the draft are too focused on the “ideal world of voting.”
“As an academic, you can talk about all the potential issues with any kind of system, any kind of a process,” he said. “But there's a real world that's out there.”
Martin, whose Linkedin page describes him as a “blockchain and mobile voting revolutionary,” took aim at several of the paper’s assertions, which he boiled down to concerns about ballot secrecy, software independence, the ability of ballots to be verified by voters, contestability, and auditing.
In terms of ballot secrecy, Martin said, “To be fair, [neither] us nor any of the other blockchain voting vendors use blockchain as the sole security technique to prevent any nation-state attacks.” He argued that blockchain, when combined with other security measures, could provide a safe voting system.
As for verification, Martin said, “[The researchers] believe that a hand-marked paper ballot is the most voter verifiable type of ballot. The problem is there's a concept in voting called chain of custody.” But, he said, “The minute you drop it in the mail, the minute you drop that in a pull box, you have lost chain of custody.”
He continued: “And so the vast majority of ballots that went through the system in 2020 did not have true end-to-end voter verifiability. And blockchain does provide that capability.”
The state government of West Virginia, which had used Voatz for some voters in its 2018 midterm elections, ditched the app in the wake of MIT’s February report. Voatz later filed an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court arguing that unauthorized security research—of the type the MIT researchers performed—should be classified as computer fraud.
Unlike Voatz, Votem hasn’t yet touched the world of politics; the app’s website lists private elections and online fan voting among its potential use cases, and pitches Votem on a smaller scale.