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Senate Subcommittee Weighs Use of Blockchain for Remote Voting

Recently, staff of the US Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations prepared a memorandum for subcommittee members in advance of its April 30, 2020 “Roundtable on Continuity of Senate Operations and Remote Voting in Times of Crisis.” The memo provides a description of Senate proposals to allow senators to participate and vote remotely during crises such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with an emphasis on potential technological solutions such as blockchain.

The memo includes a fascinating discussion of the history of the Senate’s voting protocols dating back to the earliest days of the Republic, including the constitutional underpinnings of the Senate’s procedures. Of perhaps greater interest to the crypto community, however, is the memo’s discussion of blockchain. There, the memo notes:

With its encrypted distributed ledger, blockchain can both transmit a vote securely and also verify the correct vote. Some have argued that these attributes make blockchain useful for electronic voting broadly. Blockchain can provide a secure and transparent environment for transactions and a tamper-free electronic record of all the votes. 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.

Although some have raised concerns about the use of online systems for voting, those concerns are more specific to secret ballot elections than they are to public Senate votes. One concern specific to the Senate is the risk that majority control of the blockchain could fall into the wrong hands. Due to the small size of the Senate, any remote blockchain voting system would need to be properly set up to eliminate any threat of a 51 percent attack to ensure that no bad actor could gain majority control of a voting chain… Other security concerns for remote blockchain voting in the Senate include possible vulnerabilities from cryptographic flaws and software bugs.

A link to the archived recording of the Subcommittee’s roundtable is available here.

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About this Author

Scott H. Kimpel Capital Markets and Securities Practice Hunton Andrews Kurth Washington, DC

Scott brings in-depth knowledge of SEC policies, procedures and enforcement philosophy to each representation.

Scott regularly advises clients across a broad sector of the economy facing sensitive reporting, compliance and enforcement matters before the Securities and Exchange Commission and other capital markets regulators. His practice encompasses a wide range of matters involving the securities laws, mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, regulatory enforcement, administrative law and public policy. Scott also leads the firm’s working group on blockchain and distributed...