Alaska would be first state to use blockchain-based voting system under proposed bill

Alaska would become the first state to adopt blockchain technology statewide in its voting security system under a proposal by Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Shower. 

 white man in a suit speaks from a desk
Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, in the Senate Judiciary Committee in Juneau on March 22, 2019. (Skip Gray/360 North)

Shower said he wants to increase voters’ confidence in the system. 

“I’m merely trying to find a way to make it tighter and better as we move into the 21st century, primarily about how we secure our elections, so that people will have faith in the results, even if they don’t like them,” he said.

The proposal is part of a new version of Senate Bill 39 Shower unveiled on Thursday. The bill would require most voters to use an added step to verify their identity, known as multi-factor authentication, similar to how websites send users email or cell phone codes in addition to requiring passwords to allow access. Shower said the step wouldn’t be required for voters who are unable to comply.

Blockchain is a form of database used in digital cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Chris Miller, an employee of the software company Oracle, told the Senate State Affairs Committee on March 16 that blockchain has been used in elections in Russia. In addition, a county in Utah has allowed a few people to vote using the technology. 

Another provision of the bill would direct the Division of Elections to use more databases to check whether people should be removed from the voting rolls. Shower said the state hasn’t been doing enough. 

“We’re sending ballots to people who shouldn’t be on the rolls here in Alaska,” he said. “So they can’t claim that we’re doing it as clean or as good as we should be. We can do it better.”

He acknowledged checking more databases could add costs for the state. 

The bill includes some provisions that would increase access to voting, such as accepting tribal IDs as a form of voter identification. It would also allow voters to fix mistakes that would invalidate their ballots. 

An earlier version of the bill drew criticism for ending automatic voter registration through the permanent fund dividend application. The new version wouldn’t do that.