Is USPS Working on Blockchain Voting?

  • Last year, the U.S. Postal Service applied for a patent that describes a blockchain-based “secure voting system.” Last week, it became public record.
  • The system, if approved, would involve mailing citizens a computer-readable code that validates both identity and ballot information, all while maintaining anonymity.
  • It could also account for most of President Trump’s unfounded claims about mail-in voting fraud.

    The United States Postal Service (USPS) is in the crosshairs of a mail-in voting clash, with President Donald Trump blocking supplementary funding for the independent mail agency—which has financially suffered throughout the COVID-19 pandemic—and Democrats likening the move to “sabotage.”

    It all adds up to disaster for the integrity of the 2020 presidential election. The USPS has warned all 50 states and Washington, D.C. that mail-in ballots might not arrive to election offices in a timely manner for counting, and mail-sorting machines are disappearing from facility lines with little to no explanation.

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    Now, the USPS appears to be working on a 21st-century alternative to traditional absentee ballots: blockchain-based mail-in voting. If true, it could ease Trump’s fears about voting fraud.

    The Postal Service filed a patent application on February 7, 2019 for a “secure voting system.” The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) made the application public on August 13, following a routine 18-month quiet period.

    The new-age voting system, if approved and implemented, would use a combination of traditional mail and machine-readable code. Specifically, the USPS would deliver registered voters a barcode of sorts that confirms identity and ballot information when uploaded online.

    “The system separates voter identification and votes to ensure vote anonymity, and stores votes on a distributed ledger in a blockchain,” the inventors explain in the patent abstract.


    Popular Mechanics reached out to the USPS for comment regarding the patent application. A spokesperson said the agency had no comment at this time.

    Blockchain technology is the underlying decentralized network that makes cryptocurrencies—or forms of digital money, like Bitcoin and Ethereum—possible. It uses a disparate network of computers to “mine” the currency. Because cryptocurrencies aren’t issued by governments, and due to blockchain’s distributed network, the digital currency is theoretically immune to malfeasance.

    This aligns with some of the claims in the patent application:

    Voters generally wish to be able to vote for elected officials or on other issues in a manner that is convenient and secure. Further, those holding elections wish to be able to ensure that election results have not been tampered with and that the results actually correspond to the votes that were cast. In some embodiments, a blockchain allows the tracking of the various types of necessary data in a way that is secure and allows others to easily confirm that data has not been altered.

    But because patents can take years to come to fruition as legitimate products or services—if at all, because the intellectual property sometimes never sees the light of day—this technology certainly won’t be used in the 2020 election. And, because the patent application is provisional, there’s always the chance the USPTO may not grant the patent at all.

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    In the meantime, most registered voters are entitled to a mail-in ballot, one way or another, for the 2020 election, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that promotes “health, security, and opportunity for all Americans.”

    In almost all states, voters who are concerned about the coronavirus pandemic are eligible to request a mail-in ballot from their election officials or will receive one automatically. Due to COVID-related concerns, voters in some states will be automatically mailed a mail ballot application to encourage you to vote that way.

    However, Trump has expressed currently unsubstantiated concerns that mail-in voting is ripe for fraud. In particular, the president has conveyed doubts that the person who cast the vote is actually the person whose name is on the ballot, and a general concern that the ballots could be tampered with once mailed.

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