Ever since we saw the key States turn blue in US election 2020, there have been widespread claims about election fraud followed by protests across the country. From the pandemic to the US 2020 elections, it has been a rough ride. On Nov 10, 2020 (updated Nov 19, 2020), The New York Times posted an article explaining that The Times called every State and found no evidence of fraud. How exactly are fraud claims investigated? What could have prevented those claims in the first place? We looked into the US election 2020 situation to determine the answer to the complex questions. 

What happened? 

President Donald. J. Trump asked to stop the count as he claimed that the mail-in ballots that arrived late were fraudulent. Well, we don’t know if they arrived late or were counted late. However, MSM (mainstream media) has entirely denied the claims of election or voter fraud. Can the media do that? Well, it has been calling presidential races since 1848 when Associated Press announced Zachary Taylor to be the 12th US president. The US does not have a National Election Commission to determine who won the highest office in the country. The media has been calling the race for a long time, in this case, the Associated Press. 

This year, things were a little different because of the mail-in ballots. 

Before we get into how the mail-in ballots made such a huge difference in the US election 2020, let’s recall the election process in the US. 

The election process in the US 

The US general election is an indirect election where registered voters vote for their state’s electoral college members. These electors then directly vote for the presidential candidate based on the popular vote in their states. However, not all electoral college members abide by the general rule of voting for the popular vote. In eighteen states, there are no provisions to address voting behavior. This essentially means that the electors in these states can vote against the popular vote. These electoral college members are called unpledged or faithless voters. 

Generally, the unpledged voters of the college do not determine the outcome of the election.

Here’s the process step-by-step:

1: Registered voters in each state cast their vote either in person at the polling station or by mail before or on the election day. Different states have different rules regarding the mail voting system. Generally, registered voters can choose to send their vote by mail or through absentee voting. Absentee voting is different from mail voting in a way that it is for voters who cannot for any reason vote in person. Some states require reasons for absentee voting while others accept no-excuse absentee ballots. Voting by mail refers to both mail-in ballot and absentee ballot. 

2: In-person, registered voters can vote by paper ballots or through touch screens available at the polling station.

3: After the polls close, each ballot is run through a scanner that records the entry electronically. These entries are stored on a memory card that is later used by the officials to tabulate the results. The mail-in and absentee votes are added to the result. 

4: Once all the votes have been counted, the results are sent to the election board from where they are uploaded on the state’s official website. 

5: After the votes are counted, the electors meet after December 12 to cast their votes for the president. The candidate who wins the absolute majority of the electoral votes wins the presidency.

If no candidate secures the absolute majority of the votes, then the House of Representatives chooses the president. And, similarly, if no vice president candidate secures the absolute majority, the senate chooses the next vice president. 

What was so different about the US 2020 election? 

In the US election 2020, things were a little shifty due to the pandemic. The majority of voters decided to vote through mail to avoid crowds at the polling stations. Since a lot of votes came through the mail, there were some discrepancies. 

The history of controversial US elections 

The US election 2020 isn’t the first controversial election in the country’s history. Controversial elections are common all over the world. The 2003 Rwandan presidential election, 2006 Ugandan general election, 2008 Zimbabwe general election, 2014 South African general election, 1990 Myanmar general election, 2020 Belarusian presidential election, 2014, Bahrain general election, and 2012 Mexican general election are just a few to mention. In US history, there has been more than a single controversial presidential event.

1876 – Hayes vs. Tildon 

By 1876, the confederate states were readmitted to the union, and the country was in reconstruction. The Republicans had a stronghold in the pro-Union and the Southern African American regions, while the Democrats won the support of Whites in the South and Northern regions. 

The Republicans chose Ohio governor, Rutherford.B.Hayes, while the Democrats chose New York governor, Samuel Tildon. During the election, the three key states (Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida) had Republican-dominated election boards, but the early election results indicated a Tildon victory. This set off widespread voter intimidation and fraud that forced the election board to invalidate enough votes to give Hayes victory in the three States. Rutherford.B.Hayes became the 19th president of the United States with Democrats deciding to not dispute his presidency as Republicans agreed to the compromise of 1877. The aftermath of the compromise led to Southern legislatures creating laws that discriminate against African American voters and undermined their ability to vote in elections. 

1888 – Cleveland vs Harrison 

In 1888, Democrat Grover Cleveland won a reflection against Former Indiana senator Benjamin Harris. In those years, ballots were printed by political parties and votes were cast publicly. So there was a significant margin for fraud. Voters would sell their votes for a hefty bribe to whoever was willing to pay the highest price. These voters were known as floaters. 

Before the election, Harris appointed William Wade Dudley as the treasurer for the Republican National Committee. Dudley sent out a letter to the local republican officers, explaining how to use floaters to increase votes for the republican candidate (Harisson). This letter was found and published. Cleaveland won the popular vote by around 1000,000 votes but lost his home state, New York, which propelled Harrison forward in the electoral college. It is assumed that Cleaveland’s loss was due to the voter buying scheme that Dudley mentioned in his letter. 

However, Cleaveland did not contest the results of that election and won a reelection 4 years later. This election and the voter buying scheme led to the adoption of secret ballots.

1960 – Nixon vs Kennedy 

The 1960 election was much like the US election 2020; both elections involve vote machine fraud.

Kennedy won by a razor-thin margin (less than 1%) against Nixon in Hawaii, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, and New Mexico, and by a margin of 2% in Texas. Republicans called it fraud fixating on two locations, Chicago and Southern Texas where a political machine allegedly manufactured votes for Kennedy to help him win the state of Illinois. 

Despite republicans screaming fraud in the media, Nixon did not contest the results. He later ran in 1968 and won the presidency. 

2000 – Bush vs Al Gore 

In the 2000 election, many states were still using the punch-card ballots that had proven ineffective before with a long history of machine malfunctions. On election day, outdated technology created a substantial problem in the state of Florida. On the election day, the authorities discovered that the state was using butterfly ballots, the punch card design that violated the Florida state law. This caused voter confusion for thousands of votes. As a result, Gore lost the state to Bush by 537 votes. 

The issue eventually came down to the hanging chads (the little pieces of paper that get punched during the voting process). Some punch cards still had hanging chads and those votes had gone uncounted. 

Gore took it to the court to count the votes. He won the Florida state supreme court but eventually lost as the US supreme court ruled that there was no more time to count the votes. Al Gore conceded the next day handing it to president Bush. 

History tells us that frauds have happened; people have taken advantage of loopholes. But why hasn’t any administration paid enough attention to the matter? 

With the US election 2020, numerous tech blogs echoed a term that they believed could have resolved the fraud issues: blockchain.  

The talk about blockchain and its use in elections 

The misinformation and censorship surrounding the US election 2020 have sparked a debate about whether it’s time to move to online voting systems that eliminate the use of paper ballots or mail-in ballots. Earlier this year, USPS filed for a patent to utilize a blockchain-based voting system. Could blockchain technology potentially reduce voter fraud or make elections safer? 

Let’s see. 

What exactly is blockchain?

Blockchain is the underlying technology that regulates bitcoin. But its capabilities are more than that. 

In simple words, It is a technology to record and share data safely and securely. In technical terms, a blockchain is a timestamped data spread across a number of computers so no one owns them. The decentralized distribution of records on a blockchain allows for secure data entries that cannot be tampered with. In a blockchain system, every block is bound to each other through cryptographic principles (the chain) that makes it secure. 

To make it even simpler to understand: blockchain is much like Google docs. In Google docs, one user creates a document, and others can add to it leaving a trail of comments and suggestions that are accessible to anybody who has the link to that doc. Nobody can change the original doc, they can only add to it and have it reviewed by everyone who has the link. This makes the document valid and secure as its content is not controlled by a single, central entity. 

Similar to Google docs, blockchain records and stores data that can only be viewed, reviewed, and changed by those who have the private key. 

Everything recorded on a blockchain system is transparent, and everyone on that blockchain is accountable for their actions. With blockchain, it is much easier to hold someone accountable as you cannot easily make any changes to the data records. 

Blockchain systems can be private, where only a few have access to see and change the records; and public, where everyone can see and add to the records. 

How would blockchain prevent election fraud?

West Virginia was the first US state to allow digital voting via a blockchain system in primary elections in 2018. The project intended to test the technology and did not include any plans to implement it on a larger scale. 

If blockchain technology becomes the underlying system to regulate elections around the world, here’s how it would work: 

Step 1: The identity of each voter will be verified through a biometric tool such as a thumb scanner. Identity can be verified through different methods including codes sent on the registered phone number. 

Step 2: Once the voter identity has been verified and the vote cast, it will be added to the chain so there would be only one vote cast against that identity.

Step 3: All votes would be added to the same chain from where a consensus can be drawn. 

Let’s take the example of Google docs again. 

On the election day, the election commission or the governing body creates a google doc named “Election Day” and shares it with the public asking for a comment. 

Only people with a registered and verified email address can see and comment on the document. 

Every comment will be recorded on the same document. No one can change or delete comments as they are visible to everybody. 

When the deadline approaches, the election governing body or commission closes the doc for any further comments. 

All the comments remain in the same place easy for the commission to count. Since every person who has left a comment has been verified, there is less risk of fraud. 

The pros and cons of blockchain-based voting system 

Blockchain may sound great, but at the end of the day, it is a technology vulnerable to attacks that can jeopardize its integrity. If governments around the world decide to deploy a blockchain-based system, they will have to prepare for what could go wrong. Here are the pros and cons of blockchain technology when used as an underlying system for election voting:

Pros and cons of blockchain 

Increased voter turnout as people can vote from their phones.

It will take time for governing bodies to understand the risks of the system. New technologies come with new risks that can take time to mitigate.

Reduced voter fraud as voting occurs on a decentralized system. 

Security threats can cause disruptions in online voting.

Easy for election governing bodies to maintain transparency.

Other security issues including server penetration attacks and malware attacks. 

Reduced election costs as paper ballots are eliminated. 

To use blockchain for voting, there would be a need for a large scale infrastructure to accommodate millions of participants.

A streamlined process for counting votes ensuring each vote is counted.

Attackers with superior computers can create fake blocks, which can be hard to detect and mitigate. 

The bottom line 

Blockchain offers a trustable system to govern several transactions. It essentially removes the centralized system to create more transparency. However, it does have some drawbacks. If we can get past the glitches, we can eliminate the possibility of fraud in elections. 

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