The United States Postal Service was more involved than just handling mail-in ballots during 2020.
The Postal Service pursued a project to secretly test and build a mobile voting app based on blockchain technology during the Donald Trump administration. The Washington Post reported.
David Partenheimer, a spokesperson for the Postal Service, stated that the system was not used in live elections and was subsequently abandoned. After cybersecurity researchers at Colorado Springs discovered many vulnerabilities to the system, they decided to abandon it.
It appears that the project was conducted without federal agencies more focused on elections. They were scrambling to make voting safer in the wake Russian interference in 2016. These efforts were primarily focused on paper ballots to verify that voters voted accurately. There would also be an audit trail so auditors could see the paper trail — something missing in any Internet-based or mobile phone system.
Election security personnel and advocates were alarmed by the secrecy surrounding the mobile voting project of the Postal Service. They fear that it might spark conspiracy theories and undermine public faith in democracy. These concerns have grown significantly since the 2020 election. They are bolstered in part by the baseless allegations of election fraud made by Donald Trump and his supporters.
“If you’re doing anything in the election space, transparency should be priority number one. There should be no guessing game around this,” former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency senior advisor Matt Masterson said.
“It’s scandalous for a government entity to conduct research into the security of blockchain online voting, which shows how insecure it is, but then hide the results and deprive the public and officials of these findings for over two years,” on election security for Free Speech for People, a group that advocates for election security and is against mobile voting, senior advisor Susan Greenhalgh said.
In May 2020, the FBI, CISA, and other federal agencies assessed mobile voting and found significant risks to “confidentiality and integrity” of the voted ballots.
A mobile voting system would not only reduce the workload of the Postal Service (who handles mail in ballots during elections), but also lower the revenue that agency earns during the voting season.
“The Postal Service was awarded a public patent for the concept in August 2020, but had not previously revealed that it built a prototype system or tested it. The patent application predated the administration of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who came under fire from congressional Democrats and election administration experts over mail-slowing procedures implemented in the run-up to the November 2020 vote,” The Post said
A senior adviser to the government watchdog organization Democracy Fund Tammy Patrick stated that the Postal Service had been discussing a mobile voting system for years with state and local election officials. She argued that it could have been beneficial for military and overseas voters.
USPS spokesman Partenheimer said that the agency’s patent for the mobile voting program was “exploratory in nature and did not proceed to a production model.”
“Blockchain technology’s potential to strengthen digital transaction security is a concept we have explored on our journey to better meet our customers’ current and future needs, and to bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds,” it said. “But we don’t have plans to advance this system.”
Shawn M. Emery (a cybersecurity PhD candidate) said that “based on our research, it actually causes more problems than it solves.” “If three researchers can cause this much damage, I don’t know what a nation-state actor with millions in its budget can do to disrupt this election system in multiple different ways.