USPS Secretly Tested Mobile Voting System: Report

The U.S. Postal Service was working on a secret project to test a blockchain-based cellphone voting system ahead of the 2020 election before finally abandoning the project, according to The Washington Post.

The effort appears to have been carried out without the involvement of agencies focused on election security. According to the Post, the project’s secrecy alerted officials who feared the news of it could spark conspiracies and fuel distrust of the US electoral system.

Matt Masterson, a former senior advisor to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) who helped run the federal government’s mobile voting project, said he was never aware of the postal service’s activities in relation to the program.

“When you do something in the elective area, transparency should be a top priority. There shouldn’t be a guessing game, ”Masterson told the newspaper.

The postal service was granted a patent for the concept in August 2020. The patent application was filed in February 2019 during the tenure of former Postmaster General Megan Brennan, the Post noted.

In a statement to The Hill, postal service spokesman David Partenheimer said the project was abandoned in 2019 without ever being used, calling it “exploratory character”.

“The postal service stopped researching blockchain voting technology in October 2019,” said Partenheimer.

This system would have enabled individuals to cast their votes using an online mobile app. As the Post reports, the app was similar to an online shopping cart or a survey. The reconciliations were recorded in several different locations at the same time to ensure accuracy, similar to Bitcoin transactions.

However, when cybersecurity researchers at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs ran a test of the system, they found it was vulnerable to hacking attempts in multiple areas.

“Based on our research, this actually causes more problems than it solves,” Shawn Emery, one of the researchers, told the Post.

Partenheimer told The Hill, “The Postal Service has a long and proud history of innovation and is constantly looking for ways to use the latest technology to deliver the best value and experience to our customers.

“The potential of blockchain technology to strengthen digital transaction security is a concept that we explored on our journey to better meet the current and future needs of our customers and to close the gap between the physical and digital world.”

He added that there are currently no plans to further develop such a system.

As the Post found, an evaluation published by federal agencies such as CISA and the FBI found that mobile voting systems pose risks to the “confidentiality, integrity and availability of ballot papers”.

The postal service underwent an intensive scrutiny during the 2020 elections as more and more people submitted their ballots by post during the COVID-19 pandemic. Former President TrumpDonald Trump: Republicans Annoy Trump’s Influence in Jan 6th Missouri Senate Race to Condemn Meadows in Contempt Senate Confirms First Korean-American Woman as Federal Appellate Judge MORE also regularly alleged widespread mail-in voting fraud, and GOP lawmakers across the country cracked down on the practice, despite experts denying the claims.

According to the Pew Research Center, 46 percent of voters said they used postal or absentee voting in the 2020 election.

Mobile voting apps have been used in US elections in the past, including West Virginia in 2018. In February 2020, MIT researchers released the results of a security analysis of the West Virginia app and found that hackers had multiple ways of influencing the votes .

The MIT analysis found that there were parts of the app that gave hackers the ability to change, stop, or detect someone’s voting. The use of third-party providers for voter identification through the app also posed potential data protection problems.

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