Feb 09 2018

New York Targets Blockchain for Voter Security, Smart Contracts and More

Regulation and cybersecurity take center stage for local government use of the software underlying bitcoin.

Cryptocurrency may be taking investors for a bit of a wild ride, but software built on its underlying technology, called blockchain, could be a much safer bet for state and local governments. In fact, New York could soon be using blockchain for not just one purpose, but several, thanks to some recently introduced bills.

Blockchain holds great promise for states and local governments when it comes to increasing accountability and transparency. While there have been a few early blockchain pilots by trailblazing states, such as Illinois and Delaware, most governments are just exploring the technology.

New York Assemblyman Clyde Vanel, however, wants state officials to consider going full force with blockchain for everything from shoring up voting technology to introducing smart contracts.

In December, the lawmaker, who chairs a subcommittee on the internet and new technologies, introduced four bills to study the use of blockchain in key government areas, Government Technology reports.

SIGN UP: Get more news from the StateTech newsletter in your inbox every two weeks!

New York Investigates Blockchain for Better Government Security

Two bills are focused on using the technology to improve cybersecurity. One zeroes in on ways to secure voting records and election results and another seeks to shore up government record storage. Vanel says in a blog post that he was moved to create the bills after the state lost 126,000 voter records two years ago. This, paired with the fact that there have "been countless complaints about voter registration information and status being changed or altered," caused him to look at blockchain, which can serve as a virtually unhackable, unchangeable solution.

"By design, these blockchains are resistant to the modification of the data. Additionally, this information can be used on a distributed ledger that is managed by a peer-to-peer network that makes it virtually impossible to hack," Vanel says in his post.

A more secure option could be the answer to ensuring that voter records are never lost again.

"We figured, if it's good enough to secure your high-value assets, like bitcoin, it's good enough for elections," Vanel tells StateTech. "We have to use the up-to-date technology to be able to protect this most sacred institution."

Vanel Wants to Explore the Future of Blockchain

States and services still need to allow and embrace blockchain to unlock its potential. To enable this, the third bill seeks to amend legislation, allowing "signatures, records and contracts secured through blockchain technology to be considered in an electronic form and to be an electronic record and signature."

This would also make smart contracts possible, which rely on the bitcoin framework and cut out the need for a trust or legal framework to ensure all parties are adhering to the terms of the contract as well as prevent transaction fraud without the need for a third party, according to Bitcoin Magazine. This could usher in a sea change in how states approach IT procurement contracts.

Moreover, with cryptocurrency values dominating headlines this week, it's clear that financial systems are not sure what to make of bitcoin. To help bridge this gap, the last bill would create a cryptocurrency task force to study the impact of digital currencies on the state's financial markets.

"We can't be too quick to regulate (blockchain); we need to understand it first," Vanel tells Government Technology.

LuckyStep48/Getty Images

Become an Insider

Unlock white papers, personalized recommendations and other premium content for an in-depth look at evolving IT