Proponents of blockchain technology, the distributed ledger system underlying bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, view the technology’s applications as potentially offering significant efficiencies to the provision of government services. Two pilot projects currently underway are geared toward exploring the technology’s potential in two key areas of services provided by state and local governments: real property recording and voting.
On August 28, the Franklin County Auditor’s Office in Ohio tested a blockchain application developed by the Columbus, Ohio-based startup SafeChain. The test involved transfer of 37 properties sold through a forfeiture auction. Potential buyers were required to register through the digital system and the ownership transfer involved adding a barcode to the paper document with the remaining documents accessible on the blockchain. This pilot project follows on the heels of the Ohio Legislature passing a law this summer explicitly recognizing the legitimacy of blockchain transactions.
Meanwhile, in West Virginia, the state is extending its trial use of a blockchain-powered mobile voting application developed by the Boston-based startup Voatz. The trial, which is largely limited to military service members serving abroad who are covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, was originally tested in two West Virginia counties during primary elections and will now be extended through November for the midterm elections. Despite the relatively narrow scope of the trial, the use of mobile applications for voting purposes in the midterm elections has raised significant concerns about the security of the system.
As blockchain-based applications continue to develop and mature, the potential benefits to the provision of government services make it likely we will see more frequent public-private collaborations of the sort currently being tested in Ohio and West Virginia.