Voter suppression. Words synonymous with the 2020 U.S. election cycle as America grappled with voting during an unprecedented pandemic.
As the 2020 voting season began, nothing exemplified this concern more than the Iowa Caucus debacle, where CNBC described the spectacular failure of a vote-counting app as “one of the most stunning failures of information security ever.”
It is against this backdrop that Chelsey Gonzalez ’21, as a third-year student, decided to write a scholarly article that addressed integrity in U.S. elections. The piece entitled The Integrity of Elections in the United States: Protecting Voters from Suppression, Technology, and Pandemics, has subsequently been published in the Rutgers Law Record.
“I have always been passionate about voting rights,” says Gonzalez. “I decided to focus my paper on voting because of what happened during the 2020 Caucus. As I was writing it, the pandemic began, and I saw the issues with making voting accessible for at-risk communities in real-time.”
Gonzalez’s article proposes that the U.S. should adopt blockchain voting in order to make voting accessible to all and to protect the integrity of the data.
“I wanted to learn more about blockchain because of the rise of cryptocurrencies,” says Gonzalez. “I thought I was going to write my paper on cryptocurrencies and how they related to the black market. However, as I learned more about blockchain, I learned that it could be utilized for more than cryptocurrencies.”
Blockchain voting is an online voting system that utilizes blockchain to protect data, explains Gonzalez. It is a public electronic ledger that creates an unchangeable record of transactions, each time-stamped and linked to the previous one. Thus, it makes it easy to track a person's voting record.
The article provides a history of selected issues the United States has faced with voting and discusses voting laws implemented by Congress to improve voter accessibility. It explains blockchain and the different types of blockchain networks and examines governments with either partially or fully integrated blockchain voting operations.
It concludes by discussing possible counterarguments to implementing blockchain voting into governance and restating why the United States should fully integrate blockchain to implement a technology that fully secures data and data transference.
California Western Associate Dean for Experiential Learning James Cooper mentored Gonzalez in the writing of her article, and she considers his guidance as essential to the ultimate robustness of the content and subsequent acceptance by Rutgers.
“I chose Professor Cooper because he is well-versed in both blockchain and international law. He taught me how to use credible sources to strengthen my arguments and cite every claim,” says Gonzalez.
Professor Cooper believes too much criticism of this evolving technology has been focused on money laundering and tax evasion.
“There are so many more uses of distributed ledgers including protecting food security, facilitating land titling, and providing for the exercise of the democratic franchise,” says Professor Cooper.
“Chelsey Gonzalez’s article highlights the power of disruptive technologies in transforming our world. Her piece reminds us that countries can use blockchain to assist in the operation of free and fair elections.”
Gonzalez chose a law degree because she wanted to drive change in a real way. “I have always been passionate about fighting for civil and human rights, and I believed the best way I could add value to the movements was by being well-versed in the law,” she says.
She has enjoyed her law school experience, and her success has enabled her to be involved in Law Review, International Law Journal, California Innocence Project, as well as being the Diversity chair and the president of the American Constitution Society.
“Although I enjoyed being busy, I was also very tired,” admits Gonzalez. “I would recommend that law students choose one activity other than their classes and commit their all to that one activity so they can get more enjoyment.”
Before she enrolled in law school, Gonzalez spoke with a District Attorney who left her with some words that have resonated with her throughout her student days and she believes will help steer her career.
“Make a living, but also make a difference.”
Read Chelsey Gonzalez’s complete article, The Integrity of Elections in the United States: Protecting Voters from Suppression, Technology, and Pandemics, here.