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Ohio’s county auditors explore blockchain

Written on Apr 29, 2019

A County Auditors' Association of Ohio (CAAO) working group has partnered with Columbus software provider SafeChain to study how blockchain can streamline the transfer of property deeds at the county level. As many of these transactions take place on paper in Ohio, the working group views the new technology as a huge leap beyond the current, antiquated system.

The group consists of 13 Ohio county auditors, who will test the execution of real estate transactions on a blockchain, ideally creating a decentralized audit trail that can never be lost or stolen. The goal is to get auditors thinking about how they deliver real estate services to the taxpayer.

Blockchain is a digitized, distributed ledger that its developers say is virtually hack-proof despite its availability to large groups of people or organizations. Built as an accounting system for the bitcoin virtual currency, blockchain has the potential to transform industries such as government services, health care and real estate, its advocates maintain.

In real estate, transactions travel through multiple county offices for approval before becoming public record. The majority of title data are stored at the local level — sometimes only on paper — resulting in fragmented, outdated information that is difficult and expensive to access.

Using a blockchain, a digital title could include a property's history, location and title details, speeding up a transfer process otherwise hampered by paper-driven or out-of-date electronic recordkeeping.

Working group member Wayne County currently uses a paper system where titles are physically walked to each office. While those offices are close to one another, that doesn't eliminate the irritation stemming from the 30%-40% of deeds needing correction.

Eliminating paper from a property handover unlocks a host of other cost-effective, secure real estate transaction options. Under SafeChain's guidance, Perry County discontinued physical stamping of documents that moved between the county engineer, auditor and recorder. That slashed the length of the process from 48 hours to just five minutes.

The company worked with Washington County officials on automating paper copies of property conveyance tax forms, allowing data to pass easily to other government entities or internal databases. Franklin County, meanwhile, recently completed a sale of forfeited properties through blockchain.

Blockchain also introduces increased security against ransomware attacks, where a hacker blocks access to a computer system unless payment is made. In Licking County, officials relied on backups rather than pay a ransom during an attack on their network. A blockchain-backed system would require successful infiltration of dozens of decentralized databases at once, presenting an imposing dilemma for data thieves.

Ohio continues to position itself as a hub for blockchain adoption. Last year, the state amended its Uniform Electronic Transactions Act to recognize data stored and transacted on a blockchain. Under the act, electronic signatures secured through blockchain have the same legal standing as any other electronic signature.