Elections, But Without The Middleman

The way voting works today is a complete mess. Here’s how we can fix it.

Lines that kept people waiting for hours, fake ballots handed to voters, out-of-order machines, broken databases, staff with poor understanding of the voting process. These were just a few of the problems that occurred during the Ontario general elections on June 7th, 2018 that had a lot of people pissed off on Twitter.

With so many difficult to control variables in the equation, it’s no surprise governments struggle to make the voting process as smooth and seamless as it should be. And it turns out the problem runs even deeper than logistic issues keeping voters waiting on their feet for too long: the entire voting process itself in western democratic nations is pretty much systematically broken.

Outside of the very real possibility of the election databases being attacked, the truth is that the problem is more social and political than anything. Parties are leveraging data to carefully tailor & design each voting district in order to optimize and concentrate their party’s voters in one area — this is called gerrymandering. Gerrymandering has pretty obvious implications for what it does to change election outcomes, especially when geographical areas in the States are already pretty politically distinct to begin with. The impact is very real: Associated Press discovered that gerrymandering brought Republicans as many as 22 extra U.S. House seats during the 2016 elections.

Another huge issue is the difference in voter rights from state to state in America. Statistically speaking, these policy distinctions heavily affect the ability of specific (minority) demographic groups to vote. A couple examples include the right of individuals with felony convictions to vote, differing requirements for photo ID, and more. Even though the issue is definitely a lot more multi-faceted and complex than “Oh gosh the horrible Republicans are preventing minorities from voting again!”, the end result is that many citizens do in fact end up becoming unfairly disenfranchised.

Essentially, this is what voting looks like today:

  1. Election results that aren’t representative of the population’s views
  2. Logistic weaknesses that create a barrier for many potential voters
  3. Disenfranchisement of specific demographic groups

Voting is the keystone of democracy in countries like the United States. Something clearly needs to change.

How To Fix It

Blockchain technology. It’s a type of distributed ledger protocol that has groundbreaking potential impact, especially when it comes to government. If none of those words made sense to you, this article will explain it pretty well.

Because these distributed ledger networks are architecturally and politically decentralized, they’d be really good at targeting the exact problems our current electoral systems use today. Here’s just a few examples:

Seamless Identification

Putting your identity onto the blockchain is almost a no-brainer. It’s so secure, and each member of the network would have access to the exact same information at the exact same time. If this were to be implemented, identity check could be as simple as tapping a single button on your phone. Since it’s digital, this would open up doors to a lot of different types of data you could possibly attach to your identity. It’d make it a lot faster to check in voters, and have election centres comply with convoluted policies.

Trustless and Automated

There’s no third party in any interaction you make with a blockchain network. No middleman. This means you will know for sure that the second you make your vote, that information is directly stored onto the distributed ledger without ever passing the hands of the government. This makes it a lot more difficult for anyone, malicious intentions or not, to tamper with or modify the votes.

Electoral Campaigns on the Blockchain

With this kind of technology, it would make a lot of sense to have it become the underlying protocol for the entire electoral process. Humans by nature will never be infallible; we make mistakes, whether accidental or not. By putting these high-stakes processes onto a distributed ledger network and by automating them with smart contracts for example, we’d be taking out a whole lot of possible points of failure from the system. Heck, in some kind of distant future governments could possibly be entirely replaced by these networks — using distributed ledgers for collective policymaking and governance would create a sort of hyper-organized anarchy; an ordered society with no central figures in power.

But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves.

How It Actually Works

As a proof of concept to show that using blockchain to vote is absolutely possible, I’ve built a decentralized application on Ethereum called SecVote that allows you to vote for your favourite candidate with the amount of “stake” you have (represented by the number of tokens you hold). This was deployed on the Ethereum Ropsten test network — check out a quick demo below!

Using a smart contract to automate the interaction of buying a token → voting with the token → incrementing the candidate’s number of votes, we can see that this whole process becomes completely transparent and totally secure all at once.

Main Takeaways:

Here’s the TL;DR.

  1. The way voting is done today is broken.
  2. Elections are a really, really important part of maintaining democracy in democratic countries, so it must be done right.
  3. Using blockchain as the underlying protocol to not only serve as the vote database, but also as an identification system, will solve most (if not all) of the problems we face today.
  4. It’s possible, and we can do it now.
Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this article, be sure to send some claps my way. Connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter — I’d love to chat if you’re interested in learning more.