In my previous post, I had attempted to enumerate the benefits of using Blockchain technology in addressing the pain points of traditional voting. In this post, I have tried to explore this concept further and illustrate how Blockchain can be leveraged in every stage of the election process.
The ceaseless pandemic has forced every industry to innovate their use of technology and find new ways of running the business with minimum disruption. Challenges with conducting elections during these uncertain times are not any different. Traditional voting predominantly involves people standing in long queues in front of their designated polling stations and casting their choice using paper or electronic ballots. In today’s setting, finding contactless alternatives to in-person voting has become vital. Ensuring the election integrity and safeguarding its outcome even when remote voting becomes a norm is crucial. Technologies such as Blockchain have several inherent capabilities that are conducive for holding secure and yet transparent elections.
In the last couple of years, Blockchain has undergirded several elections, from Sierra Leone in 2018 to Russia in 2020. The US Postal Service (USPS) has filed a patent for a Blockchain voting system. The USPS is reportedly contemplating Blockchain as a feasible option for managing the mail-in votes that are expected to surge during the upcoming elections, due to the increased number of voters choosing to vote remotely.
Traditional voting can leverage Blockchain in every phase of the voting process
We are still in the nascent phases of full-fledged Blockchain adoption. Expecting that the technology will uproot and replace everything in its way is whimsical at best. Accordingly, the objective here is not to replace the traditional voting system, but to augment it with Blockchain in every phase in the elections.
Manage Election Process
Traditionally, managing an election involves all events from election planning to announcing the results. It includes determining the voting booths, assigning the polling staff, and dispatching the ballot boxes.
Similarly, with Blockchain systems, there are technology-specific processes that need to be managed. Firstly, authorities responsible for managing the election process are designated the role of election administrator on the Blockchain Platform. They configure the ballots, register the voters, create and activate the election, observe the voting process, close election, observe and deploy the results on the system.
Administrator nodes can create the election ballot using the decentralized apps that interact with the election smart contracts. These smart contracts have the details of the election, including the candidates and their contesting jurisdiction. Separate ballot contracts based on the candidates and the jurisdiction makes the election process further decentralized.
An election system should allow only eligible individuals to vote in an election. Hence it is vital to work with various government agencies responsible for issuing reliable identity information for the voters.
Voters should be able to use both paper and web-based registration forms, thereby ensuring no one is left out. On ascertaining the eligibility of the registered voters, the administrators add them to the list of voters. Unique ID and PIN are then issued to the voters. They will use these IDs to attest their identity during the voting process. Leveraging mechanisms such as Zero-Knowledge Proofs will ensure that no one, including the election authorities, can recognize the voter by the IDs issued.
Voter Identity Verification
Now we arrive on the voting day. Before the voters cast their votes, their identity has to be verified to ensure they are eligible to vote and that they have not already cast their ballot. In traditional voting, when the voters arrive at their polling stations, the election official assigned to the booth verifies the voter’s ID and confirms that the voter has not voted yet.
When the voter registers on a Blockchain-powered system, they can leverage the smart contracts to ascertain their identity. Voters using the applications running on Blockchain can send a hash of the ID issued to them during the registration process, which is then verified with the IDs stored in the system. Smart contracts can also check the Blockchain system and verify if the voter has already exercised their vote. On successful verification, the voters will be able to log into the application to cast their votes. However, to dissuade tracking a ballot back to the voter, the Blockchain systems storing the voter information must be kept separate from the system storing the votes information.
Blockchain combines the power of cryptography with transparency, which makes it a convenient and secure option for online voting. The votes recorded on Blockchain will be tamper-resistant. People can now cast their ballots at the convenience of their homes. They can vote with a computer or a mobile device, without compromising the security or their privacy. Additionally, they will be able to verify their votes and ensure they are counted.
But, with Blockchain-only or in hybrid voting where voters can choose their voting mechanism, it is crucial to prevent multiple votes by the same voter. When the voter logs into the voting application, the resulting URL can be embedded with voter-specific information and disabled once they cast their ballots. Furthermore, updating the voter Blockchain once the voter has exercised their right ensures they cannot vote again in the current elections. Finally, to encourage voter participation, voters can earn rewards for casting their votes.
It is beneficial to record the elections only on the immutable ledger, which is easier to count and verify. The systems storing the ballots have to be tamper-resistant and incontrovertible. They have to be decentralized enough to isolate the hacking attempts. The time taken to confirm the votes into Blockchain should also be reasonable.
Firstly, instead of replicating the voting records across all the nodes participating in the voting Blockchain, taking a sidechain approach is beneficial. Dividing the voting Blockchain into smaller jurisdiction or district-wise networks assures faster block confirmation and also limits the hacks. The keys required to encrypt and decrypt the votes will change from one constituency to another. Any hacker getting hold of the private key can only get to reveal the choices of the particular constituency.
Secondly, the decision to add or reject the ballots should be transparent and devoid of malicious intent. The voters submit their choices as transactions to the respective constituency nodes. These nodes then verify if the voter and the vote is valid. On verification, the constituency nodes add the transaction to the block. The block is then transmitted to all the nodes connected to the nodes until the complete network is updated. Voters receive a transaction ID, which they can use to verify their votes.
It is paramount not to divulge how the voters voted, the political party they voted for, even to the voters or the validator nodes. Voters should be able to prove they voted but not to whom they voted. It is vital to prevent vote manipulation, voter coercion, and the bandwagon effect. Zero-Knowledge Proofs are beneficial for the voters to declare their votes without any details of the ballots themselves.
Finally, it is essential to incentivize the validator nodes to remain honest. To prevent the delays in vote confirmations due to low transaction fees, it is better to have fixed transaction charges, while keeping the rewards for validating the votes separate from the price required to confirm transactions.
The final phase of any election process is to tally the votes. An election system should ensure and prove to a voter that their ballots were counted, and counted correctly. It should not enable control to a third party to tamper with any vote. Additionally, it should not allow a single entity to control over tallying votes and determining an election result.
The jurisdiction nodes will query and publish the vote count at each constituency level using the smart contracts. The cumulative results from all constituencies form the final tally and determine the winning party. Furthermore, Blockchain voting systems also allow post-electoral audits by the electoral administration.
Concerns with Blockchain Voting
Blockchain technology provides the much needed resilient alternative to traditional voting. But, the technology also brings in problems unique to Blockchain. First, for the technology to succeed on such a vast scale, a sound governance model is a must. Determining the right Blockchain platform, the appropriate consensus mechanism, and error-free and all-inclusive smart contracts is vital. Safeguards against rigging of the systems using the 51 percent attack or fraudulent nodes are necessary. Measures to protect voter privacy is essential.
Additionally, ensuring the validation process before vote confirmation does not disenfranchise the voters is essential. Likewise, preventing voters from casting their ballots multiple times due to slower block confirmation time is critical.
In conclusion, Blockchain technology might not be the silver bullet. At present, it might not be self-sufficient to conduct elections on a massive scale. But, the merits of the technology has the potential to improve the traditional voting processes, while maintaining election integrity and the legitimacy of its outcomes.