Can Blockchain Bring Voting into the 21st Century?
By The Relevance House. on Altcoin Academy
There has been a growing number of public trials of blockchain-based voting systems recently. One reason for this flurry of activity is the increased emphasis on election security in the wake of the 2016 US presidential elections. While the electoral interference mainly involved social media manipulation and fake news, it has also turned attention to the outdated and insecure e-voting equipment in the US.
The majority of US voters used electronic voting machines in the last elections. Unfortunately, however, these systems tend to be outdated and vulnerable to cyberattack. For example, many e-voting machines still run on Windows 7, which will stop being officially supported by Microsoft in January 2020.
Identity management is a key issue for all conventional e-voting systems. Although evidence suggests that the incidence of voter impersonation is very low, it is often incorrectly perceived to be a bigger problem by voters, damaging the legitimacy of the electoral process. To ensure the integrity of the voting system and to increase voter turnout, a decentralized ID management solution would be preferable.
How does decentralized ID management work?
A few steps would need to be taken before a blockchain-based voting system could be implemented in the real world. First, the entire voting process would need to be digitized. The electoral authority would send an electronic key to each individual in the form of a token, allowing them to verify their identity. Here’s where one of the key principles of blockchain comes into play — separating data from identity. The voter’s identity is linked to the token, but the token itself doesn’t indicate who cast it, so the digital identity of the voter remains anonymous.
Can we improve e-voting with the help of blockchain?
Blockchain plays an important role in the back-end of the platform. In particular, it prevents the authorities from interfering in elections by taking the platform offline. Once the smart contract that runs the platform is online, it is impossible to turn it off. In addition, blockchain makes every transaction transparent. No one can manipulate or control the source code and the data. Thus, double voting or electoral fraud would be virtually impossible. Furthermore, the costs would be much lower as a lot of administrative work would no longer be necessary. By facilitating secure, remote e-voting and eliminating the need to travel to the polling booth, blockchain could also potentially increase voter turnout.
This increase in voter turnout was in evidence during a major trial in Moscow recently. Three of the city’s 20 electoral precincts allowed voters to use a blockchain-based mobile voting app to cast their ballot from anywhere with an internet connection. Turnout among the individuals registered for this system was 90.8 percent.
However, the trial also illustrated some challenges. Prior to the full rollout, a French security researcher discovered that the encryption keys which had been used were too short, leaving them vulnerable to attack. In addition, some people could not cast their votes due to technological issues, which led losing candidates to claim that they would have won if the election had been carried out in the traditional manner.
Another trial of blockchain-based mobile voting was carried out in West Virginia. A mobile voting app successfully allowed absentee military members and their families living overseas to participate in this year’s midterm elections using only their smartphones. In this case, the system proved to be robust — although there were attempts to hack it, a subsequent investigation revealed that “no penetration occurred and the security protocols… worked as designed”.
Are we ready for blockchain-based voting solution?
Overall, it seems that we have some way to go before the public will place their faith in blockchain-based voting. A key technical consideration is how the voter’s identity is verified: while a more complex key is harder to hack, it may reduce speed and efficiency, meaning that more computer power would is needed. This is a reflection of the wider trade-off between scalability and security which has been holding back many larger blockchain projects. On the plus side, however, countless startups and established players throughout the globe are working on ways to solve this problem and it seems to be only a matter before they succeed.
Another crucial prerequisite is public trust. Legitimacy is a crucial aspect of any democracy so it is extremely important that the electorate have faith in the accuracy and reliability of the voting system. The example of West Virginia shows that a blockchain-based e-voting system can work without a hitch, strengthening security while increasing turnout. Thus, while there are undoubtedly still a few more issues to resolve, there are promising signs that blockchain-based e-voting could soon be ready to take center stage.
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