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Experts on Blockchain and E-Voting

The article originally published on ict.moscow

Moscow government has completed an experiment with legally binding online voting based on blockchain technology. Online voting was launched this September 8 in three experimental voting districts.

The blockchain was used to keep the voting secret and anonymous while preserving its transparency for the citizens. The technology guarantees no data will be lost or modified after it is entered in the system.

ICT.Moscow asked experts to share their opinions about the experiment and give recommendations on further development of this area.

Ruslan Yusufov — Managing Partner, Mindsmith:

Using blockchain-based solutions for voting is gradually becoming a worldwide trend. Some recent examples include municipal voting in Zug, Switzerland in summer 2018 and social initiatives voting in Tsukuba, Japan this September. Moscow municipal services have already applied blockchain. For example, the technology allows the “Active Citizen” project, where the technology helps verify the timing of the votes and their uniqueness, and in weekend fair place distribution system (where blockchain helps track the timing of applications). Reference blockchain platform for integration into existing electronic services and municipal systems should be ready by the end of the year.

Universa blockchain platform founder Alexander Borodich says that the main difference between the traditional and electronic voting is that in the latter case a voter can make their choice from anywhere in the country — or even in the world. Ani Aslanyan, Member of the Expert Council for Economic Development and New-Generation Technology of the Russian State Duma’s Committee for Economic Policy, founder of Telegram channel “All About Blockchain and Digital Economy in Russia and Worldwide”, also agrees with this statement.

Alexander Borodich — Founder, Universa:

You don’t really have to come to the polls. All you need is to select your preferred voting mode in a special service, and do this in advance, so that your name gets crossed out of the traditional bulletins. Eventually people would be able to do this from a single Government Services application.

His colleague from Bitfury is confident that e-voting helps reduce costs, increase turnout by simplifying the voting procedure and increase confidence in the electoral process in general. Mindsmith agree that using blockchain can be financially reasonable due to automation of the vote count. Besides, blockchain can increase personal data security as well.

Ivan Maslov — Head of Development, Bitfury:

By creating a comprehensive solution, it is possible to improve the democracy index by using this platform to conduct not just elections but all sorts of national referendums, at reduced costs and complexity.

According to Ani Aslanyan, integrating blockchain in the e-voting system “will minimize the risk of vote rigging as much as possible”.

Experts differ on the success of Moscow’s experiment this September 8, but they all agree on this being a very important step in itself. Ani Aslanyan says the experiment shows that Moscow “once again proves to be a leader among Russian regions in digitizing various public services”.

Ani Aslanyan — Member of the Expert Council for Economic Development and New-Generation Technology, Committee for Economic Policy, Russian State Duma:

We saw the involvement of the professional community and cyber-security specialists in the project. What the experiment lacked is the engagement of citizens and even more professional community involvement in the process. Moscow’s experiment is a giant leap in the development of e-voting and the electoral process in general, which requires further refinement in cooperation with the IT community, citizens and the authorities.

Moscow Department of Information Technology specialists spent three months actively discussing the project with technical experts in a workgroup. Information on this work was made available to the media and technical specialists. Parts of the code were provided for public use on GitHub.

Ivan Maslov, Head of Development, Bitfury, believes the pilot run was “rather a success than failure”.

Ivan Maslov — Head of Development, Bitfury:

It’s a great idea with not-so-great implementation, but after all, nobody’s perfect. The pilot launch of e-voting was rather a success than failure. That’s what pilot launches are for: to get the weaknesses sorted out before upscaling the system.

Alexander Borodich says the current platform has been “largely discredited” by its instability.

Alexander Borodich — Founder, Universa:

Electronic voting is definitely the future of every election, from house manager to the president. However, the Moscow election experiment shows there is still a lot of improvement to be done.

A total of four test votes were conducted, involving 6,000 voters. A spokesman for the Moscow Department of Information Technology said that out of several dozen hacking attempts carried out during the preliminary testing, none succeeded. Security flaws in the online voting system exposed by French cryptography specialist Pierrick Gaudry were taken into account and the system was updated.

Ruslan Yusufov — Managing Partner, Mindsmith:

Gaudry’s successful hacking attempt of the test system for Moscow online voting on August 14, followed by the backup system failure on the election day exposed a series of critical vulnerabilities that must not happen during an actual vote.

Ruslan Yusufov says developing a truly efficient, reliable and secure system would require coordinated effort by a broad range of experts, and a comprehensive study of the global experience. At the same time, he emphasized, the most important thing is that the government be willing to “study the capability of the new technology and ready to accept technology transformation in such an important issue for the state and the society”.

The capital’s Department of Information Technology specialists admit a hardware failure happened in the system on the election day. The system was recovered in about an hour. The blockchain shows that no extra votes appeared and no changes in the register took place in that period. DIT specialists contacted every voter who had problems because of the failure. As a result, most people were able to vote within an hour after the system operation was restored.

The experts surveyed agreed on the need to learn from the mistakes and develop the system further, in close cooperation with all relevant professionals and stakeholders.

Pretty much everyone said the platform choice was not perfect, and the system needed major upgrades. Particularly, Ivan Maslov from Bitfury said the solution did not allow using long enough encryption keys and did not provide sufficient transparency. Another important issue raised by the experts was the need to integrate the platform with existing government information systems.

Ivan Maslov — Head of Development, Bitfury:

We have to move towards building a more massive private blockchain, with nodes hosted by various government agencies, political parties, independent observers, while integrating this solution with a universal identification and authentication system. The process whereby a voter can check their vote in the final results without violating secrecy of vote should also be made more transparent.

Alexander Borodich — Founder, Universa:

The updated version of the platform can be based on the latest developments in the distributed ledger technology. These will maximize reliability and security when encrypting the voting data, maintain invariability of the ballots and enable election committees to run various checks.

Ani Aslanyan has singled out four priority areas of work for improving the e-voting system: technical aspect, security aspect, cultural and organizational issues.

Ani Aslanyan — Member of the Expert Council for Economic Development and New-Generation Technology, Committee for Economic Policy, Russian State Duma:

Technical aspects mean building a blockchain platform that can handle high transaction rates; Ethereum network that is currently used by Department of Information Technology has shown less-than-satisfactory data processing speeds. Another issue to pay attention to is security of the information transmitted, processed and stored. This is our data and information on the choice we made at the ballot. In the organizational aspect, the system needs to be integrated with the digital citizen’s profile that the Ministry of Communication is working on. This digital profile would simplify participation in e-voting and avoid data duplication with other online resources. In the cultural aspect, the people need to be explained the pros and cons of electronic voting and its implementations abroad, motivated to try the service, probably given other examples. In the digital era, everyone would want to try one or another digital opportunity they would understand and find to be efficient.

Overall, the experts have a positive view of the future of electronic voting.

Ruslan Yusufov — Managing Partner, Mindsmith

Despite possible problems, the blockchain technology has numerous advantages and can one day bring radical change to the ways people express their will worldwide. To successfully implement this technology solution, one must learn from mistakes and conduct regular discussions with all stakeholders.



Universa Blockchain - simple, fast and reliable blockchain protocol for business and apps. The Token Sale has succeffully finished on 08/12. Stay tuned for the updates!

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