Among the many possible uses of blockchain technology, the applications to voting show great promise. Experts strongly feel that the use of blockchain technology can improve the transparency of voting as well as the process of confirming ballots, and help prevent fraud.
Multiple projects have commenced improving the voting process with blockchain, and experts see a long list of potential ways that this integration can benefit any group involved in voting, including for the national elections.
Potential benefits of blockchain for voting
The benefits associated with using blockchain technology for voting are extensive, including the ability to add convenience for those who are abroad at the time of the vote.1 It can also improve turnout by making voting easier and reduce voter fraud. There are also benefits in terms of transparency as everything on the blockchain is recorded on the immutable ledger. A blockchain-based election additionally can reduce costs associated with vote counting while making the vote-counting process more accurate and quicker.
Already in use in West Virginia and in some countries
Those who have doubts about the possibility of integrating blockchain technology into voting need only look at West Virginia. In May, it became the very first state in the U.S. that allowed internet voting via blockchain for the primary elections, representing a significant step forward in blockchain voting technologies.1 The administrators expected a small number of residents to participate due to the lower voter turnout in primaries and unusual voting method. As such, the goal was to use this primary voting as a pilot project, although there are still no plans to expand this voting method.
For the West Virginia elections, voters verified their identity via biometric tools such as the scan of their thumbprints before they used a mobile device to vote. The combined votes created a chain of votes that a third-party participant approved. The use of blockchain technology in the West Virginia primaries allowed for instantly available results that maintained the privacy of voters while being publicly verifiable.
The United States is not the only area in the world to already test out blockchain voting. Sierra Leone's presidential elections in March included the use of a blockchain ledger to record votes from the West Districts.2 Importantly; however, this use of blockchain technology just secured the votes and was not part of the actual casting of votes. Brazil also has plans to store election data using the popular Ethereum blockchain, which would be an impressive undertaking. This process will face many challenges, including the fact that Brazil will rely on its citizens to do the verification.
What electronic ballots must include
When using blockchain for voting, administrators must follow the same guidelines they would for any type of electronic voting. Anytime ballots are transmitted electronically; steps must be taken to ensure the security of the entire election process. There must also be privacy, security of the device used for voting, protection from denial of service attacks, audibility, authentication, and protection against voter coercion. Of course, the ability to prevent hacking attempts is a very crucial issue for electronic voting, whether in a booth or remotely. This is of particular importance given the growing proof that Russia attempted to hack the U.S. presidential elections.
In order for blockchain to work for electronic voting, the technology must be scalable and accessible at a reasonable cost. It would also have to be tested to a greater extent than the West Virginia primaries. Luckily, many feel that blockchain can handle many of these challenges and resolve the issues related to electronic voting.
Blockchain must overcome anonymity and verification for voting
For the blockchain to be used effectively for voting, developers must first confirm that it can verify votes without sacrificing the anonymous aspect that democratic nations expect from elections. There must be a method to verify that those who vote are eligible to do so while still preventing outsiders from determining who cast which vote.2 It must also be ensured that a person can see their vote, but not those of others.
Blockchain must also overcome scalability
The other main challenge that blockchain technology must overcome for voting is scalability. While it has been successful on smaller scales, there has not been any large-scale test yet. Blockchains are notorious for scalability problems with Bitcoin significantly slowing down when demand increases. Some experts have pointed out the potential extent of the problem for voting with the Brexit example. There were 35 million votes, so without scalability, verification of seven per second would require 55 days to take care of everything. While many blockchain projects aim to improve scalability, it has yet to be proven that results can be counted and verified within a day, not nearly two months.
What blockchain cannot solve
Unfortunately, blockchain technology cannot resolve all the challenges related to voting. There is no way for blockchain to stop someone being forced to vote for a particular candidate, either via physical intimidation or another threat. Blockchain technology also does not seem to offer a solution to protect electronic voting terminals from cyberattacks aimed at changing votes or accessing data. Simply put, without improvements to the current machines used for electronic voting, the benefits of blockchain for this use are pointless.
Blockchain projects for voting
Because of the use cases for blockchain technology in voting, there are already a large number of blockchain projects aimed at working towards creating open-source systems that can be used for voting. Just some include Democracy.Earth Foundation, democarcyos.org, Milvum, Follow My Vote, VotoSocial, Voatz, and VoteWatcher. The various projects take different approaches. The Democracy.Earth Foundation, for example, focuses on using blockchain as a ledger instead of using it for actual voting.3 Its goal is to use blockchain technology to increase transparency during the monitoring of election results. It is also worth noting that this particular project also requires rethinking the technical infrastructure of voting.
Follow My Vote keeps the traditional technical infrastructure in place while ensuring that each vote is recorded once via a token, so there is a permanent record within the blockchain.4 BitCongress also takes a token-based approach to ensure each person gets a single vote that is unchangeable. The platform also adds the capability to voice opinions on key topics so people's thoughts can be heard.
There is actually nothing new about the idea of using blockchain technology for voting. CommitCoin began in 2012 by computer scientists Aleksander Essex and Jeremy Clark.4 Their method harnessed the ability of blockchain to validate and secure voting. Essentially, the technology used the blockchain to prevent the ability to change any vote.
The future of blockchain and voting
Most experts agree that blockchain technology is the future of voting, but the change will not happen overnight. The technology still requires a great deal of work, and there will be resistance to the change. Some government officials, for example, will likely oppose the use of blockchain tech in voting since it requires a decentralized structure that will not benefit politicians or policymakers.5 Even so, many startups are working on the issue and advances have already been made, including the use of blockchain technology for various election-related applications around the world. Blockchain tech certainly has the potential to disrupt the current voting systems.
1) How blockchain could improve election transparency. Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/techtank/2018/05/30/how-blockchain-could-improve-election-transparency/
2) Could blockchain be the missing link in electronic voting? ZDNet.https://www.zdnet.com/article/could-blockchain-be-the-missing-link-in-electronic-voting/
3) Blockchain may power future elections, but it’s no silver bullet for fraud. Digitaltrends. https://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/blockchain-could-be-implemented-in-electoral-voting-by-2019/
4) How Blockchain Technology Can Change How We Vote. The Balance. https://www.thebalance.com/how-the-blockchain-will-change-how-we-vote-4012008
5) Blockchain for voting and elections. Hackernoon. https://hackernoon.com/blockchain-for-voting-and-elections-9888f3c8bf72