The security of elections around the world have come into question of late. With established interference by the Russians in U.S. elections, it should come as no surprise that governmental bodies are investigating new ways to protect the validity of their polls.
Blockchain, the technology that allows secure, trustworthy and invariable transmission of monetary transactions, storage of data and protection of personal information, seems to be a logical tool to secure elections. Blockchain voting systems allow for auditing, while preserving the anonymity of individuals’ votes and preventing tampering with records.
Pilot Programs for Blockchain Voting
The U.S. State of West Virginia is testing a pilot program to allow active-duty military members to vote using mobile blockchain technology.
The Swiss town of Zug made headlines this summer after completing a trial of a blockchain voting system. The Japanese city of Tsukuba is allowing citizens to vote for different social contribution project proposals.
Even corporations are jumping aboard, as investors at Madrid-based Santander Bank’s annual general meeting this year cast votes through a blockchain-based system. This was not a first for corporate entities as last year Nasdaq trialed blockchain-based e-voting in Estonia for shareholder votes.
Can blockchain voting be the silver bullet to secure elections?
The West Virginia Plan for Military Blockchain Voting
Working with the Boston-based company Voatz, West Virginia is launching a system that will allow military personnel to use a blockchain-based app on their smartphones to vote in the 2018 election. Some 30 elections, with 75,000 votes, have used Voatz’s technology, though they were private elections, not official U.S. elections.
The app is rolling out to all 55 counties in West Virginia and will allow military personnel deployed overseas to vote also. West Virginia tested the technology during the primaries in Harrison and Monongalia counties with no problems reported. With this said, troops don’t have to vote in this fashion. They can use voting machines and send in absentee ballots as they have always done.
Soldiers who choose the Voatz system must sign up with the company by providing an image of their military ID and a video focusing on their face. They must then upload this material to the company. Voatz will then run these images through their facial recognition software to guarantee they are the same person. After this is done, the soldier can access the app. Submitted ballots are recorded on a publicly accessible blockchain ledger and tabulated.
We’ll see how well this works in just a few months. We’ll see if West Virginia will roll out blockchain voting to the general populace in future elections and if other states do so as well.
Zug, Switzerland, Trial
Citizens of Zug voted via smartphone, using the town’s new electronic ID system. The trial involved citizens participating in a consultative vote, a popular concept in Switzerland, on an invented issue.
“The premiere was a success,” Zug’s Communications Chief Dieter Müller told the Swiss News Agency. Those who chose to participate found the actual voting process to be easy and fairly simple.
Spain’s Santander Bank Demo
The bank said they used blockchain tech to create a “shadow digital register” to demonstrate to investors how the bank could count their votes faster. Investors normally vote two weeks in advance to leave time for counting ballots, yet the process could become instant thanks to blockchain.
Santander praised the test as the “first practical use of blockchain for investor voting.”
Tsukuba, Japan, Voting
Tsukuba citizens used blockchain voting to address social contribution project proposals, which included the creation of new cancer diagnostic technology, the introduction of a “mystery solving game” providing cheap entertainment, and the construction of a system to manage outdoor sporting competitions.
The voting platform was primarily based around Japan’s “My Number” identification system, all residents in the country are given a 12-digit identification number. Officials hope this will make administrative processes easier while cutting down on crimes such as tax evasion. Some citizens, however, worry the concept strips away their privacy.
How Secure Is Secure?
While blockchain voting shows promise, many internet security professionals and watchdog groups see serious potential for fraud and breakdowns. The public has viewed blockchain as a way to set up a secure system that no one can hack.
However, in its 156-page report, “Securing the Vote: Protecting American Democracy,” National Academies Press concluded that blockchains are not safe for the U.S. election system. “While the notion of using a blockchain as an immutable ballot box may seem promising, blockchain technology does little to solve the fundamental security issues of elections, and indeed, blockchains introduce additional security vulnerabilities. If malware on a voter’s device alters a vote before it ever reaches a blockchain, the immutability of the blockchain fails to provide the desired integrity, and the voter may never know of the alteration.”
Most fears revolve around how poor phones’ security is and not directly about the application of blockchain for voting.
Another fear is that this mobile system does not provide printed paper ballots, required in case of disputes. But this should be less of a factor as the data is on immutable blockchain ledgers. These are in fact, more secure and permanent than paper ballots, which people can hide. How often during elections do we hear that someone discovered a box of ballots locked in a closet?
Blockchain voting may hold promise as the technology advances and consumer applications, such as blockchain phones, continue to increase.