Blockchain And The Future of Voting

Blockchain And The Future of Voting
Blockchain And The Future of Voting Image source Getty Images

Can Blockchain contribute to a safer more modern democracy ? According to some experts, that might be the case, at least when it comes to the expansion into a safer digital voting system. “Building a workable, scalable, and inclusive online voting system is now possible, thanks to blockchain technologies,” writes Alex Tapscott, whom the Times describes as co-founder of the Blockchain Research Institute. But is that so? As usual, discordant voices appear, looking at this question from different perspectives. 

Recently, Perianne Boring, inspired by the  midterm election in the US, just released an interesting blog post about how the future of voting will imply blockchain. Perianne is the founder of The Chamber of Digital Commerce, a leading trade association representing the digital asset and blockchain industry. In her blog post, Perianne writes:

“The U.S. has suffered its share of challenges when it comes to collecting and counting votes – from long lines at the polls, to ensuring citizens are registered (and motivated) to vote, to questions surrounding whether a chad was left “hanging” during the 2000 Presidential election, to a myriad of other concerns. No matter what side of the political aisle you fall, we can all agree that the process of casting a ballot could use some improvement.

Despite having evolved over time from the physical tokens used in ancient Athenian democracy to medieval little balls (“ballots”) to paper slips to mechanical voting machines to punch cards to optical scanners — the process of voting continues to be vexed with potential vulnerabilities and shortcomings.”

Boring’s argument is that blockchain could be the much needed innovation for the future of voting, due to its extra layer of security, and because it provides voters with a convenient process. Both factors could increase participation:

“One of the reasons that electoral officials have been slow to migrate voting online is fear that election integrity could be compromised by hackers. It seems the headlines are riddled with concerns regarding cybersecurity, so it’s no wonder. But that’s where blockchain comes in, which promises to combine much needed ballot security with voting convenience. Blockchain integrates cryptography into software in a unique way. It creates a tamper-free record that can easily be checked to ensure votes are accurately recorded.

Due to the secure and immutable nature of blockchain, votes may be cast by computer or mobile device instead of having voters show up at a local polling place or cast a mail-in-ballot to be processed manually by election officials. Votes tracked through a blockchain provide for a quicker, tamper-proof way of counting votes.”

Recently, in West Virginia, a pilot program is being implemented, to allow its military workers to vote remotely and securely via a blockchain-enabled platform entitled Votem. Votem  was developed by Pete Martin, who is a member of Boring’s organization. Votem claims that its token enables citizens to easily vote online, including from their mobile devices with an unprecedented level of verifiability, accessibility, security, and transparency.

Other examples of countries experimenting with blockchain and voting are appearing from all corners of the world. In Japan, a recent project is being developed in the city of Tsukuba,  to trial blockchain-powered digital voting.

 In Japan, a recent project is being developed in the city of Tsukuba,  to trial blockchain-powered digital voting.
In Japan, a recent project is being developed in the city of Tsukuba,  to trial blockchain-powered digital voting.

According to The Japan Times, the system will rely on the Japanese equivalent of social security cards to verify voter identity. Currently, the solution is being used to allow citizens to cast votes on “social contribution projects,”

The system is exactly similar to the one of making a mark at the ballot card which is then deposited in a secure box, but in this case, voters will place their votes on a screen, and because the system uses blockchain, it is theoretically safer, thus preventing falsifying any of the data recorded. Finally, it has been stated by the blockchain community that in developing countries, where corruption and lack of voting infrastructures hamper the democratic process, Blockchain could eventually become a powerful instrument for the spreading of  representative democracy.

But not everyone is so sure about the benefits of using blockchain to innovate the voting processes. In a recent article written by Timothy B. Lee for Ars Technica the author, criticises Alex Tappscott opinion, expressed on a recent blog post at the New York Times that “using blockchain technology, online voting could boost voter participation and help restore the public’s trust in the electoral process and democracy.” After all, blockchain is super technical, and most of us, when using blockchain systems and apps, are, by the end of the day,  taking a simple leap of faith on a system we hardly understand.

Lee states:

“Blockchain voting would be much, much worse. Hardly anyone understands how a blockchain works, and even experts don’t have a good way to observe the online voting process for irregularities the way an election observer does in a traditional paper election. A voter might be able to use her private key to verify how her vote was recorded after the fact. But if her vote wasn’t counted the way she expected (or wasn’t counted at all) she’d have no good way to prove that she tried to vote a different way.”

And he reminds us how “after-the-fact verification makes things worse, not better”.

If voting system will certainly be innovated through the new technologies being developed, such as blockchain, these are still early days, as the technology is at its infancy, so all grand statements about its infallibility, transparency and security, should be scrutinised by neutral parties to truly access if those claims correspond to reality.