At this point, we all understand how blockchain technology works together in a peer to peer network to verify transactions from nodes or persons that we have little to no trust for. We have seen how this has been proven successful with cryptocurrency increasing its reliability in the digital currency space. Nonetheless, the question on our minds is, how far can we go? Is blockchain technology’s only use in cryptocurrency? What are other uses of this technology and could it be as big as the internet in changing how we live our lives? Together we shall explore the world of blockchain and its applications and most importantly, take a look at its application in how we conduct our elections and if it could be the future of voting.
In light of the recent elections, we have seen just as with the advancement of technology and the internet, there has been an advancement in the voting sector as well. Technology is being used to help make the whole system more efficient in terms of the resources expended in time and money while at the same time, make it more secure against voter fraud and hacker attacks. It is very clear that there has been a surge in the use of electronic registers and voting, however, taken with a grain of salt. There remains increasing skepticism over use of digital balloting. This is evidenced by a survey conducted by the democracy fund whereby almost 40 percent of voters were to a high degree worried that a breach of security would have affected the integrity of the national vote count and the democratic process in its entirety.
This, however, may not be the case any longer with the use of blockchain technology in this exercise. It is a possibility that the technology and the accounting methodology used for the electronic currencies can provide a basis for trustworthy and reliable recordkeeping that is transparent to all those who are part of the exercise. The encrypted digital ledger is shared among distributed nodes within the network making all transactions transparent and verifiable to those in the network.
Use of blockchain technology has proven itself adequate in keeping track of money but the true test at the moment is can it be used in the tallying of votes during an election. In a competition where University groupings were challenged to brainstorm and create blockchain based voting and electioneering systems, the cyber security giant, Kaspersky Labs purposed to find out if it is a possibility or the thought of it is still far-fetched in today’s world. There was a lot of hope in the system since all those peers in the network are in essence checking each other’s transactions. Therefore, everyone in the network has a real time update of the transactions ensuring the integrity of the voting exercise. This is because if one node in the network gets compromised and altered, the rest of the nodes in the network would be able to identify the change easily.
From the competition, three winners were named by the versus cybersecurity juggernaut. First place went to a group from New York University who created a “permissioned blockchain” whereby a central governing body has the authority to allow voting machines in the blockchain network where a distributed ledger of votes is generated. A student team from the University of Maryland in College Park Maryland Cybersecurity Center came in at second place. This was in reward for their innovation in the global public keys that serve to encrypt ballots and to provide for voter receipts. UK entrants from Newcastle University came in third with a model rooted in DRE-i, DREI-ip, and open vote network protocols.
Considering the public’s diminishing faith in the e-voting systems, a very high standard was to be met by the contestants. The solutions were designed to combat the challenges that are associated with voting such as guaranteeing voter privacy. Furthermore, it should have been able to account for blank votes and allow for recounting if the need for it arose. In as much as blockchain could have the possibility of revolutionizing the electoral process, the exercise did not want a system that would take away from the voter the simplicity in casting a vote. A system easy enough that the voter was not required to learn about blockchain technology to exercise their democratic right. This is in respect to try and curb the biggest challenge that seemed to face the general electorate when it comes to electronic voting, rejection to the adoption of the new technology.
Moreover, there were a few concerns over the privacy of the voter. Blockchain technology is anchored in its transparency being its greatest strength. So now the question remained, is it possible to use the public visibility nature of the blockchain but at the same time keep an individual’s choice made on the ballot a secret. One way to curb this was suggested by Kevin Kirby from the New York University team. He suggested that a random identification number to be generated and assigned to each voter. This ID would be used to conduct audits of the election but would not link the number to a particular individual.
The complexity of French law and regulations is not a matter open to debate. Labour laws alone consist of somewhere between 2,000 and 15,000 pages of text, depending on what we consider to be core regulation and what to be jurisprudence. But even 2,000 pages is an awful lot, particularly when we also consider the branch agreements, special status regulations, European laws, and so on. And let us be quite clear about this: no politician will ever
have the courage to reduce the French labor law. It would be a Herculean task. However, it would surely be beneficial to codify these texts into smart contracts – and in doing so iron out any contradictions held within them – and then to place these smart contracts in a blockchain, which would then be shared with all stakeholders: companies, administrations, employees, etc. All the calculations would be automatic and the financial gains for the state, and therefore for all involved, would be enormous regarding control. Generally speaking, all rules of governance, be it for a company, a charity or a country, can be put on a blockchain (as detailed in the section on DAOs).
In politics, this would result in the concept of “liquid democracy.” Debates are currently raging as to the limitations of this system, which could lead to the “tyranny of code.”
Certain political parties, like the Pirate Party in the UK and Nous Citoyens in France, already use blockchains to manage their voting procedures. One political party in Australia, The Flux Party, decided to build its governance on a blockchain. The principle is that the party’s senators must apply the decisions chosen by the members’ vote, which takes place via the blockchain. The innovation is that members each have voting credits, which they can exchange on the blockchain to focus their votes on their areas of interest. This is a genuine example of the principles of liquid democracy in action, with the delegation on certain subjects and direct voting on others.
These efforts by Kaspersky Labs were aimed at highlighting a prospectively revolutionary use of blockchain technology. Voting electronically is being implemented I some parts of the world with some degrees of success, but it has not been without its challenges. These challenges are mostly to do with accountability, audibility of these votes and the adoption of these systems to fit the different needs of different electorates. Notwithstanding its reservations, evidence shows that the public would be willing to participate in digital voting if it proved more efficient and transparent in exercising their democratic right. Does blockchain, therefore, hold the key to the future of e-voting and ensuring voter transparency? The future seems likely but only time will tell.