Electronic voting has been around as long as it has been possible, the first electronic push card readers been used for voting in the 1960’s, but it has not yet become very popular. Electronic voting (e-voting) is implementation of an electronic system that counts votes and at the present it has many variations in different countries. Generally, electronic voting machines can be used, or then home laptops, the votes may just be recorded, or then the whole voting process is online. When blockchain is discussed in connection with e-voting, the online voting with home laptops or similar devices is usually targeted at.
In the same way, when using blockchains for the means of governance, there is a need for simplified and fast decision-making processes which would be inclusive for the citizens being governed. It would seem at the first glance that electronic voting is simply a sidenote to governance, but as we have discussed, blockchain can be an encompassing system. In that sense, it might be that electronic voting would work as a stand-alone application nationally, while blockchain systems for governance would be used more locally. Therefore, e-voting can be the acid test for blockchain technologies in decision-making, and their exact mode of implementation is still under question. However, it can be useful to bear in mind that many instances in governance can use blockchains for inclusiveness, possibly beneficially.
There are a great number of electronic voting manufacturers, marketing their products. However, the biggest push for electronic voting comes from individual non-governmental groups, advocating the use of internet-based voting. There are also individual research institutes and researchers trying to find ways of making electronic voting advantageous. However, there are some problems with electronic voting. Mainly, that there can be a chance for hacking the voting system, there is a chance for physical threat without physical voting location and the voting should be anonymous even in an online voting.
How can one be certain that the voter has made his or her decision in a situation where he or she has not been coerced into making a certain choice? Basically, whenever one gives a vote online, the physical conditions of voting are unnoticed and can be taken advantage of. The question of physical security has been there for decades now, and good solution is still being searched for. One way of making sure that the vote is given without physical threat is to give the voter a one-week notice while he or she can change his or her anonymous vote. This means that the vote is open for change for one week. If this kind of change can be accepted, then it can be done with SMS or simple use of such electronic appliance which harder for the physical attacker to detect, making physical coercion less attractive an option.
This brings us to the question of anonymity. As we discussed in the previous chapter, blockchain requires each user to have a specific user account, which is a long digit number. To make a transaction or other function in a blockchain, each user logs in to their user account. However, the user account can be anonymous in that sense, that only the person using his or her account knows the account number. As there is no need for transactions to take place between individuals, only on the voted issues, nobody else need to know the user account number but the user and the founder of the blockchain and digital signature (discussed more closely in the next Section) would not be needed because the account numbers would be issued to individuals only by strong ID such as a passport. As we can already see, the use of blockchain for electronic voting is a tightrope walk between security and usability.
These same considerations go for governance in general, but in addition, the voting system is prone to become hacked because of its great importance for democratic decision-making. If one can hack the voting system, then he or she can manipulate the votes and extract individual voter’s identities or even make the system crash, depending on the way the hack has been achieved. When discussing with ITC-experts they usually refer to a saying that circulates in their lunch breaks: “there is no system which could not be hacked. The question only is how much effort and resources it takes.” It is a bleak view, considering the amount our resources have already moved into the internet-based systems, but it is nonetheless very important to keep in mind when designing a blockchain system for electronic voting.
One way of creating a blockchain for electronic voting is to name individual blocks as voting results. Each block that is mined needs a verification of if it is correctly recorded to a blockchain with meaningful data in it. Voters mine this voting block to see if it is correct in their opinion (that is, if the voting result matches their own vote). Correctness of the block is given by each voter’s preference of the vote. If the block is found incorrect by the voter, this means that it does not comply to his or her preferences. To find a block correct there needs to be an over fifty percent of voters who find it correct.
This type of system would deal effectively with the issues of physical security, anonymity and hacking. Firstly, physical security would be solved by giving voters a chance to re-enact their vote at will before the actual voting block is published. Secondly, anonymity would be applied as for every vote there would only be a transaction of either accepting or rejecting the voting block which would not need to leave a trace of every acceptance and rejection. Hacking would become harder as there would not be transaction histories or such to hack and voting blocks could be given by a national entity inside the blockchain system.
Using this type of system would mean it needs a counterpart in physical reality. This could be a party, let us call it a “blockchain party”, which would have elected members in the parliament voting on each issue as every party does nowadays. However, they would cast votes according to the decisions made in the blockchain, effectively giving each individual member of the party a say on each voting process.
Description: A pitch about voting via blockchain.
On the video above, Jaron Lukasiewicz (Agora) gives a talk on using blockchain to make voting unhackable, which is a promising beginning to gain trust in blockchain voting. In addition, many interesting new studies have been published on using blockhains for voting, e.g., Bistarelli et al. (2019) talk about using MultiChain, which is a free to use, open source software for creating blockchains. They give a detailed account on how to implement a e-voting system on MultiChain with considerations on anonymity, coercion and hackability of the system.
When discussing blockchain implementations, we should also give a word of doubt. In 2015, a system called Ethereum went live with a simple target of making it possible to do electronic contracts on any transaction between companies or individuals. However, the system failed when a hacker or a group of hackers was able to break through its security measures, rendering the whole Ethereum system useless for a certain period of time, creating huge financial losses for its users. We will discuss Ethereum and its partial failure (as in November 2020, the system has been continuously been up and running for five years now without further incidents) in Chapter 5 on smart contracts.
As the electronic voting with blockchains is a trendy topic with a lot of developments going on, this chapter does not offer a simple answer to the question of using electronic voting. Blockchains are a new, fascinating tool to enable e-voting, but the ideas are still under development, with very few real-world implementations yet existing. Therefore, this chapter closes with a note that e-voting is a powerful tool for democratic processes. While it has a big potential it also includes huge risks. There is a real need to develop democratic process and blockchain is a potential tool to do just that. With e-voting, also the governance in general can take steps to develop, possibly using blockchain technologies.
Critical article about online voting: https://www.computerworld.com/article/3430697/why-blockchain-could-be-a-threat-to-democracy.html
An example of a company designing secure voting systems: https://polys.me/
A software which enables the design of your own blockchain, e.g., for voting: https://www.multichain.com/