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.
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.
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.
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 continuously been up and running for five years now without further incidents) in Chapter 5 (part II) 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.
Record a video (1-2 min.) and answer the following questions:
For instructions on making a video, see e.g.,
Critical article about online voting:
An example of a company designing secure voting systems:
A software which enables the design of your own blockchain, e.g., for voting:
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Iansiti, M. and Lakhani, K. (2017). The Truth About Blockchain, HARV. BUS. REV., Jan - Feb. 2017, https://hbr.org/2017/01/the-truth-about-blockchain(target="_blank").
Martínez, V. G., Hernández-Álvarez, L., Encinas, L. H. (2020). Analysis of the Cryptographic Tools for Blockchain and Bitcoin. Mathematics 8, no. 1: 131
Orcutt, M. (2019). The immutability of blockchains has been called into question. Once Hailed as Unhackable, Blockchains Are Now Getting Hacked, MIT TECH. REV. (Feb. 19, 2019), https://www.technologyreview.com/s/612974/once-hailed-as-unhackable-blockchains-are-now-getting-hacked(target="_blank").
Paumgarten, N. (2018). The Prophets of Cryptocurrency Survey the Boom and Bust, NEW YORKER (Oct. 15, 2018), https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/10/22/the-prophets-of-cryptocurrency-survey-the-boom-and-bust(target="_blank").
Tochen, D. (2019). Blockchain Technology a Solution in Search of a Problem--Or a Revolution? Brief, 49(1), 50–56.