Voting is the formal expression of a person’s choice either for or against a motion or candidate in an election. It is a process through which people (voters or electorates) reach a consensus when there are divergent choices. Voting has become a very important part of our existence because through it, leadership and decisions are agreed on. Any flaw on the voting process impacts negatively on the legitimacy of leadership or actions taken. Voting has moved beyond ballot boxes and papers to E-voting and now a more secure, traceable and transparent means has presented itself in the blockchain technology. We will, however, have to look at the point of convergence between these two technologies.
E-voting which stands for Electronic Voting is voting done through the use of an electronic medium. E-voting is divided into two forms, namely supervised e-voting where the electoral umpire administers the process in a defined location and i-voting where voters exercise suffrage without the supervision of an electoral umpire with the use of televisions, personal computers and mobile phones through the internet, also known as remote e-voting.
In a bid to reduce flaws and increase voter confidence in the voting process, voting machines were invented. A voting machine can be mechanical, electromechanical or electronic with a firmware, software and a program to run the machine in vote casting, vote counting, results reporting and to keep track of the voting process. These machines are able to provide timely information like over-voting or under-voting and are equipped with features that make it easy and comfortable for the physically-challenged persons to cast their vote. Besides these, they have touchscreens where several languages are displayed with accompanying audio and visual aids.
Direct Electronic Recording (DER) voting machines, Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), Mobile phones are examples of electronic devices used to facilitate e-voting. Irrespective of the type, form or method adopted for voting, basic desirables are required;
The accuracy of votes – votes cast must equate votes counted.
Security of the system – the voting process must be safe and fraud free
Maintenance of voter anonymity – ensuring political privacy to forestall the inducement or intimidation of voters.
Exponents of e-voting have listed it’s merits to include a reduction of election cost, increase in voter confidence through creating an atmosphere of transparency and convenience.
The Need for a More Transparent System.
However, proponents have quoted the failure of electronic poll books in Durham, North Carolina, and in Colorado where some of the State’s voter verification system were down resulting in a use of provisional ballots as a valid case against e-voting. Other questions raised are based on transparency, possible vendor collusion with a preferred candidate to manipulate election results using fraudulent machines or softwares, vendor competition where the interest of the voters and accuracy of the ballots become of secondary importance.
Vendors protect their softwares against fraud and competitors, inadvertently shutting out the voters who are left without any access to the workings of such software. Vote confirmation, recount, and verification are issues not solved by DER machines. According to Bruce Schneier, technology adds more steps to the process thereby increasing the possibility of error with each added step.
The anonymity of voters in this era where data theft is on the rise calls for concern. Voters are required to give personal information during registration and confirmation with the attending need for data storage and safety in this processes.
Blockchain is a distributed ledger secured with cryptography, it is the platform on which bitcoin transactions are run. Blockchain is already being applied in healthcare, finance, pharmaceuticals, fashion, food industry and accessory industry.
Firstly, the distributive nature of blockchain solves one of the most pressing issue still left unanswered in e-voting, one being the nagging problem with openness required in elections. Personal computers, mobile phones serve as nodes where real-time information on happenings are simultaneously displayed and recorded in blocks, everyone in the network can see and verify the results.
Secondly, every vote cast would represent a transaction that is validated with the proof-of-work or other algorithms. For hackers to change election results, they would be required to hack lots of blocks, which becomes even more complicated in an election where it might mean hacking millions of nodes. In an election, every vote cast would correspond to a single individual as private keys correspond to public keys, thus minimising voter fraud. Blockchain records are unalterable, every ledger is permanently available for review and auditing, especially in disputed elections where voting record is required in election courts.
Thirdly, voter anonymity is guaranteed since users are represented as alphanumeric numbers on the network. This makes it very difficult to tell who voted for which party, candidate or not. Vendor distrust is eliminated and data privacy guaranteed.
Blockchain voting has already been tested, it was used for verifying delegates at the 2016 Massachusetts Democratic Convention, on the European Union (EU) CyberVote Project where trial was done in France, Germany and Sweden. Estonia, Denmark and Iceland and most recently Sierra Leone in March 7, 2018 implemented blockchain technology in their elections. Already, Ethereum’s Solidity has been created for this purpose and others like My Vote, Technologies Corporation, Voatz that promises to even work with paper ballots and E-vox in Ukraine are all coming on stream. The State of West Virginia is already planning on blockchain election by permitting soldiers who are permanent residents but currently abroad to vote using their mobile phones using Voatz. With blockchain, the cost of elections would be even lower.
Indifference to Blockchain in Voting
“Mobile voting is a horrific idea”, Joseph Lorenzo Hall, Chief Technologist at the Centre for Democracy and Technology, West Virginia told CNN. He went on to say “It’s Internet voting in people’s horribly secured devices, over our horrible networks, to servers without a physical paper record of the vote”.
In spite of the huge promise blockchain holds, researchers and technologist alike have criticised blockchain raising questions over the possibility of miners being compromised to manipulate results by putting in votes into the chain, achieving higher computing power with quantum computers thus creating their own blocks. Others argue that the program can secretly collude with governments and takeaway political privacy while others just think like e-voting; blockchain while trying to improve on e-voting would bring about new problems. Many believe all these fears are quite real because many interested parties (powerful persons, corporation or even foreign governments) in elections can summon the kind of resources required to take over a blockchain network and manipulate the results in their favor. Some say miners can be induced into doing the bidding of people with clout.
With current voting systems facing challenges, it is hoped that governments would make a pick between e-voting and blockchain at this point of convergence.