Most asked Questions on Blockchain-based voting

Digital Identity

  • In order to vote via the internet, a digital/electronic identity is required. It can be smart phone based. Once such a digital identity is issued, the identity holder can use it also for other eGovernment transactions, banking, eCommerce etc. It is estimated that a country with digital identities can gain considerably in efficiency (3% of GDP).

  • In the case of Nigeria, the cost for the technical infrastructure of a digital identity can be estimated at 1 USD per identity and year.

  • Once a digital identity is correctly issued, underage voting would not be possible, as only identity holders with a certain age would be allowed to participate in the voting.

Blockchain-based eVoting

The cryptographic procedures applied in blockchain-based eVoting are not fundamentally different from the ones applied in voting machines or other eVoting procedures that are not public. The main difference is that the blockchain allows for transparency. This has two consequences:

 

1. The open-source approach allows the international community to contribute to the software and make it more robust. Given the complexity of such software, this is crucial as it allows to take advantage of the global swarm intelligence. Of course, bounty-programmes need to be in place to reward relevant contributions.

 

2. Voters could verify their vote on the blockchain, which increases trust dramatically in comparison to the traditional black-box approaches.

The open-source approach, however, allows increasing the quality of the code substantially. The transparency on the blockchain increases the trust in the approach, even more so as manipulations would be visible to e everyone.

Estimating the cost of a blockchain eVoting solution for a country such as Nigeria is impossible at this stage. However, considering the costs of the last national elections (800 m USD), are more advantageous cost structure can be expected.

Buying of Votes

There is no magic solution to prevent the buying of votes. Most important initiatives are not linked to the voting procedure, they are of socio-economical and educational nature. In the case of internet- based voting, the environment, where the voting is taking place, cannot be controlled. However, allowing the voters to overwrite their votes is a powerful means to prevent the buying of votes.

 

In that case, the voter could sell his vote, vote in the presence of the vote buyer to proof his loyalty. However, later, the voter would overwrite the corrupt vote with a new vote, corresponding to his or her real political preferences.

The acquisition of a large number of mobile phones by a politician/party would be of no use, as they would also need to buy the same amount of digital identities.

Illiterate, blind persons

Illiterate and blind persons present challenges on many levels. Internet and blockchain-based voting can address only some of them.

The voting procedure could be complemented with voice recognition to allow blind and illiterate persons to interact with verbally with the system.

Geographical Coverage

Internet and blockchain-based eVoting requires access to the internet. In remote areas with no or poor  internet signal, measures such as temporary antennas or satellite-based internet could be made available.

Solutions for Voters without Smart Phones

Voters without a smartphone would have to use a Smart Card which authenticates you as an eligble vote can be recorded on the blockchain. Some other system would be needed like Tablets at Polling Stations.

One has to have some device with the private keys, linked to one’s (electronic) identity.

One could also imagine to access the blockchain via a computer and identify oneself with a smart card - in that case, a smart card-reading device would be required…

What are the current problems in voting?

  • Each country has its own specific issues, which makes it difficult to make general statements. Although technology plays an important role in the voting process, one has to be aware of the fact, the economic, social and educational situation impact the quality of voting procedures equally.

  • All traditional voting procedures (paper-based ballots as well voting machines) have a great lack of transparency. From the voter’s point of view, the process of counting the votes is a black box.

  • One has to trust the authorities and people involved in the process. Recounts show that regularly, errors occur.

  • The lack of transparency leaves these processes prone to manipulation and corruption.

  • Obviously, there are a wide array of measures to remedy these risks, and depending on the overall situation of a polity, they are also quite efficient. However, by definition, full transparency cannot be achieved.

  • Depending on the specific procedures and circumstances, the paper-based voting can be rather slow.

How can Blockchain help?

  • Opensource blockchain-based voting offers transparency on how the voting is being processed (transparency for all, universal verifiability) and how I voted (transparency for me, individual verifiability). By doing so, it lays the foundation for trust into the political institutions.

  • The open-source approach has the advantage that the international community (academia and white hat hackers) can contribute to the code and improve it.

  • Counting can be done in a speedy manner.

How does Blockchain-based voting improve efficiency? 

  • Efficiency is not the main goal, however, in the long run, Blockchain-based voting can lead to an increase in efficiency in the voting process. The maintenance of the code is labour- intensive, so only if it is used on a regular basis, economies of scale come into play.

  • If performed correctly, the voting procedure will increase the trust of the citizens not only into the democratic institutions but for the state in general. A trust-based society can operate much more efficiently than a society guided by mistrust.

  • A blockchain-based voting platform requires electronic identities for all voters. These identities can be used also in any other digital area and allow to decrease transaction costs considerably. The main areas are the following:

  • eGovernment

  • eCommerce

  • eBanking

  • eHealth and more

Current Blockchain-based Voting Initatives

  • While there are numerous companies working on blockchain solutions in voting, only a small number have built the technology and systems to run binding elections.¹¹

  • Case Study #1: Voatz — State of West Virginia, 2018 Federal Elections, USA. In the first use of blockchain technology in a U.S. federal election, the State of West Virginia used Voatz’s mobile voting application to enable overseas voters to vote in the 2018 U.S. midterm

  • elections. A total of 144 voters from 31 countries participated in the pilot. The Voatz application relies on blockchain technology to create an immutable record of the votes cast. It also uses cybersecurity software to detect malware on smartphones, and biometrics for identification and authentication.

  • Case Study #2: Votem — Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 2017 & 2018 Inductee Voting, USA. In 2017, music fans were able to use Votem’s blockchain-based mobile voting platform to vote for the 2018 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Votem processed over 1.8 million votes without fraud, compromise, attacks or hacking of any kind, marking it the largest use of online voting using blockchain technology to date.The Votem system was recently used for the 2018 Inductee Vote.

  • Case Study #3: Smartmatic-Cybernetica — Utah Republican Party, 2016 Presidential Candidate Election, USA. Smartmatic-Cybernetica delivered the world’s first online election using blockchain technology for the Utah Republican party caucus in 2016. Nearly 90% of voters registered to vote online. The platform enabled 24,486 voters to securely cast their ballots from 45 different countries using their computer, tablet or smartphone.

  • While Voatz and Votem are early-stage U.S. startups, Smartmatic-Cybernetica is a European partnership of established companies whose non-blockchain voting technology has been used to run elections around the world since 2005. This shows an existent wide-ranging interest in blockchain-based online voting solutions in order to increase voter participation and improve election security. These case studies demonstrate that blockchain technology has been successfully used for both government and private elections. In all cases, the online elections were run without any security issues and with overwhelmingly positive response from voters and participants.

How does Blockchain-based voting ensure privacy?

  • This is obviously the biggest challenge, at least from the cryptographic point of view. There is a number of cryptographic approaches to this problem, but they all boil down to the following: on the blockchain, the vote is being separated from the voter in such a way, that the voter still can control his vote, however, there is no possibility to trace the vote back to the voter.

How does Blockchain-based voting address vote-buying?

  • Vote buying cannot be excluded per se, most important measures that prevent vote-buying are social justice, welfare and education. As long as this basis is not a given, any technical solution is prone to failure

  • From a technical and organisational point of view, vote-buying can be prevented by controlling the environment, in which the voting takes place (voting booth in case of voting at special premises) or by allowing a voter to overwrite his vote. The latter is applied in the case of blockchain-based voting. By doing so, a voter can pretend to sell his vote and at a later stage, overwrite his vote according to his real political preferences.

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