March 13, 2019
The word blockchain has been occupying a lot of news headlines recently. Every day, we learn about new startups being launched to solve notorious issues in an entirely new way – all by utilizing the blockchain technology.
Generally speaking, it comes as no surprise to hear that technology built to power cryptocurrencies has disrupted the banking and financing sector. After all, cryptocurrencies are an integral part of it, so we could say that blockchain’s contribution to this industry was pretty much expected, if not obvious.
However, blockchain has also found implementations in industries where we are not quite used to see advanced information technology. For example, we might wonder how it could help with public affairs or existing voting systems.
Things like identity theft, fake documents, or inefficient public administration could all become things of the past thanks to the blockchain’s features such as immutability and sustainability of records. Government officials could retrieve individuals’ personal data without the complicated paperwork procedures and by using a trusted blockchain-based database.
For example, research suggests that more than 24% of the eligible US voters are not registered. One of the major reasons for such a huge number is the paperwork involved. On the contrary, the same day registration policy would boost the voter turnout by up to 5%.
According to the OECD report, governments are already aware of the promising blockchain-based solutions, and many are exploring the best ways to implement this technology in public administration.
Let’s take a look at how it could tackle some of the notorious voting issues.
Regardless of the country or city of your residence, we are pretty confident that you know a few people grumbling about elections for different reasons. According to Statista, some of the top reasons for not voting in the US are being too busy (18.9%), being out of town (8.6%), registration issues (5.5%), and transportation problems (3.3%), etc. These issues could be significantly improved by implementing blockchain solutions.
First of all, voting would be done through smart devices (smartphones, in particular) instead of the traditional voting booth. It would significantly improve the percentage of voters, as busy people or those away from home only need to log in and support a candidate.
Secondly, every vote is recorded on a public ledger which cannot be erased, altered, or manipulated. It would be possible only to add one vote at the time, not delete it. This process is transparent and publicly available for anyone to inspect it, even those who don’t have voting rights.
Last but not least, registered voters would receive the voting key when registering. It gives them the opportunity to make exactly one change on the ledger (cast vote), after which the key becomes obsolete and cannot be used again.
What we said above is not just a theory. There are already several startups doing their best to make blockchain-based voting a reality. However, contrary to the common myth of Sierra Leone blockchain elections, we have still not seen adoption on a large scale. More or less, blockchain voting is still in a trial phase.
Voatz is a good example of a platform offering an election process that we described previously. By using it, eligible voters could cast a vote by using any type of contemporary mobile device. Furthermore, Voatz uses a complex identity verification procedure, reducing fraud possibilities. Its fruitful cooperation with the Democratic Party from Michigan and West Virginia is probably the best witness of Voatz’s promising future.
Another interesting company in this niche is Polys. At the moment, the platform is focused on rather small-sized groups and organization seeking to efficiently elect new leadership. Polys has proven to be successful with the small-scale voting at conferences, universities, and Russia’s Yabloko party convention when Moscow’s mayor was elected.
Despite the promising nature of the blockchain systems, we should note that they are not perfect. In fact, if you take a look at recent examples, there were a few hacks and attacks on blockchain platforms that imposed severe damage.
For example, EOS’ system was discovered to allow reversible transactions (which is against the basic principles of how this technology works), while a cryptocurrency called Ethereum Classic suffered the so-called 51% attack.
That said, blockchain-based voting is not 100% hack-proof. Skilled intruders might successfully breach such a voting system and ruin the entire election process. If they manage to reverse voting data entry or organize a 51% attack on the voting network, blockchain would be defeated. This is why people opposing blockchain voting remind us that such a scenario could not happen if we stick to the traditional voting system.
However, as technology improves, it is safe to say that startups from this industry will do their best to further advance their voting platforms and reduce risks of abuse.
What was discussed above is not merely a theoretical concept. There are already a few startups working on blockchain-based voting systems to make it a reality. In fact, there are reports that some governments already want to test it and make it a standard in the future.
With the blockchain technology, it appears that our future is bright and promising.