The 2020 presidential election in the United States saw an increase in postal ballot numbers due to COVID-19 concerns. While many Americans stayed away from polling stations this year, there have been postal delays, ballot papers rejected, and other challenges.
Not surprisingly, better ways to vote in major elections quickly became a hot topic of discussion. This has also led some in the crypto community to re-advocate for a blockchain-based voting system to be used in future presidential elections.
While the promises of blockchain include trust, transparency, and immutability, a group of researchers from the Laboratory of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology pointed to security flaws associated with blockchain voting systems. The researchers published a report on Nov. 6 stating that online voting is fatally flawed as such systems are vulnerable to large-scale cyber-attacks. The report specifically discusses blockchain-based voting systems such as Voatz, which have been used in U.S. local elections but are reportedly suffering from privacy issues.
Security aside, blockchain voting systems can be practical
Despite security concerns, some still believe that blockchain-based voting systems will be used in future grand elections. Maxim Rukinov, director of the Distributed Ledger Technologies Center at St. Petersburg State University, told Cointelegraph that blockchain enables a system of fair voting in a trusted environment between participants who generally do not trust each other: “With blockchain, you can provide votes and increase the transparency of each election. In a perfect scenario, the results of such a vote cannot be falsified. “
Rukinov said he worked with a team of researchers to develop an online voting system specifically designed for business use. Known as “CryptoVeche,” Rukinov explained that this particular system stores voting results on a blockchain, which is a kind of distributed ledger. This makes the system very secure against external and internal hacks.
Alex Tapscott, co-founder of the Blockchain Research Institute and author, explained this in detail in a 2018 New York Times article, even before the COVID-19 pandemic exposed new challenges. Tapscott pointed out that election trust is centered on government agencies that are extremely vulnerable to hacks, fraud, and human error. To put this in perspective, a study published last year shows that local and federal government agencies have fallen victim to 443 data breaches since 2014, but most of them included lost hardware, shipping errors, and paper breaches.
Tapscott found that a blockchain system relies on distributed network computers to verify transactions. Once verified, the results are recorded in blocks that are cryptographically linked to the previous block. A secure general ledger is then created that is transparent to all network participants, but remains unchangeable and tamper-proof. This feature is also important to ensure that individuals cast only a single vote, as blockchain-based systems are designed to prevent double spending.
Don Tapscott, noted author and co-founder of the Blockchain Research Institute, told Cointelegraph that votes cannot be sent online today because internet-based systems do not work well for such applications:
“When we post information such as a poll on the Internet, we actually send a copy of that file. We retain the original. This is acceptable for exchanging information, but not acceptable for transactions in assets such as money, stocks, songs, or the money Recording of votes in elections. “
Because of this, Tapscott found that within a blockchain-based system, public trust in the voting process is achieved through cryptography, code, and collaboration between citizens, government agencies, and other stakeholders.
Technical challenges have to be overcome
Of course, it cannot be denied that the technical challenges associated with blockchain-based voting systems remain. In addition to the security concerns that MIT researchers mentioned in their latest report, Rukinov acknowledged that developing an online voting system is challenging.
Rukinov went on to explain that in blockchain systems, the accuracy of transactions, in this case voter registration, is verified through a consensus mechanism between different members of the network. When it comes to voting systems, independent observers must also be one of the parties to the consensus, which means they would have to hold multiple validation nodes.
According to Rukinov, in most cases, the number of nodes owned by the network organizer is greater than the number of independent nodes. In the case of a blockchain-based voting system, an attack can occur when those who control more than half of the resources have the opportunity to change data at random. Rukinov pointed out that this problem is not the case with all types of consensus mechanisms.
Lior Lamash, founder and CEO of GK8, a cybersecurity company, told Cointelegraph that while blockchain is an immutable platform for ensuring the integrity of the voting process, there are still some vulnerabilities. In particular, Lamash found that identifying voters is problematic when using blockchain-based voting systems:
“The security aspect of blockchain-based voting is difficult. On the one hand, the blockchain itself is completely protected from state-level hackers as it uses hundreds of thousands of nodes on multiple servers around the world. The challenge would be to secure the “endpoints” of this network – individual ballots and voting stations. “
In addition, Lamash found that while each ballot was storing a user’s private keys, a hacker could obtain that information and tamper with the entire voting process: “This problem is similar to the challenge banks and other financial institutions face when it is blockchain-based Offer services. “”
Although blockchain-based voting systems continue to present challenges, it is clear that blockchain offers great potential for future elections. Dylan Dewdney, CEO of Kylin, a cross-chain platform for the Polkadot-based data economy, told Cointelegraph that the trustworthy outcome of an election must also be considered. He also noted that blockchain applied for data validation is very useful in this case.
According to Dewdney, a decentralized infrastructure could help improve the trustworthy outcome of an electoral process. Dewdney explained that Kylin created a data validation process using an Oracle node that serves as an information feed. An arbitration node is then used to judge whether this data is valid or not. Dewdney said:
“Anyone running an arbitration node would have an excellent incentive to challenge inaccurate information, as they would be rewarded for this in a native token. Likewise, providing accurate, validated (challengeable) information as a premium data feeder is incredibly valuable to consumers such as news organizations as a premium data feed in a data marketplace. “
Although Kylin is a solution that can easily be applied in the decentralized finance sector, the same concept can be used for voting systems. “The decentralized validation of local election results could be a very powerful tool against some of the problems we are currently seeing.” He added, “This could easily serve as a linked consensus of the validated API feeds of literally thousands of reported local election results on websites within a Dapp developer’s premium data collection.”
Rukinov believes that the ideal blockchain-based voting system must take into account eligibility, verifiability and immutability. He mentioned that in the future, these features can be achieved through cryptographic protocols like digital signatures, knowledge-free evidence and homomorphic encryption: “To get additional benefits, the ability to cancel the registration must be added. Observers who are able to discern the facts of the forgery; and the persistence of the register changes the course. “