How Blockchain Voting Works & Why We Need It
Blockchain Voting Makes Democracy More Transparent
There’s a reason why we have to go to a polling place to fill out ballots for our elections. Anonymous ballots are the easiest way to protect the integrity of the vote while also protecting voter privacy at the same time. Digital voting has been a difficult challenge because it’s tough to verify that each ballot is valid while also keeping them anonymous. Blockchain voting could change that with its cryptography.
In fact, blockchain voting is already changing some elections. Right now, military from West Virginia, USA who are serving overseas can vote in their home elections using their mobile phones. A combination of encryption and blockchain registry tallies those votes. Other countries like Brazil, Denmark, South Korea, and Switzerland are exploring blockchain voting. By far, however, Estonia is leading the way. Their citizens have unique ID cards that allow them to vote on the blockchain quickly and securely.
Digitizing the most essential part of democracy could have deep and lasting impacts on global governance. Citizens can make decisions much more quickly and public referendum is a feasible option. Representative democracy could get marginalized for direct democracy by the people. But that’s not all. Another result is rigging elections could become more difficult, nearly impossible. This article explores how blockchain voting works, and its implications for the world.
Fundamentals of Blockchain Voting
Blockchain voting is similar to analogue voting that we’re used to. The same concepts and processes apply. In order to cast a digital vote, a citizen would need to register and prove their citizenship in a given jurisdiction. We could then record that identity and citizenship on the blockchain associated with that user’s key.
Next, a citizen needs a ballot to cast a vote. In the blockchain, this would likely take the form of a special voting token that would be deposited in the user’s account. This token would also likely have a time limit in which it could be used to vote, after which it would burn itself via a smart contract or become useless.
Casting a vote on the blockchain would involve sending the voting token (the ballot) to a specific address. Voters would know which address aligns with which candidate or referendum. Sending a token to that address would represent a vote.
Technically, that sounds simple enough. The vote gets registered on the blockchain where its immutable, verifiable, and transparent. We can easily count up the votes to declare a winner to the election. In addition, we can build nice user interfaces that automate and hide the process of sending a token to a specific address. Instead, voters would see a simple online interface for them to select a candidate or proposal and click submit.
Verifying Voter Identity
If that first explanation sounded simple and you wonder why we’re not voting on the blockchain already, just hold on. It’s actually a lot more complicated than that. There are a lot of issues that need a resolution first.
One major issue is verifying voter identity. In order for blockchain voting to work, we need a system that prevents people from voting more than once or voting in an election where they’re not a citizen. That get’s tricky on the blockchain because it relies on a central authority to verify citizenship or residency documentation.
A blockchain solution would likely rely on submitting passport or driver’s license scans. Then that identity might be connected with a mobile device via a password and two-factor authentication or biometrics (like a fingerprint). The idea is to verify that the person who submitted the citizenship documents is the same person who is actively at the computer or smartphone at the time of the vote.
Maintaining Anonymity & the Secret Ballot
Once we’ve verified identity and eligibility to vote, however, we need to separate it from the ballot itself. Importantly, one of the key parts of democracy is the secret ballot. Nobody should know how you voted so they can’t influence your vote in any way.
With blockchain voting, the information that registers on the blockchain shouldn’t include identifiable information. This means that information about the sender of the voting token has to be hidden. There are different ways to accomplish this, including zero knowledge proofs, ring transactions, or various encryption methods. Each has its benefits, drawbacks, and technical challenges. True anonymity at the same time as verified identity is the big challenge of blockchain voting.
Cybersecurity experts generally agree that blockchains are unhackable (with the right network size and consensus algorithm). Logic proofs and statistics indicate that it becomes increasingly unlikely that a block can be compromised once the network confirms it. However, the anonymity needed for voting is more difficult to secure and be certain that it won’t be compromised.
Blockchain voting has huge implications if it grows in popularity and usability for the general public. It could fundamentally change how democracy functions.
1. Increased Transparency in the Voting Process
The biggest benefit of blockchain voting is increased transparency. Right now, once you cast your vote, you don’t really know what happened to it. You trust the poll workers to count it correctly. However, there’s no way to be sure that your vote counted.
On the blockchain it could be possible to track your vote and see that it ended up in the right place. Even though it wouldn’t have your information tied to it, your vote would exist on the blockchain for all of history.
2. Reduced Fraud & Election Rigging
A side effect of increased transparency is reduced fraud. It becomes harder to cheat the system or vote in the wrong jurisdiction with blockchain identity verification. Moreover, in countries where dictators rig elections, the blockchain could bring true democracy. Of course, initiating a blockchain voting system requires buy-in from the current government. However, over time blockchain could become an international voting standard, with the world community advocating for blockchain governance in all nations.
3. Everyday Voting in Real Time
If blockchain makes voting transparent, then we can follow and tally votes in real time. This means that elections can happen on a much shorter timespan. Additionally, if they are digital, they require less investment in polling infrastructure. As a result, elections could be held with a short lead time to vote on a referendum quickly.
This could completely change daily life. Imagine if you could vote on your phone on how traffic in your city would be routed today or whether to increase taxes to pay for a new park in your community. Voting could become highly targeted, even neighborhood specific. There would be little overhead to voting more often, possibly making voting a daily occurance.
4. Corporate Governance & Autonomous Organizations
Governments aren’t the only institutions that could benefit from blockchain voting. Employees or shareholders could vote for initiatives within a company as well. It’s possible to even imagine ownerless businesses where every decision is an open vote from shareholders.
5. Increased Voter Engagement
A big advantage of blockchain voting could be increased engagement. If blockchain makes digital voting possible from your smartphone or computer, voting becomes as easy as logging in and casting your ballot in just a few minutes. This would likely increase voter turnout drastically, leading to more direct democracy. Alternatively, it could lead to voting fatigue, where voters realize they liked electing representatives to worry about policy for them.
Blockchain voting still isn’t perfect or ready for primetime yet. However, it’s likely to be a massive change in democracy once it does reach legitimacy. Making voting easier and more transparent will create a more engaged electorate. It may also remind us of why representatives exist to think about policy full time and make wise decisions about things the general public might not be able to research fully.
There are several organizations currently exploring voting on the blockchain. Easier voting could mean more frequent representative elections or ongoing referendums on our leadership. Even that would be a big change for democracy.