[CAVO] E-voting with Blockchain

Lawrence Rosen lrosen at rosenlaw.com
Tue Mar 7 05:13:17 UTC 2017

Copied from "How blockchain technology could change our lives" at



E-voting: revolutionizing the electoral system?  


Despite the digitalization of several important aspects of modern life,
elections are still conducted largely offline, on paper. Since the turn of
the century, e-voting has been considered a promising and, perhaps,
inevitable development that could speed up, simplify and reduce the cost of
elections. It has been seen as a potential means of increasing engagement
and turnout, and even restoring links between citizens and political
institutions, claims that should be read with some skepticism, e-voting
could take many forms: using the internet or a dedicated, isolated network;
requiring voters to attend a polling station or allowing unsupervised
voting; using existing devices, such as mobile phones and laptops, or
requiring specialist equipment. Now there is a further choice to be made: to
continue trusting central authorities to manage elections or to use
blockchain technology to distribute an open voting record amongst the
citizens. Many experts agree that e-voting for national elections would
require revolutionary developments in security systems. However, there are
many other kinds of regional and organizational election that could be
digitized more simply through the use of blockchain, making it simpler to
involve more people in taking important decisions, adopting long-term
strategies, making investments and selecting people for a wide range of


How blockchain technology could be used for e-voting 


The blockchain is a means of logging and verifying records that is
transparent and distributed among users. Usually, votes are recorded,
managed, counted and checked by a central authority. Blockchain-enabled
e-voting (BEV) would empower voters to do these tasks themselves by allowing
them to hold a copy of the voting record. The historic record cannot be
changed, because other voters would see that the record differs from theirs.
An illegitimate vote cannot be added, because other voters would be able to
see that it is not compatible with the rules (perhaps because it was already
counted or is not associated with a valid voter record). BEV would shift
power and trust away from central actors, such as electoral authorities, and
foster the development of tech-enabled community consensus. 


One way of developing BEV systems is to create a new, bespoke system,
designed to reflect the specific characteristics of the election and
electorate. A second approach that may be cheaper and easier is to
'piggyback' a more established blockchain, such as Bitcoin. Given that the
security of a blockchain ledger relies upon the breadth of its user base,
this approach may also be more secure for minor organizational elections
with a small number of voters and limited resources to develop a bespoke


The strongest potential for BEV is in organizational contexts. Indeed, they
have already been used for the internal elections of political parties in
Denmark and shareholder votes in Estonia. Taking the concept a step further,
BEV could be combined with smart contracts, to automatically take action
under certain agreed conditions. Here, for example, election results could
trigger the automatic implementation of manifesto promises, investment
choices or other organizational decisions.  


Many analysts have considered blockchain in a supporting role for deeper
transformations, for instance in discussions of virtual administrations,
'techno-democratic systems' and the more distant possibility of implementing
BEV for national elections. Ambitious suggestions have raised the
possibility of using blockchain to implement 'liquid' democracy, combining
direct democracy (whereby citizens vote regularly on specific policy
decisions) with a delegate system (whereby citizens can either vote on these
specific issues themselves or assign their votes to any other citizen - be
they a politician, journalist, scientist or trusted friend - and withdraw or
reassign this delegation at any time). 

How blockchain technology could change our lives 


Potential impacts and developments  


Considering minor elections and organizational decision-making, BEV could
help deliver a more participatory and bottom-up social structure by offering
a relatively cheap and secure e-voting system. In the context of more
ambitious suggestions for national elections, the stakes are much higher and
the situation is more delicate. Critics have questioned the level of
anonymity and accessibility offered by BEV, and raised the problem of
coercion. However, while BEV may offer several advantages over paper and
other e-voting systems, many of these concerns apply equally to traditional
paper systems. Coercion is a threat for any voting system that offers remote
participation (e.g. postal votes). For both BEV and paper elections, the use
of private polling booths is the only guarantee against this. Accessibility
to all voters is another key concern in all elections. Depending upon the
interface, BEV might be considered too complicated for some voters,
especially if the system is fully decentralized with the option to access
data and check that the correct procedures have been followed. Anonymity is
often considered a crucial element of democratic participation, although
even some national elections are not fully anonymous. The UK, for instance,
has a 'pseudonymous' paper voting system where a code links each ballot
paper with a personal entry on the electoral registry. There, voters have no
choice but to trust the electoral authorities to protect their anonymity.
While it would not be easy to discover how individuals voted, it does remain
a possibility. BEV is also pseudonymous, so it may sometimes be possible to
discover how an individual voted. Work is in progress on a technical
response to this issue in developing BEV systems that offer full anonymity.
Another approach could be to trust a central authority to distribute
pseudonyms for use in a BEV and to keep them secret, just as they do now in
the UK's paper voting system. This would introduce a degree of
centralization into the system which may well be considered acceptable in
the context of national elections. 


Another key question is how to ensure widespread trust in the security and
legitimacy of the system. As with paper-based elections, it is not enough
for the result to be fair and valid. The whole electorate, even if they are
disappointed with the result, must accept that the process was legitimate
and reliable. As such, beyond providing actual security and accuracy, BEV
must also inspire confidence and trust. The fact that the blockchain
protocol is quite complicated may be a barrier to mainstream public
acceptability of BEV. 


In assessing the potential impact of BEV, consideration must be given to the
values and politics it reflects. BEV does not just digitise the traditional
voting process, it proposes an alternative with a different set of values
and political foundations. Traditionally, authorities manage elections and
the process is black-boxed, centralized and top-down. BEV is the opposite.
The process is managed by the people and it is transparent, decentralized
and bottom-up. While participation in traditional elections reinforces the
authority of the state, participation in BEV asserts the primacy of the
people. In this light, it is not surprising that links are drawn between BEV
and a transition towards a more direct, decentralized and bottom-up
democracy and with 'liquid' democracy as mentioned above. In any case, the
extent to which blockchain technology will flourish in the area of e-voting
may depend on the extent to which it can reflect the values and structure of
society, politics and democracy. 


Anticipatory policy-making 


While organizations are broadly free to organize internal elections with
blockchain if they so choose, they must comply with European law on privacy
and data protection. Although European law does not specify protocols for
political elections in Member States, some convergence has occurred and
efforts have been made to encourage use of e-voting while respecting the
constitutional principles of electoral law (universal, equal, free, secret
and direct suffrage).



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