How Blockchain Voting Can Modernise Elections

In an era of rapid technological advancement, the stage is set for a digital revolution that could completely change the way elections work.

For centuries, paper ballots have been the standard. This is very different from the explosive growth of the internet and digital communication in recent decades. However, as democracy reaches a critical tipping point, governments must find new and secure voting systems to ensure its survival.


What is Blockchain technology?


A blockchain is a decentralised digital ledger, a public record of transactions that stores data in sequential blocks instead of a single repository.

Every block is validated and stored by a network of computers called “nodes”. Imagine an electronic diary where each entry is verified and locked away with cryptographic seals. A chronological, tamper-proof tapestry of transactions.

While society embraces online shopping, social networking, and digital finance, voting systems remain surprisingly outdated. Could blockchain technology, the innovative force behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, promise voters security, transparency, and an all-access digital ticket to the voting booth?


Out with the Old


In many aspects of life, there are stringent checks and balances to ensure accountability. From company audits to tax forms, every detail is examined to prevent error. But when it comes to voting, a process that directly influences an entire nation, transparency is often lacking. Once votes are counted and results declared, verifying the outcome is very difficult. Recounts are complicated, tied up in legal proceedings that leave voters with limited understanding of the democratic process.

Embracing modern solutions, some countries, like Estonia, have introduced electronic voting alongside paper ballots. Their pioneering approach to online elections demonstrates the potential of new technologies to resolve the challenges of traditional electoral systems. Avoiding long queues, Estonian citizens can conveniently vote from a computer using their ID cards and PIN codes for security. In the 2023 parliamentary elections, a record 51% of votes were cast online.

Estonia’s robust cybersecurity measures and digital identity infrastructure have showcased how technology can enhance political participation. However, while electronic voting has sped up ballot counting and decision-making, it doesn’t address a lack of public trust in the election authority.


The Future of Blockchain Voting


Blockchain technology could change the game entirely by distributing validation authority among multiple entities. Each block in the chain holds a record, and changing one block means changing the entire network.

Blockchain’s smart contracts ensure that only eligible voters can participate, making the results more credible. A smart contract is like a digital bouncer for voting, checking for valid identity tokens before allowing individuals to vote. By ensuring certain conditions are met, it adds an extra layer of security to the election, warding off electoral fraud.

Smart contracts also automate various election tasks, offering solutions to the potential openings for manipulation. By removing the human touchpoints in vote counting, handling, and delivery, this solves issues such as the loss or delay of ballots in transit.



Casting the Digital Ballots


In 2018, Voatz, a blockchain-based app, caused a buzz by conducting a pilot during several US federal elections, targeting absentee voters. Despite its potential, in 2020, MIT researchers identified significant system security issues after an in-depth examination of the application. They revealed the risk of hackers gaining access to private data and tampering with ballots on voters’ devices before they were recorded on the blockchain. These findings challenged the app’s transparency, casting doubt on the integrity of the electoral process.

To prevent such manipulation, strong – and expensive – security measures like cryptographic protocols are needed to maintain the confidentiality of the voting system. Nevertheless, in September 2022, the app celebrated its 100th success in Ontario for local municipal elections. Originally intended for military personnel, Voatz has made mobile voting with facial recognition accessible for disabled and overseas voters too.


Transparency without Compromising Privacy


Once a vote is recorded, it can’t be changed. All transactions are registered on a public ledger, allowing everyone to see each vote cast. But in the transition to digital democracy, protecting voters’ privacy by controlling levels of data visibility is of utmost importance.

Blockchain technology strikes a balance between transparency and privacy, providing public access to data while protecting individual anonymity. It’s like a one-way mirror; general statistics are on public display, but sensitive voter information can only be seen by authorised officials.

However, past events have sparked concerns about the security of blockchain voting systems. In the run-up to Moscow’s City Duma election in 2020, French researcher Pierrick Gaudry breached the Ethereum-based smart contract encryption in only 20 minutes with an average desktop computer. Despite occurring before the election with no data leaks, such events stress the need to ensure the security and confidentiality of these systems.


No Quick Fix


While blockchain technology is undoubtedly promising, it does have its limitations. It can’t address every form of electoral fraud. Although blockchain transactions are immutable, there’s no guarantee that malware-infected devices are immune to hackers intercepting ballots before they’re cast.

Removing secure polling stations might even lead to voter coercion by taking away the privacy of a physical voting booth. Vote-buying depends on having proof that the vote was cast for a specific candidate, putting voters at risk of coercion. So, in an open and transparent democratic environment, voters might face unwarranted pressure, which could compromise the election’s integrity.

As many are also still unfamiliar with blockchain technology, there will naturally be concerns about its reliability and security. So, finding ways to build public confidence in these new systems is essential. To bridge the digital skills gap, government investment in education is crucial. However, expecting widespread adoption of tech-driven voting, especially among older voters, might not be realistic.

While blockchain-based voting has great potential, like past breakthroughs it needs time to mature and gain acceptance. With the right measures in place, this technology could revolutionise democracy, ushering in an era of greater transparency, security, and efficiency. Success, however, lies in overcoming obstacles and rallying support from governments, the public, and stakeholders.


Piece researched and written by Reem Hassan