Could A Blockchain Be Optimized For Electronic Voting?

Some of the wildest predictions about blockchain underpinning a whole new era in digital transformation might be overblown. However, there’s no doubt that tech has received a lot of attention across industries. Enterprise blockchain solutions are being explored and in some cases implemented by massive companies ranging from IBM to Walmart.

There is also a burgeoning (albeit scam-prone) NFT segment in gaming and metaverse apps, and cryptos have crept into conventional gaming as well. Indeed, blockchain-backed tokens are even rumored to be on their way into Fortnite (which advocates might hope could mitigate some of the issues around Fortnite’s susceptibility to hackers, if implemented carefully).

But among all of the applications that have long been posited as game-changers –– some successful, others less so –– one major concept that has largely eluded practical usage is the use of blockchain to establish a fair and transparent voting system. Existing electronic solutions have long regularly been identified as likely targets of hacking and fraud.

This is why we still rely largely on these solutions’ paper counterparts, but it is also why companies like Horizon State have worked on solutions that prevent fraud. Horizon State specifically is leveraging blockchain’s features of decentralized verification, immutability (theoretically stopping tampering), and masking data.

Interestingly enough, some smaller elections — think school boards and unions — have already been run using this tech. But with real-world applications in this space still few and far between, let’s take a more detailed look at some potential, specific uses of blockchain in voting systems (as well as associated protocols and tokens).

Table of Contents

Casting Ballots In Person or by Mail

There are a few reasons blockchain could be useful in voting. Notably, these include the fact that chains cannot be edited — new transactions can only be appended on the chain — and the fact that every transaction is cryptographically hashed. Using a public chain has advantages, but could increase the chance of attack, so having access control built into a blockchain could decrease the likelihood of sabotage.

As to specific protocols that could be of use for casting ballots, it’s worth noting that a lot of the enterprise solutions mentioned at the top of this article are the products of institutional investment in Hyperledger. This is a permissioned protocol for private blockchains –– which essentially means that it is not available to the public, but can be accessed by those granted permission. This allows for controlled activity, and could in theory support the fulfillment of secure digital voting transactions at locations where permissions are established.

Storing Ballots and Registers

For electronic voting to work, records of both votes cast and the voters who have cast them need to be stored carefully and atomically, so that the numbers can be authenticated and tallied accurately, but the content of votes cannot be de-anonymized. Again, these are functions for which blockchain can provide solutions –– with Filecoin standing out as a system that could be of use.
Currently, people invest in Filecoin essentially as a sort of crypto-era Dropbox solution that’s gone all-in on decentralization by using the Interplanetary Filesystem. This is basically a distributed alternative to http that could, combined with blockchain, provide secure peer-to-peer storage that circumvents censorship and is more robust in the face of, say, weather events cutting communication lines. It could for all intents and purposes serve as an incorruptible storage system for voter information.

Mobile Voting

Given the long-standing discussions and attempts by projects like Sovereign token to improve the democracy of governance within crypto, it stands to reason that mobile voting will ultimately need its own application. That is to say, it cannot simply come down to existing tokens being use to convey votes on an existing blockchain; as Democracy Earth founder Santi Siri has pointed out, this would lead to those who have more tokens having greater influence. The creation of apps specifically designed to allow one vote per person, however, remains an option.

Many blockchain applications are based on Ethereum or its newer-generation counterparts (like Solana) thanks to their flexibility in coding new applications. This makes them ideal for a brand new voting program whereby people could in theory cast mobile ballots. The advantages and disadvantages of using blockchain to cast mobile ballots are much the same as other methods –– with the added advantages of convenience and transparency, but also potential disadvantages like the hackability of personal devices and exclusion of certain voters like the elderly or those lacking access to tech.

The bottom line is that the seemingly simple act of voting is plagued by an unusual number of complexities and issues –– from inadequate privacy to inconsistent access. Blockchain may not offer complete solutions just yet, but as long as voting remains imperfect, theories and concepts will be discussed in earnest. And the systems and capabilities outlined above speak to how blockchain might ultimately provide the answers.

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