Which Countries Are Casting Votes Using Blockchain?
The 2020 US elections were one of the most scrutinized processes every in American history. Between record levels of absentee voting due to the pandemic, baseless accusations made by the President, and many judicial challenges, every inch of the electoral system was run through with a fine-toothed comb. The tension the election created, the uncertainty surrounding absentee ballots (which was brought on because of the accusations by the President), and subsequent events have brought on the question – can we vote differently?
Some envision an electronic voting system backed by blockchain as the answer. Such a system would allow voters to cast ballots remotely from the safety of their own homes, and blockchain’s advantages could prevent interference, disenfranchisement, and guard against election fraud.
I’m a blockchain developer and someone who enjoys politics, so naturally this subject interested me and I started research. I couldn’t find a single comprehensive list of all the various countries experimenting/implementing blockchain, and so I put this article together.
What is Blockchain?
Rather than write another “what is blockchain” section, I highly recommend a quick read through Mohit Mamoria’s WTF is Blockchain.
These Blockchain Networks Aren’t Exactly Bitcoin
When someone thinks of the blockchain, they think about Bitcoin. However there’s one key difference to keep in mind when observing these networks. Blockchain is inherently decentralized, and uses consensus from multiple nodes in order to approve transactions (different networks employ different consensus mechanisms).
It’s essential that a central authority exists in elections, whether it’s the government, an elections commission, or the election’s governing body.
I took the step of separating the countries in this list into two boxes; those who’ve used blockchain in an official election and those who haven’t.
Countries That Already Used Blockchain
It might surprise you to know that the US has already used a blockchain electronic voting system to vote in the 2018 midterm election (West Virginia) and the 2020 Presidential election (Utah County). Both instances used the for-profit electronic voting application Voatz.
Voatz promises end-to-end encryption and total security for the networks they’ll set up. Members of the armed forces stationed abroad were able to vote remotely using face recognition along with military IDs (other biometric options available) to confirm voter registration. The system generated both a paper ballot for the counties as well as tracking votes on the chain. Voatz also returns a receipt of the ballot to voters with tracking enabled. Find out more on their website here.
Voatz recently has come under fire for their application security. A team of MIT researchers published a paper that outlined numerous issues, specifically highlighting their vulnerability to third party attacks. The paper specifically advised the Department of Homeland Security to abandon the use of the app in high-stakes elections. Since then, West Virginia has paused use of the app while Utah county will continue to do so because of its popularity
Sierra Leone deployed a blockchain network to count votes alongside official vote counter in the country’s Western District. The project overseen by Agora, another for-profit blockchain voting application. Find out more here.
The entire exercise was quite controversial, as it turned out that Agora may have over-advertised their role and blockchain’s role in the election. They initially claimed it was used universally only for the country to reveal that the network was only deployed in the Western District of the country, and that it wasn’t used in any official counts. The country’s elections body took the step to make a statement that said the network wasn’t used in the election and the crypto news site CoinDesk had to retract their earlier article
Tsukuba City became the first Japanese City to introduce blockchain digital voting last year. LayerX a Japanese blockchain startup was integrated into the voting system as part of Tsukuba’s smart city initiative. Tsukuba already has an electronic voting system in place, and LayerX’s proposal met the criteria that the government has set out for electronic voting systems.
Tsukuba has yet to use the system in government election positions, but they have used the system to vote for social development proposals. LayerX uses Japan’s “My Number” system as credentials to confirm registration. Voters can vote remotely online and the votes are registered in a decentralized ledger
The rollout wasn’t all smooth sailing, with some voters forgetting their passwords when logging onto the application. But, overall the rollout was considered a success with mayor Tatsuo praising the ease and simplicity of voting through the application
Russia has been interested in a blockchain-based voting system for several years now and has created several state-funded systems that have gone through multiple iterations. Not all of them have been successful, but they have been deployed in elections, with each election ending in accusations of mismanagement, data leakage, and ballot-stuffing.
This past summer, Russia voted on a constitutional amendment to let Vladimir Putin stay in power. In Moscow and Nizhny Novogrod, voters could vote remotely on a system built on Bitfury’s open-source platform Exonum. The system, built by Kapersky Lab, used a proof of authority method to ensure voter identity and push votes to the ledger. However, the system reportedly came under a node attack, and experienced other hiccups like crashing during the voting window. Russian authorities ensured that all votes were still recorded properly.
The September by-elections saw two different blockchain voting pilots. Russian Telecoms giant Rostelecom ran a pilot in Kruskaya and Yaroslavskaya. The platform they used was a private version of blockchain system Waves, which uses a similar proof of authority method and encrypts the votes until voting is over. It ran into problems. French researcher Pierrick Gaudry cracked the encryption scheme. The system used a variant of the ElGamal Encryption scheme with key sizes small enough so that most modern computers could crack the key within 20 minutes. To compound their problems, reports from Russia showed that they had trouble checking the identity of voters.
The other pilot was run by the Department of Information Technologies and was a second iteration of the Exonum-based system used in the constitutional amendment election. It faced much of the same problems as the first go around.
Countries at a PoC Level
These next countries are all those that have engaged in blockchain development, and are looking to test the system at some scale.
Given the relative ease of integration, South Korea has considered moving to the blockchain for security reasons.
South Korea worked with IBM’s Hyperledger Fabric to create a blockchain voting pilot. The system will look to authenticate voters and save results in real time. It’s been trialed in the private sector by Handysoft Consortium for surveys issued by Korea’s internet and Security Agencies. It needs to be voted on by the South Korean legislature before it can be implemented in a federal election.
The system faced similar problems as the Japanese system. Voters forgot passwords and couldn’t vote in the time frame provided. Users were also skeptical on whether or not the vote was counted.
Thailand’s National Electronics and Computer Technology Center has complete development for a system of blockchain-based voting. The system was ready for use for national and local elections, as well as business-based decisions. It allows voters to use email to vote, and will use facial recognition from phone/laptop cameras to verify identity.
As of the last 2019 update found, NECTEC is looking to test the system on small scale elections. They were also looking to deploy the system for ex-pats to vote in national elections rather than domestically.
India’s Election commission collaborated with IIT Madras to build a blockchain-based voting system to allow remote voting around the country. It would work with EC’s Electoral Registration Network to confirm identities with biometrics and mobile cameras. As of February 2020, the project was in a development stage.
That’s All Folks
I hope that I was able to provide a rough overview of how blockchain voting stands around the world right now. Of course, these aren’t the only countries exploring blockchain, but the ones that have taken active steps towards near future implementation.
If there are countries or systems that I missed out on, please feel free to comment below and I’ll make sure to edit the article. I’d like this list to be a live document, so any help is much appreciated.
Thanks for reading! If you liked what you read – give my Substack a follow! If you’d like to talk more about blockchain, politics, or even sports, you can reach out to me on Twitter @EswarVinnakota or on LinkedIn
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