The 2020 presidential election in the United States saw a surge in mail-in votes due to COVID-19 concerns. While many Americans stayed away from polling stations this year, there have been postal delays, ballot papers rejected, and other challenges.
It’s no wonder the best ways to cast votes in major elections quickly became a hot topic. This has also prompted some members of the crypto community to once again advocate a blockchain-based voting system to be used in future presidential elections.
While the promises of blockchain technology include trust, transparency, and immutability, a group of researchers from the Laboratory of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology pointed out the security flaws associated with voting systems on the blockchain. The researchers released a report on Nov. 6 stating that online voting has serious flaws as such systems are vulnerable to large-scale cyberattacks. The report specifically looks at blockchain-based voting systems like Voatz, which was used in U.S. local elections but is reportedly suffering from privacy issues.
Security aside, blockchain-based voting systems can be profitable
Despite security concerns, some still believe that blockchain-based voting systems will be used to drive the big elections. Maxim Rukinov, director of the Distributed Ledger Technologies Center at St. Petersburg State University, told Cointelegraph that the blockchain enables a system of fair elections in a trusting environment between participants who generally don’t trust each other: “With blockchain you can make voting available and increase the transparency of each election. In a perfect scenario, the results of such a vote cannot be falsified“.
Rukinov said he worked with a team of researchers to develop an online voting system specifically designed for business use. Known as “CryptoVeche,” Rukinov explained that This particular system stores the voting results in a blockchain, which is a kind of distributed ledger. This makes the system very secure against external and internal hacks.
Alex Tapscott, co-founder of the Blockchain Research Institute and author of a book, explained this at length in a 2018 New York Times article, even before the COVID-19 pandemic brought new challenges to light. Tapscott found that election trust is centered on government agencies, which are extremely vulnerable to hacking, fraud and human error. To put this into perspective, a study published last year shows that local and federal authorities have been victims of 443 data breaches since 2014.However, most of them included hardware leaks, email errors, and paper breaches.
Tapscott found that a blockchain system relies on distributed network computers to verify transactions. Once verified, the results are recorded in blocks that are cryptographically linked to the previous block. A secure general ledger is then created that is transparent to all network participants, but remains unchangeable and tamper-proof. This feature is also important to ensure that only one vote is cast as blockchain-based systems aim to avoid double spending.
Don Tapscott, noted author and co-founder of the Blockchain Research Institute, told Cointelegraph that you can’t send votes online these days because internet-based systems don’t work well for these applications:
“When we post information such as a poll on the Internet, we actually send a copy of that file. We keep the original. This is acceptable for information exchange, for transactions in assets like money, stocks, songs, or for registering votes in elections “.
As such, Tapscott noted that within a blockchain-based system Public confidence in the voting process is achieved through cryptography, code, and collaboration between citizens, government agencies, and other stakeholders.
Technical challenges have to be overcome
Of course, it cannot be denied that there are still technical problems associated with blockchain-based voting systems. In addition to the security concerns that MIT researchers mentioned in their latest report, Rukinov acknowledged that developing an online voting system is challenging.
Rukinov went on to explain that with blockchain systems the accuracy of transactions, in this case voter registration, is verified through a consensus mechanism between the various members of the network. However, when it comes to voting systems, independent observers must also be one of the parties to the consensus, which means they would have to have multiple validation nodes.
According to Rukinov, in most cases, the number of nodes owned by the network organizer is greater than the number of independent nodes. In the case of a blockchain-based voting system, an attack can occur when those who control more than half of the resources have the opportunity to change the data at random. Rukinov pointed out that this problem does not occur with all types of consensus mechanisms.
Lior Lamash, founder and CEO of GK8, a cybersecurity company, told Cointelegraph that while blockchain is an effective platform for ensuring the integrity of the voting process, there are still some weaknesses. In particular, Lamash found that identifying voters is problematic when using blockchain-based voting systems:
“The security aspect of blockchain-based voting is complicated. On the one hand, the blockchain itself is completely protected from computer hackers who can even endanger states, as it uses hundreds of thousands of nodes on multiple servers. The challenge would be to secure the” endpoints “of this network: individual ballot papers and voting stations. “
Additionally, Lamash pointed out that a hacker could get this information and manipulate the entire voting process, with each ballot storing a user’s private keys: “This question is similar to the challenge banks and other financial institutions face when offering blockchain-based services.“.
Although problems with blockchain-based voting systems remain, it is clear that blockchains have enormous potential for future elections. Dylan Dewdney, CEO of Kylin, a cross-chain platform for the Polkadot-based data economy, told Cointelegraph that the reliable outcome of an election must also be taken into account. The blockchain technology used for data validation has also been found to be very useful in this case.
According to Dewdney, a decentralized infrastructure could help improve the reliable outcome of an election process. Dewdney stated that Kylin created a data validation process using an oracle knot that acts as a source of information. An arbitration node is then used to judge whether this data is valid or not. Dewdney said:
“Anyone running an arbitration node would have an excellent incentive to challenge inaccurate information as they would be rewarded with a native token. Likewise, they would provide accurate and validated (contestable) information as a premium data feed. For consumers such as news organizations, it is as Premium data feed is incredibly valuable in a data market. “
Although Kylin is a solution that can easily be applied in the DeFi room, the same concept can be used for voting systems. “The decentralized validation of the results of the local elections could be a very effective tool against some of the problems we are currently seeing.” He added: “This could easily act as a linked consensus of the validated API sources from literally thousands of local election results reported to websites within a premium data source from Dapps developers.“.
Rukinov believes that the ideal blockchain-based voting system should take into account the eligibility, verifiability, and immutability of voters. He mentioned that these features could be achieved in the future using cryptographic protocols that include digital signatures, knowledge-free evidence, and homomorphic encryption: “For additional benefits, it is necessary to add the ability to cancel registration. that observers can see the facts of the forgery; and that the persistence of the record changes history“.