Blockchain Might Make Voting Worse — Not Better: Crypto Researchers

Three researchers with the Initiative for CryptoCurrencies and Contracts (IC3) are questioning whether, as some proponents claim, blockchain technology will be able to change the internet voting sector for the better.

In an article published by Business Insider, the scholars argue that while blockchain technology might serve to revolutionize other industries, internet voting might be a sector that doesn’t benefit from the technology at all, and could potentially even be harmed by it.

Potential For Change

The researchers start off by acknowledging that they understand why blockchain technology is being considered as an option to optimize internet voting. There is little doubt in the fact that the cryptocurrency world has attracted billions of dollars for legitimate reasons and that it has clear potential to revolutionize everything from the global payments sector, to logistics, to retail, to land ownership rights, among other sectors.

The immutable nature of blockchain means that one would naturally consider the fact that elections might be less susceptible to fraud if the technology is utilized. However, the three researchers argue that the basic issues with internet voting cannot be addressed, even by blockchain.

It’s Too Broken

While voting from a smartphone seems like a logical technological development, many cybersecurity experts have pointed out that it’s much more complicated than one might believe. While the convenience of online voting might lead to more participation, many in the cybersecurity world come to the same conclusion as Ron Rivest, a professor at MIT and board member of Verified Voting. He said, “Voting is too important to put online.”

Blockchain technology is known to be extremely secure, but the researchers point out that this doesn’t mean that most hardware and software are not themselves vulnerable, security-wise. Of course, this doesn’t even take into account the fact that internet outages occur, as well.

Security experts are still working to understand the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.  The fact that foreign governments and other adversaries will exploit every technical vulnerability possible to influence an election certainly doesn’t bode well for internet voting, even if it implements blockchain to maintain transparency.

In fact, the fact that blockchain is so secure might actually work against it. While it might sound counterintuitive, consider this: just because the blockchain is secure, that certainly doesn’t mean that the computing device used to vote in the election is hack-proof. If a phone is infected with malware that switches your vote at the last minute, the blockchain will record the vote safely, but it will obviously not be the right vote. As a result, the entire election could be compromised in this manner.

There is also the possibility of vote buying to evolve to a new level, given the anonymity and decentralization of blockchain technology. This shouldn’t be downplayed, as there have been elections where votes have been influenced for less than the cost of a tank of gas.

Author: Neil Mathew
Front Image Credit: Image from Shutterstock

Japan is experimenting with a blockchain-powered voting system – Tsukuba will host the trial

Japan is the latest country to consider using blockchain for voting. Tsukuba is set to become the country’s first city to trial blockchain-powered digital voting.

The system will rely on the Japanese equivalent of social security cards to verify voter identity. Currently, the solution is being used to allow citizens to cast votes on “social contribution projects,” the Japan Times reports.

The system does not sound too dissimilar to conventional voting. However, rather than placing a mark against a relevant response for a vote and placing the ballot card in a secure box, voters will place their votes on a screen.

The system will use blockchain tech to prevent falsifying any of the data recorded, according to the Japan Times.

After placing a vote using the system, Tsukuba Mayor Tatsuo Igarashi said he “had thought it would involve more complicated procedures, but I found that it’s minimal and easy.”

Despite this, the rollout has not been as smooth as city officials had perhaps hoped.

The Japan Times stated that a number of voters forgot their passwords, as such they would have been unable to cast a vote. Furthermore, it was apparently difficult to also tell whether or not a vote had indeed been counted. Not that that’s crucial in this scenario…

It remains unclear if there are any additional safeguards against voter fraud, in Tsukuba’s trial of the tech. As the voter simply holds up a social security card to the screen before voting, there is no knowing if the voter is required to provide evidence that they are in fact using their own card.

West Virginia has also trialed a blockchain based voting app which allowed military personal to cast votes on local elections, opting for facial recognition to verify the voter. We already know this isn’t always a watertight method of verifying identity.

Author: Matthew Beedham
Image Credit