The advantages that blockchain technology provides cannot be denied. Its ability to cover the entire globe while providing security and transparency make it the most useful in the modern world. But can it be used to carry out elections in a country? Specially if the citizens of that country live abroad and want to practice their civic right. The answer, yes.
In United States, the state of West Virginia has decided to test out methods to conduct transparent and secure elections through the employment of blockchain technology. This step comes in the hindsight of all the allegations that were made last time regarding the elections in U.S. It was rumored that Russia was involved in shifting the pivot of elections in the U.S. The news of Russia’s involvement spread ripples across the nation and the need for a more secure election method became stronger. Also, the issue of voting for the military personnel deployed abroad became prominent.
Since the midterm elections are coming up in November 6 in the United States, the demand for a transparent and secure electoral framework has grown stronger. Steps are being taken by the authorities to make the process safe from outside interference.
A conference was held by the authorities in July in order to discuss the framework for elections coming up this November. The major point of discussion in the entire conference was cyber security. The use of the cyber network was one of the major reasons for outside interference in U.S. elections. Before the elections, Facebook has also started investigating the usage of its platform for such purposes. Facebook is trying to remove all the “bad actors” that have been using this platform for changing or shaping public opinions. It was stated in the official press release by Facebook that:
We face determined, well-funded adversaries who will never give up and are constantly changing tactics. It’s an arms race and we need to constantly improve too. It’s why we’re investing heavily in more people and better technology to prevent bad actors misusing Facebook — as well as working much more closely with law enforcement and other tech companies to better understand the threats we face.
This decision of testing out a blockchain network for electoral purposes comes from Mac Warner, who spent 23 years in the U.S. army and is now the secretary of the state of West Virginia. Besides the issue of security, another issue that the electoral process of U.S. currently faces is the difficulty that its citizens face while voting from outside the country. In the elections of 2016, only 20 percent of the state’s military personnel deployed abroad participated in the elections. In order to make it easier for overseas citizens to vote, this comes off as revolutionary. After experiencing the voting process through traditional methods while being deployed in Afghanistan, Mac Warner stated that, “On a hillside in Afghanistan, it’s hard to get mail, it’s hard to ship it out.”
In order to make this difficulty easier, a pilot program was launched in the state which enabled people to vote in state’s primary elections through a blockchain network. As a result of this, Warner’s own son Scott, who is an army first lieutenant in Italy, was able to vote through his smartphone. This started out a wave and the deployment of this procedure to vote on the biggest scale was considered. Scott stated that:
In the same amount of time that I could’ve pulled up and watched a YouTube video. I actually got to go perform my civic duty.
The pilot program for this has raised a huge grant from Tusk/Montogomery Philanthropies Inc. This foundation is spearheaded by the venture capitalist Bradley Tusk. After hearing the idea from Mac Warner, Tusk advised his team to focus on voting through mobile phones. As a result of this, the Boston-based project Voatz Inc. was selected for this purpose..
This will not only provide a more secure voting framework by employing blockchain technology at its core, but also will provide ease of voting resulting in maximum voter participation. Tusk aims at providing the method of mobile voting first to military groups for testing. Later on, it has been planned to roll out for the general public. He stated that, “I have a 12-year-old and 9-year-old, and they would find it insane that you couldn’t vote on a phone.”
Voatz has been working with Warner and Donald Kersey, who is West Virginia’s elections director, for this purpose. Facial recognition is used to register the voter and the votes are stored on blockchain network, called as the “digital lockbox” by the execs at Voatz.
But as secure as it might sound, using blockchain might not be the perfect method for the electoral process. J. Alex Halderman, a computer science professor at the University of Michigan, is of the view that there are a lot of factors that need to be taken care of before this framework is viable enough for use. The issues like protecting the anonymity and sending votes from malware infected phones still remain there. Another issue that arises is the auditing of votes. Since there is no paper backup available, audit becomes difficult through this framework.
Despite all the feedback, West Virginia will use its framework for mobile voting in the coming elections of November. Tusk has been actively involved in promoting the usage of this pilot program and hopes one day government will also support this framework. He has also been talking to other states to test the framework.
Although the use of blockchain-based electoral framework seems to be the ultimate cure for culminating outside interference, there are still some issues that need to be taken care of before this framework is deployed on the national scale.