Blockchain and Elections

West Virgina will run Midterm elections through Blockchain. It is the solution that they have found for two problems. Firstly, a high number of electors live and work overseas and, secondly, the percentage of people who participate in the elections will be increased. The last one is the most worrying problem for American democracy and the solution to this problem has been found in the use of smartphones to place your vote. 

But, is the blockchain a good and safe solution for elections? Is it that this disruptive technology born in the fourth industrial revolution a solution?

It’s controversial. Expertssay that the solution to these problems have also introduced some new vulnerabilities and loopholes. However, there are other approaches to avoid fraud. The protection of devices against hacking is very hard. They say, that the Voatz system isn’t based on a full blockchain. It’s actually a mobile app with an attached blockchain.

Therefore, the problem is not that blockchain is not be a good solution but the model they have implanted isn’t good enough. Is it true? The owner and creator of the technology, Voatz, affirm that their system uses biometric authentication to identify individual users before allowing them to mark an electronic ballot, and the votes are then recorded in a private blockchain. There are typical safeguards of the use of blockchain in order not to be hacked. Data are secured thanks to cryptography and every vote is linked to the previous one in order to maintain the chain.

What do we need in order to develop the online vote through blockchain? The possibilities are so many that we should think what we really need in order to have all required the security in an electoral process.

1. Firstly, it is necessary that the technological system has all the accreditations for guaranteeing the integrity, personality and reality of the vote. It’s not different of what is required in a traditional vote. What people could discover in Bush v. Gore (2000) isn’t so edifying about the integrity of the American political elections. What we actually discover in the last presidential elections is another symptom of the traditional system’s weaknesses.

2.Secondly, a good system requires the accreditation of the voter and the device people are going to use for placing their vote. The first problem is common in both, the traditional system and a new blockchain system. 

Many states in the USA didn’t implement an ID card with picture. Is it reasonable in the world of 2018? Some people’s resistance is not understandable when at the same time they have an American passport with the picture. In Europe there’s no doubt about it. 

Coming back to the introduction of the blockchain technology in elections, the issue with the device is simpler to fix. The solution is a double step identification as it is developed in the last generation’s smartphone: fingerprint and/or Face ID. What could be the problem? Both are available now only in high class smartphones.  

3. The third main point is to reach the anonymity of the vote. It’s only feasible if there is a dissociation between the vote and the device… that means between the vote and the voter. That’s an elementary requirement of any electoral process. 

4. As a consequence of the three previous elements, blockchain technology allows something that the current electoral system is far away to provide: keeping voting ballotsforever. In Bush v. Gore we could see the difficulties to analyze every single vote. Some of them were destroyed even if people thought that there would be a judicial scrutiny of the process. 

Furthermore, problems that appeared during the last presidential election (alterations in electronic voting) can be analyzed subsequently. That means that any voter can check the vote they placed and, more important, no one can change their electoral decision if blockchain technology is introduced in elections. 

All of these four elements are in conditions to be applied right now. What is necessary is to be able to prove that the system runs appropriately. The two points that are more difficult (points one and two) are faster to get done than the current process to get the absentee vote: it takes no more than 48 hours. It’s clear that it’s a very good solution if we want to promote the vote.

But the problem is not the speed of the process. The main idea of this post is to highlight that it isn’t reasonable to insist only on the problems of “disruptive” technology when the current electoral system is full of problems as well. Moreover, I consider that blockchain technology opens a window to improve the American electoral system. In other words, it’s a risk but it is also an opportunity to promote the vote and to have safer elections. It can be the first step we need to take in order to have a more participative democracy with the possibility of holding a referendum on issues of special importance. 

Julio González García
Julio González García

Catedrático de Derecho administrativo en la Universidad Complutense de Madrid

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