January 04, 2022 - 8 min read
Election and voting security is one of the most hotly debated topics in the United States and across the world. While voting used to be done fully manually, in the last two decades, voting machines across the world have become connected to the internet. In addition, many voters are now allowed to vote fully online.
While these innovations surely increase the ease of voting and vote counting, they could be exposing elections to unprecedented vulnerabilities, including hacking and vote manipulation. In addition, unintentional software or hardware errors could occur during the voting process, putting election security in jeopardy.
With all of this being said, blockchain technology seems like it could be a perfect way to help secure voting systems, particularly for online voting. But is blockchain really a good solution to election security, or is it just another vulnerability in an already insecure system? Let’s find out.
Registered Voters in the U.S., 1996-2020 (in millions).
Before getting into whether blockchain technologies could be adopted, it’s important to understand who actually controls elections. In the U.S., local governments generally control the election process, though elections overall are technically supervised by the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
Every state has slightly different rules when it comes to elections. Some believe that this decentralized process is ideal, while others believe a centralized system would bring more trust. This decentralized system means that blockchain voting systems, if utilized, would likely be implemented in a piecemeal fashion instead of via a broad national mandate.
This is probably a good thing, as it would allow for a lot of testing and a lot of time to work out the kinks and inaccuracies of the system before it would be widely adopted. It would likely be a good idea for a wide scope of scientific studies and simulations to be run on blockchain election processes to determine how difficult it would be for someone to hack or manipulate an election result.
In most other countries, elections are controlled by a centralized entity, which is either good or bad, depending on your views of centralization and decentralization. On one hand, having thousands of entities makes it less likely that one, centralized power could manipulate an election. However, it also makes it far more difficult to audit results and engage in oversight and investigation activities in the case of potential malfeasance or fraud.
Public blockchains, like Etherium, Bitcoin, Polygon, and others, are multi-owner blockchains in which new entities can, in general, participate as nodes, mine tokens or coins, and participate in the governance of the blockchain itself.
In a permissioned, private, multi-owner blockchain, a group of permissioned entities is allowed to operate as nodes. In the case of blockchain voting, these nodes could be operated by local civic groups, other government organizations, or independent watchdog groups.
However, the accuracy of the consensus would be up to the trustworthiness of each of these organizations, each of which may have its own political slant and may be vouching for a certain political candidate. Another potential solution would be to add political organizations or parties on all sides of the political spectrum as nodes.
It’s hard to say whether this would be helpful or hurtful to election integrity, as it would be essential to balance the number of organizations operating nodes on each side of the political aisle. Having political parties act as nodes could also make it very difficult to reach consensus.
In a single-owner blockchain, one entity is responsible for operating the entire blockchain. If applied to voting, this means that the local election agency or an approved contractor would control the entire system. Due to the immutability and distributed nature of blockchains, this could provide some benefits.
However, with the centralization of this process, great trust would have to be placed into the agency or contractor controlling the blockchain, which could eliminate most of the benefits of using blockchain in the first place.
It seems obvious that for voting a private, permissioned blockchain would be the best option. However, this may or may not be the case.
Having a public blockchain for voting would increase the potential number of node operators, which could improve the accuracy of the result. However, this could make it much more difficult to reach a consensus.
On the other hand, public blockchain voting could be far more susceptible to manipulation by random individuals, political parties, or lobbyists who could pay into the system to manipulate an election result.
In the future, more advanced blockchains may be able to address some of these concerns by limiting the power of nodes and creating more potent consensus mechanisms. This could avoid the creation of “whales” that dominate the governance of a blockchain and could potentially lead to the disapproval of votes for the candidate they do not support.
Some people believe that internet voting is simply a bad idea– and they may be correct. However, if internet voting is to continue, blockchain technology could be a better solution than traditional web portals.
Internet voting in the U.S. is currently offered by 4 states, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Utah, and is likely to be rolled out in more states in the near future.
Blockchain technology could help identify voters and store their information in a secure system. Perhaps each voter would receive their own private key, which could only be activated via a secure verification method, such as a biometric scan.
One could envision a future in which every internet voter’s computer operates as its own limited, permissioned node; having tens of thousands or millions of nodes could reduce the chance of an inaccurate result to an infinitesimally small probability. One vote = one node could be a powerful solution, but would likely require a large number of internet voters to act in the intended fashion.
In all likelihood, blockchain technology may not be mature enough yet to be incorporated into a system like voting. Questions over who will operate nodes add a great degree of confusion and distrust to potential blockchain applications. However, in the case of internet voting, which already comes with massive security risks, the implementation of blockchain tech could provide an additional layer of security.
The Chamber of Digital Commerce, a prominent blockchain industry association, is a strong proponent of blockchain voting. They believe that the immutable nature of blockchain transactions and recent advances in cryptography makes it highly unlikely that a well-implemented blockchain system will be manipulated. They also point to an experiment in which West Virginia allowed military voters to vote via a blockchain mobile app in the 2018 congressional elections.
In contrast, a group of experts from Harvard and MIT has strongly warned against blockchain voting. The group is already concerned with internet voting and believes that blockchain only exacerbates the current problems faced by internet voting systems. Particular issues of concern include:
Since blockchains are closed systems, they have difficulty intaking outside information. Blockchain oracles act as data bridges between blockchains and the outside world. In the case of voting, particularly online voting, an oracle could be programmed to input a voter’s personal information, such as ID or biometric information, in order to confirm their identity before they enter their vote.
While oracles are essential for blockchains, they can also be a major security risk, as they themselves can be hacked and manipulated. Therefore, blockchain voting implementation will only be as accurate and secure as the oracles that are used to power the blockchain the voting system uses.
Blockchain voting is controversial– but if it’s to be implemented, it needs to have all the security it can get. SupraOracles can allow both private, permissioned blockchains and public, unpermissioned blockchains to allow smart contracts to use fast, accurate data to verify voter ID, vote counts, and relay other sensitive information to the correct devices and networks. By using secure data queries and powerful, decentralized consensus mechanisms, SupraOracles can help ensure that a voter is really who they say they are, helping to avoid voter fraud, double voting, and other potential issues.
In addition, SupraOracles can activate a network of decentralized oracles to check and review vote counts at specific intervals to look for evidence of fraud and manipulation. Through a novel, randomized node architecture and cutting-edge cryptography, SupraOralces can engender greater “trustlessness” in electronic voting systems. This could demonstrate to the public, government agencies, and independent watchdogs that blockchain voting can be more secure than many people might think.
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