Banking Article, Banking Finance 2021, Banking Finance July 2021

Opportunities and Challenges of Blockchain for E-Voting

Introduction

The persistent pandemic has forced every industry to innovate their use of technology and find new ways of running the business with minimum disruption. Challenges with conducting elections during these uncertain times are not any exception.

Traditional voting predominantly involves people standing in long queues in front of their designated polling stations and exercising their franchise using paper or electronic ballots.People have had their human rights compromised and their fundamental freedoms provided by their constitution taken away.The pitfalls of the current system of ballot voting are being taken as an advantage of by people or organizations looking to gain power. In the African countries of Uganda and Kenya there has been widespread controversy over their elections in recent years.In today’s setting, finding contactless alternatives to in-person voting has become important. People are supposed to trust the result which is provided by an Election commission or a government bodyensuring the election integrity and safeguarding its outcome even when remote voting becomes thenew normal. Technologies such as Blockchain have several inherent technologycapabilities that are conducive for holding secure and yet transparent elections.

In the last couple of years, Blockchain has supported several elections, from Sierra Leone in 2018 to Russia in 2020. The US Postal Service (USPS) has applied for a patent for a Blockchain voting system. The USPS is reportedly contemplating Blockchain as anamicable option for managing the mail-in votes that are expected to surge during the upcoming elections, due to the increased number of voters choosing to vote remotely.

What is E-Voting

Electronic voting (also known as e-voting) is a process to exercise franchise by using electronic means to either aid or take care of casting and counting votes.

Depending on the particular implementation, e-voting may be referredto as using standalone electronic voting machines (also called EVMs) or computers connected to the Internet. It may encircle a range of Internet services, from basic transmission of tabulated results to full-function online voting through common connectable household devices. The degree of automation may be  confined to marking a paper ballot, or may be a comprehensive system of vote input, vote recording, data encryption and transmission to servers, and consolidation and tabulation of election results.

A worthy e-voting system must perform most of these tasks while adheringto a set of standards established by regulatory bodies, and must also be competent enough to deal successfully with basic requirements related to information security,  data accuracy,  data integrity,  data privacy, adoptability .

Electronic voting technology comprises of punched cardsoptical scan voting systems and specialized voting kiosks (including self-contained direct-recording electronic voting systems, or DRE). It can also include transmission of ballots and votes via telephones, private computer networks, or the Internet.

E-voting can be classified into two types:

  • E-voting with human intervention which is physically supervised by officials of governmental or independent electoral authorities (e.g. electronic voting machines located at polling stations);
  • Internet Banking based remote e-voting (also called i-voting) where the voter submits his or her vote electronically to the election authorities, from any location.

Electronic Voting system using Blockchain

Blockchain

Blockchain is a digital platform for digital assets. It consists of a continuously growing list of records known as blocks that are linked and secured using cryptography. Major usage of Blockchain has been in all cryptocurrency transactions, mainly Bitcoin. However, they are increasingly being used in several other applications because of their inherent resistance to modification to the transaction/block/whole distributed ledger – Blockchain. One such application is Electronic Voting. We will review some of the variety of blockchain technologies that are usable, scalable, and secure to fit for Electronic Voting Application.

Blockchain

A blockchain contains distributed ledger, digitized and consensus-based secure information storagemechanism. This article is focused on the up-to-date state of blockchain-based voting researchalong with associated possible challenges while aiming to forecast future directions.Major players in the development of blockchain system are symmetrical and asymmetrical cryptographyimprovements. Blockchain-supported voting systems providesdifferent solutions than traditional e-voting.  The main prevailing issues are classified into thefive following categories: general, integrity, coin-based, privacy and consensus.Based on the researches it was found that that blockchain systems can provide solutions to certain problems thatprevail in current election systems. From the point of view ofgovernment, electronic voting systems may increaseboth voter turnout and voter confidence and renew interest in the voting system. Amplified researchdemonstrates that implementing e-voting systems can enhance security. While adopting an electronicvoting system, one must ask:

Why is the electronic voting system considered as a better option than atraditional ballot voting paper?

It not only improves the effectiveness and efficiency of democracy, but it is expected to be a solution for some problematic situations, such as improving accessibility to theelection, the elderly and the disabled ability to vote, increase in election turnout, as well as being easyto operate and getting a quick result.

However, it is a well-known fact that operating e-voting systemsunder strict security procedures are crucial, especially when relying on the utilization of advancedencryption techniques.Initially, e-voting was proposed to be a solution to the challenges of paper-based voting to ensureaccurate and bias-free elections. Security issues with respect to e-voting systems have been amongthe topics that is extensively studied . The studies show that the utilization of electronicvoting may entail the following challenges: data integrity, reliability, transparency, the secrecy of theballot, consequences of breakdown, uneducated voters, knowledge in IT.Blockchain recently has emerged as a solution to build confidence systems used in differentdomains.. However, other usage and applications have emerged in the last few years. Blockchain-enabled voting systems emerged as the latest next generation electronic voting systems because the unchangeable feature of the blockchain has made it a decentralized distributed ballot box. Blockchain technology encourages governments to ensure smart sustainable voting systems and adopt sustainability information into voting systems. It isimportant to underline that although blockchain is increasingly being applied to the electronic voting system to enhance its security, several issues still prevail.In this respect, determining which issues are to be addressed in the design of a blockchain-based voting system is crucial.The main aspects of Block technology based e-voting are : identifying a set of current e-voting system gaps; potentials of the blockchain concept to improve e-voting systems througha classification of the main prevailing issues into five categories: general, integrity, coin-based, privacy and consensus; assessing current solutions for blockchain-based e-voting and identifying potential research directions for the blockchain-based e-voting system.

The VotingProcess in Block-Chain Based E-Voting

 Multi-chain

Blockchain is the backbone of the electronic voting system. We have used multi-chain in demonstrating voting application. Once TTP (Trusted Third Party) authorizes voters to vote, the voter can choose whom he wants to vote for within his constituency. Each vote is conceptually equivalent to the asset in multi-chain and the transaction happens between voter and candidate. By restricting the multi-chain asset to a process maximum of one transaction between parties, the system is capable of restricting either multiple votes sent to the same candidate or voting for multiple contenders.

The following sections describe the voting process and the components involved.

Before Voting

Election commission maintains records containing information related to voters and contestants. Before voting, registered voters have to submit their intention to vote and contestants should file nomination forms.

1)Intent to vote by voters

A user interface will be provided by the Election Commission to the voter to express his intention for voting. The voter can be identified with any of the unique identification numbers assigned by the Election Commission. This identification number must be used consistently throughout the process. Otherwise, there could be chances that the same voter can register multiple times with different identities and then vote multiple times. In the registration process, the voter submits a secret message. As a response to the secret message, the client-side web page generates a unique random reference number to the voter which has to be noted for future reference during voting. An internally hashed secret message and reference number is generated and stored in the Election Commission database. It’s important that the voter not share this secret message and reference number with the Election Commission. Otherwise, the Election commission might get to know who voted for whom and potentially manipulate the whole voting process at later stages of voting.

2) Filing nomination by contestants

The contestant can be any valid voter who intends to contest an election. Such candidates have to file for nomination with the Election Commission. In the nomination process, the candidate registers intention to participate in the election as a contestant by submitting their voter ID. The Election Commission will provide a public address in the multi-chain network and stores it against the candidate. Later, during voting, this public address will be made visible to the voters to vote for candidates

B. During Voting

In the real world, voting happens during the stipulated period. The same procedure is followed here. However, the duration of the voting can be extended. During voting, the voter has to submit the same secret message and reference number that has been generated during voter registration to the trusted third party. Trusted third party sends the message hash to the election commission to verify that the voter is a valid voter. Upon verification, Election commission returns validity of the voter to trusted third party. A voter identified as valid will be taken to the voting page. There, a list of candidates will be shown based on constituency. During this process, trusted third party generates a public key for the voter using the multi-chain network and stores this information against the hash of the secret message and reference number of the voter. The same is depicted in Figure 2. There are cases where a voter might try to vote multiple times for the same contestant or vote for multiple contestants. In either case the system guards against such malicious voting. This safeguarding is made possible in multi-chain by restricting the number of transactions between two parties to one. Hence, even if the voter does more than one transaction/votes, those will be invalidated by multi-chain.

C. After Voting

Since it is an electronic voting system, reports can be generated in real-time. However, the real-time report of who is leading and who is lagging should not be made public as it might affect public sentiment and could bias to a particular party or candidate.

After the voting completes, detailed reports about a candidate’s results, party-wise results, constituency results, etc. can be easily prepared using any BI tool bycombining data from multi-chain and data stored in Election Commission records

Benefits of Block Chain based E-voting 

Speed: Electronic voting technology intends to streamline the counting of ballots, reduce the cost of manual process to count votes and can provide improved accessibility for disabled voters. Also,the expenses are expected to be reduced in the long term.  The announcement of results can be faster.The time and cost of Voters can be saved as they will be able to vote independently from their location. Total voter turnaround will be increased.  Citizens living in faraway places from polling stations like citizens living in foreign countries, living in rural areas will be benefitted.

Accessibility: Disabled persons can be made fully accessible for Electronic voting machines. In case of manual elections it is not possible for the blind and visually handicapped persons to access punched card and optical scan machines, and lever machines can be difficult for voters with limited mobility and strength.If necessary headphones, sip and puff, foot pedals, joy sticks and other adaptive technologycan be used in electronic machines  to provide the necessary accessibility.

Cryptographic verification: Cryptographic solutions ensure transparency by enabling voters and election observers to verify that votes have been recorded, tallied and declared correctly, in a manner independent from the hardware and software running the election. A voter can verify individually to check that her/his own vote is included in the election outcome.Election observers can also verify universally to check that the election outcome corresponds to the votes cast, and eligibility verifiability allows voters and observers to check that each vote in the election was exercised by a uniquely registered voter.

Online voting:The digital differentiation of higher and lower socioeconomic classes can be eliminated inE-voting  It is presumed that electronic voting may favour a certain demographic, namely younger generation such as Generation X and Y voters. However in the recent elections conducted in some countries revealed that a quarter of e-votes were cast by the older demographic, such as individuals over the age of 55 years and it shows that e-voting is not exclusively supported by younger generation  and  is gaining popularity amongst Baby Boomers also.

Challenges of Blockchain Based E-Voting

A fundamental challenge with any voting machine is to show evidence that the votes were recorded as per voting and tabulated as recorded.  In the manual process voter-marked paper ballots can be verified with manual hand counts for declaring the election results.  In case of recounting and audits independent verification is possible in case of manual systems. These systems can provide the ability for voters to verify how their votes were cast or enable officials to verify that votes were tabulated correctly

It has been observed that  e-voting systems  may become more complex and include software, different methods of election  and the possibility  of fraud cannot be ruled out.  Some arguments challenge the use of electronic voting from a theoretical point of view, arguing that human intervention is not possible  for verifying operations occurring within an electronic machine and also people cannot verify these operations, as such they cannot be trusted. Furthermore, it is argued by some computing experts that people cannot trust any programming they did not author.

DRE (Direct Recording Electronic)machines should be user friendly to verify audit trails and the software used on DRE machines should be open to public scrutiny to ensure the accuracy of the voting system.  As the computers can and do malfunction verifiable ballots are necessary, and also voting machines can be compromised.

Security lapses have been found in commercial voting machines, such as using a default administration password. Some cases have been reported that machines making unpredictable, inconsistent errors. Openness to public examination should be made available is one of the key issues with electronic voting from outside experts, for creation of an authenticatable paper record of votes cast and a chain of custody for records..

The main psychological issue of the voters is trust. Voters fear that their vote could be compromised by a virus on their PC or during transmission to governmental servers. The capital expenditure for the installation of an electronic voting system is high. For some   governments it may be too high to invest rather than investing in productive purposes. When it is not sure that e-voting is a long-term solution or not, it is even more important to take a decision to invest.

Conclusion

To overcome above challengesMulti-chain systemcan be configured to restrict transactions to only one vote between voter and contestant.  To maintain secrecy, a new entity – Trusted Third Party (TTP)– was introduced.  This organization ensures to maintain voter anonymity and whom the voter votes for. Stabilised workflow between authentication organization, trusted third party and multi-chain ledger has been achieved in the recent past.

This article aims to review information on current e-voting systems, the blockchain concept and its applications in e-voting. It is also discussed about the of gaps of current e-voting systems, potentials of the blockchain concept to improve e-voting, current solutions for blockchain-based e-voting and directions on blockchain-based e-voting system and also challenges in implementing the block chain based e-voting system.

The database held in these proposed blockchain based systems is transparent for all voters and independent viewers. Since the blockchain-based e-votingsystems still require further testing, we are not fully aware of unknownrisks that are associated with the security and scalability of such systems. The internet and voting devices still have many security weaknesses. Performing electronic voting through secure and reliable internet will require advancement of significant security standards. Although it may seem like a perfect solution, it was concludedthat the blockchain system could not fully solve the problems in the voting system due to weaknesses but it can be analternate system. That is why it is important to have basics about blockchain-based technology even thoughit is still at an early stage in an e-voting solution.

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