Election winners or losers can let blockchain seal their fate forever without dispute.

by Kevin Koo

[Note: This article was first published by the author Kevin Koo on his LinkedIn page.]

Blockchain can save voting day

The elections in the USA are hotly contested, to the point that vote counting is being challenged. This opens the conversation to blockchain as a solution for voting.

Blockchain is an immutable ledger, secure and dependable for recording transactions – transactions, which by design, can also include voter identity, and voting. Here are three ways blockchain technology can benefit voters.

 

Checking voter registration and preventing voter fraud

The first way blockchain technology benefits the voting process, is verifying that a voter exists. If a voter has a digital identity, built upon into the blockchain, that voter can be easily verified – and will be allowed to vote. If the voter does not exist in the system, the voter simply will not be able to vote. With blockchain, the question of “phantom voters” simply does not arise.

It also means, voters need not worry that someone else impersonated them for voting. With digital identities, combined with biometric measures, the identity of a person can be verified. This helps ensure that mail-in ballots, such as voters in foreign lands, and military votes, are properly cast.

A few years ago in Malaysia, we had our own hotly contested elections. On voting day, there was a sudden buzz all over social media and WhatsApp, alleging that busloads of Bangladeshis had been queueing up to vote — surely the cowardly act of a dishonest government that was clinging on to power! Understandably, talk of phantom voters had the real voters upset — and many votes were swung on that day. Fast forward a few years later, we have yet to see any Bangladeshis who were arrested for voting as “phantom voters”. This means there are two possibilities: Either, there were no phantom voters to begin with, or the phantom voters got away.

Preventing double voting through blockchain technology

The second way blockchain helps the voting process, is confirming whether a voter has voted. Just like the “double spending” problem, in some cases, if there is no safeguard, a voter is going to vote twice. With a blockchain-based solution, it’s easy to confirm whether a voter has already voted. Since it is a decentralized solution, there is a short period of time where a voter may theoretically be able to vote again, until all nodes have synchronized their records. But most blockchains these days have faster block times than Bitcoin’s 10 minutes, and even then layer 2 solutions built on top of existing protocols make block time a trifling issue. Besides, there’s probably no way that a person could go back to the end of the queue on voting day and reach the front in ten minutes – right? Unless, of course, it’s a really short queue.

Will voters who vote using a blockchain, be at risk of having their votes made known? That’s actually a design problem, and the answer is in the way the blockchain is designed. Some records can be private, such as the vote cast by a voter, while other records can be public, such as the fact that a voter has already voted. Through a combination of cryptography and technology wizardry, the votes that voters voted will be discreetly recorded, away from the the prying eyes of the unauthorized. Authorization will be the key to securing access. When this is done right, even the prime minister will not know who his mother-in-law voted for.

Back to that hotly contested election in Malaysia, another issue that cropped up was how the elections commission decided to prevent voters from voting twice – by using indelible ink. Inspired by India, the world’s biggest democracy, Malaysia’s government also opted to use the same dark stain on our fingers to show the world when a person had voted. The problem, as some social media users claimed, was that the indelible ink could be washed off easily. Perhaps it was so for them, but my forefinger was stained a dark purple for a few days. I normally prefer “A whiter shade of pale”, but that election reminded me of “Deep Purple”. Anyway….

Automatic vote counting using blockchain technology

Vote counting can be a drag. I once volunteered to count votes in an association election, and it was a lengthy process. We had to have three people to a table – one to pull out the ballot and show it to the counting agents, and the counting agents (one for each candidate) would confirm or contest it. Did the person mean to reject the candidate by crossing on the box? Or, did he mean to approve the candidate when he crossed that box? How about if he crossed one box and ticked another? Petty disputes, on a long tense day, can be exhausting. But as anyone who’s ever been in a hotly contested election can tell you, every vote counts — so count the votes.

With modern day technologies, voting can be clear and unambiguous. I have no doubt that we can one day find a simple, yet trustworthy, alternative to pen and paper. Paper ballots still reign supreme in voting mechanisms because they are relatively cheap, easy to mass produce, and, in the absence of tampering, a safe and reliable means of recording votes. An example of tampering: Ballot boxes may need to be transported from one center to another before ballots are counted. In transit, new ballots could be inserted (more ballots), or ballot boxes may be swapped (no change in number of ballots).

Blockchain technology allows for voting records to be quickly summed. At the end of voting day, administrators could punch a few buttons, setting the whole contraption a-whirring, spinning, calculating, and eventually consummating the act of summing up the votes. And just like cash registers of old, it would go “Ka-Ching!”, proudly displaying the sum total of votes cast for the day, or days (depending). It would happen so fast, you could swear that it happened in the blink of an eye — unless, you’re a fish. Because fish don’t blink.

Conclusion: In blockchain we trust

Blockchain technology could be a real boon for voting day. It would help secure the citizens’ rights to vote, and to vote fairly, and to have every vote counted. Some say, blockchain has to be more than just about tokens. It is. It can help cement the sanctity of democracy, and help every voting adult rest easy, knowing that he or she can vote as he or she was meant to. That is a promise that is made in the foundation of every modern democracy, which begs to be fulfilled every few years. The voting systems of tomorrow will be on the blockchain: tamper-proof, immutable, and secure against censorship.

Thanks for reading.

 

Important Note

This article was prepared for general knowledge. If you require further advice on blockchain, or law, or voting, please consult with a professional before making any decision.