From the United States to Uganda, allegations of vote fraud have become an integral part of elections around the world.
Some of these allegations are legitimate, as powerful leaders suppress the will of the people in a desperate attempt to cling to power. In other cases, however, such charges are brought with little evidence. Fake videos circulate online that paint an image of industrial scale manipulation – depicting a world where ballot papers are thrown into boxes.
Whether this is true or false, the mere suggestion of vote rigging is enough to undermine confidence in the democratic process – dividing societies and fomenting violence, as we saw on the US Capitol in January. A recent survey by Morning Consult and Politico showed that only 33% of Republican voters now trust the US election.
In this age of uncertainty, the talk inevitably has shifted to how the blockchain can help modernize elections – amid hopes that this technology could provide an ultimate sense of action. Proponents also believe that these static databases could also enable patriotic votes to be managed more efficiently. We often take elections for granted, but we forget just the manpower and organization required to ensure tens of millions of people can vote on the same day.
But it is not enough to just say “blockchain” and trust that pain points can be resolved in a global election. Instead, a great deal of thought is needed to determine how this technology will be applied. Should voters cast their votes electronically, meaning that their choice is automatically recorded on one of these networks, or should technology be brought in when results are validated?
A wave of blockchain-based voting systems has emerged in recent years – including the likes of Votem, Voatz, and Horizon State. Some struggled to achieve the adoption, while others’ vulnerabilities were exposed.
Blockchain ballot papers
When it comes to the prospect of voting on the blockchain itself, some academics have expressed concerns that this technology may not be the magic bullet that people are hoping for. A November 2020 research paper from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology warned that claims that blockchain would increase election security “is conditional and misleading.”
The four authors questioned whether voting from a computer or smartphone would make the process more accessible and accessible to the public – with some studies indicating that it may have “little or no effect on turnout in practice.” They also argued that malware attacks and denial of service could undermine a person’s ability to vote. Paper and pen may be old-fashioned, but at least a hacker can’t grab them.
“Internet voting systems are vulnerable to massive failures: attacks that are more widespread, difficult to detect, and easier to implement than similar attacks against paper-based voting systems. Moreover, Internet voting systems will suffer from such vulnerabilities in the foreseeable future given the situation of Computer security and major risks in political elections, “they wrote.
Even if blockchain technology were rolled out across the country in a big vote, polling places would still need to be spread across the country to cater to those who don’t have the technology or the knowledge to cast their ballots digitally.
However, such criticism does not necessarily mean that the blockchain should be written off altogether – and that these sophisticated networks have no place in the electoral system.
Reliance on the blockchain
Free TON is a community that researches this issue in more depth – and instead of devising a system to ensure the blockchain is used during voting, it is working to create software that delivers value after voting.
In November 2020, a competition was held to produce software specifications that would pave the way for crowdsourcing and tamper proof auditing. Crucially, this technology will enable anyone to verify the current electoral authority census – helping to boost confidence in the final results.
Luca Patrick, who ended up winning the contest, has laid out specifications for programs specifically designed for Latin American countries such as Guatemala, where allegations of voting fraud were accompanied by political instability. He was awarded 30,000 TON Crystals for his contribution.
The election process is a clear problem in many countries. I have been thinking about different solutions and their applications for a few years now. When I saw that I could actually put some of them into practice with Free TON, I was so excited, “he explained.
The game mechanics are an essential part of his concept, with those who calculate the scores extracting tokens that get locked. Those who check that the phonometer work unlock these digital assets if the results are correct – a model on the chain that rewards honesty.
The next phase of the process will focus on reviving the Luca concept – a competition has been launched to find the team that will be responsible for the development and closely follow the specifications.
For Carlos Toriello, a member of the Free TON jury who supported the entry of Luca as the winner, the magic of his proposal centered on how countries would not require changing their existing voting systems – nor attempting to introduce electronic voting.
“There is a lot of waste by the election authorities not realizing that the blockchain could save them in the millions as the speed of independent audits increases dramatically,” he added.
Torriello is campaigning for this kind of technology as part of a wider initiative called Fiscal Digital, after concerns about voter fraud that surfaced in the 2019 Guatemalan elections.The group’s goal is to publish fully audited election results that can be replicated before electoral authorities publish their results – and has an ambition to verify Real-time results by 2023. It is hoped that Free TON’s infrastructure will help turn this goal into reality.
“This year, Latin America will see presidential elections in Chile, Peru, Nicaragua and Honduras – while there will be legislative elections in Mexico, El Salvador and Argentina. I think we will see a lot of violence as a result of a lack of confidence in voting systems, giving authoritarian leaders the excuse they need to curtail democratic rights,” he explained. Much of this could be prevented if better technology was used to enable anyone to verify election results. “
Faster results and lower cost will be compelling reasons for countries to embrace blockchain in their vote audit. The fact that anyone can verify the results on their own can also help restore much-needed confidence in the outcome of an election – and in some countries, this could end up saving lives.
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