The blockchain technology represents the revolution in security and transparency necessary to make electronic voting possible, and if so, what are the future implications for democracy?
Despite the digitization of many important aspects of modern life, the elections remain largely conducted offline, on paper. Since the advent of the new century, electronic voting ( e-voting ) has been considered a promising and (sooner or later) inevitable development, which could accelerate, simplify and reduce the cost of the elections, and even lead to greater participation and development of stronger democracies. Electronic voting could take various forms: using the internet or isolated and specific networks; request voters to go to an election polling station or allow them to vote without being supervised; use existing devices, such as mobile phones or computers, or use specific equipment.
Now we have a further possibility; continue to trust in central election management authorities or use blockchain technology to provide an electoral register open to citizens. Many experts agree that the implementation of electronic voting would require numerous improvements in security systems.
The real debate, however, consists in understanding if the introduction of blockchain technologies represents a transformation or simply an improvement of the already existing system and what its implications are for the future of democracy.
How could blockchain technology for electronic voting be used?
The blockchain protocol is a system that allows to collect and verify user registrations, guarantees transparency and is distributed among users. Normally voters are registered, managed, counted and controlled by a central authority. The blockchain technology for electronic voting ( blockchain-enabled e-voting , BEV) would allow voters to perform these activities on their own, allowing them to keep a copy of the voting results.
The history of the electoral results could not therefore be modified as the other voters would realize that this result is different from that in their possession. Furthermore, illegitimate votes could not be added because the other voters would have the possibility to check whether the votes respect the rules (probably because they have already been counted or not associated with a valid electoral register). The BEV would shift power and confidence from central authorities, such as electoral authorities, and would promote the development of a consensus favorable to the dissemination of technology in this field.
A first alternative for the development of BEV systems for electronic voting is to create a new customized system, designed to reflect the specific characteristics of the elections and the electorate. A second approach that could be cheaper and easier to apply would be to conduct elections with an existing blockchain system, such as the one used for virtual currency, bitcoin. Since the security of the public register related to blockchain technology depends on the number of users , this approach could be safer even for countries with a limited number of voters.
Blockchain experts are discussing a new generation of techno-democratic systems , and virtual equivalents of national administrations , based on blockchain technology , are already emerging . However, in the short term, the major potential of the BEV is found in the organizational rather than the national context. These systems have already been used for the internal elections of the parties , and for the shareholders’ vote in Estonia .
Looking ahead, the BEV could be combined with smart contracts , which would allow it to come into force automatically under certain previously agreed conditions. For example, election results could automatically trigger the implementation of electoral promises, investment choices or other decisions that affect the organizational aspect.
Potential effects and developments
The most optimistic promises about electronic voting — ie encouraging young Europeans to move closer to democratic participation — should nevertheless be analyzed with some skepticism . Similarly, many of the concerns about the BEV — anonymity, coercion and accessibility — also extend to traditional paper systems.
The coercion is a threat to every voting system that includes forms of remote participation (ie voting by mail). In both the BEV and paper elections, the use of secret voting booths is the only guarantee against fraud.
L ‘ accessibility in favor of all voters is a key concern in all elections. The BEV could complete things by presenting to the citizens too many options. For example, they may have to choose whether to vote at a terminal inside a traditional booth or use a personal device. There may be different interfaces for citizens who do not just want to vote, but also exercise their right to access data and check that the correct procedures have been observed.
L ‘ anonymityit is often considered a crucial element of democratic participation, although many national elections are in fact “under pseudonym”. This means that finding out how people have voted is not easy, but it is possible because a code links each ballot to a personal voice contained in an electoral register. We are obliged to trust the authorities regarding the protection of anonymity. Even the BEV is under pseudonym, so it may sometimes be possible to find out how a person has voted. Can we trust the community and technology to protect our anonymity? Work is being carried out in the development of the BEV on a technical response to this issue that can offer total anonymity. Another potential answer is to entrust a central authority with the task of distributing pseudonyms and keeping them secret, just as is currently done in paper voting systems. However, maintaining a certain centralized power and trust could thus test the ideology of decentralization associated with blockchain-based systems.
Another key issue is how to ensure widespread confidence in the security and legitimacy of the system. As far as paper-based elections are concerned, it is not enough for the result to be just and valid. The entire electorate, even if it is disappointed by the result, must accept that the process has been legitimate and reliable. As such, in addition to ensuring effective security and accuracy, the BEV must also inspire broad public trust and trust . Since the blockchain protocol is rather complex, this could be an obstacle to public acceptance of the BEV.
Finally, when assessing the potential effects of the BEV, we must consider the values and policies that it reflects. The BEV does not simply digitize the traditional voting process, but proposes an alternative with a different set of values and political foundations. Traditionally, the authorities organize the elections and the process is closed, centralized and from top to bottom. The BEV is the opposite. The process is managed by people and is transparent, decentralized and bottom-up. While participation in traditional elections reinforces state authority, participation in the BEV imposes the supremacy of the people. From this perspective, it should not be surprising how the links between the BEV and the transitions to one are raisedmore direct, decentralized and bottom-up democracy . As such, the extent to which blockchain technology will thrive in the area of electronic voting may depend on the degree to which it will reflect the values and structure of society, politics and democracy.
While European law does not provide specific protocols for elections in the Member States, a certain approximation has taken place and efforts have been made to encourage the use of electronic voting while respecting the constitutional principles of the electoral law (by universal suffrage, equal, free , secret and direct). However, proposals to use blockchain technology in national elections should comply with several other areas of European law, including the right to privacy and protection of voter data and accessibility for all citizens.
Coalichain aims to offer a transparent and decentralized alternative to the current democratic system through the use of Web 3.0 features and blockchain technology. Coalichain has reportedly already gained the interest of influential leaders and political parties in several countries including Estonia, France, Switzerland and Australia, and will soon release the beta version of its mobile app.