Calling electronic voting “inevitable,” a new paper by Philip Bucher for the European Parliament speculates on the possibility of Bitcoin’s revolutionary blockchain technology to bring transparency, efficiency, and greater fairness to elections in its various member democracies.
The paper first notes that because electronic voting is in its infancy, there are still many unknowns, but then jumps straight to the point:
Now we have a further choice; to continue trusting central authorities to manage elections or to use blockchain technology to distribute an open voting record among citizens.
The debate is whether blockchain will represent a transformative or merely incremental development, and what its implications could be for the future of democracy.
The paper [PDF] notes that there are two potential approaches to utilizing the blockchain in an electoral sense. The first would be for governments themselves to establish a blockchain among citizens for the recording of votes. The author shows a clear understanding of the value of such an implementation: universal checks and balances could potentially eliminate virtually all fraud.
However, noting that the security of a blockchain is based on the “breadth of its users,” the paper speculates that smaller populations might do better to use an existing, incentivized blockchain, such as the Bitcoin one. Smaller countries that may be vulnerable to outside influence or inner turmoil would benefit from the security of the mining network. This reporter speculates that even larger countries would be wise to utilize a blockchain where there is serious financial gain to be had for following the rules; rewriting the a few thousand blocks is near impossible for a given actor, no matter how motivated by corruption or political aims.
Bucher says that in the “near-term,” blockchain-based voting may be better utilized by smaller organizations. He says that some political parties have already made use of the technology, and notes that Estonian companies have used it to cast shareholder votes. Bucher even believes that smart contracts could play a role in the revolution, allowing for automated actions to be taken. He then goes on to address skeptics of blockchain voting, saying that many of the criticisms associated with it can also apply to other forms of remote voting. One problem that he does agree with is the nascent nature of blockchain technology, which could make it hard for the technology to gain mass appeal and acceptance.
… it is not surprising that links are drawn between [Blockchain-enabled voting] and transitions towards a more direct, decentralised and bottom-up democracy. As such, the extent to which blockchain technology will flourish in the area of e-voting may depend upon the extent to which it can reflect the values and structure of society, politics and democracy.
The paper closes by providing some vague guidance to European lawmakers in the process of “anticipatory lawmaking.” It notes that the EU does not have the power to mandate rules for internal elections of member states, but that the body has already encouraged democracies to attempt to integrate some form of electronic voting. While the paper says that several EU laws would have to be respected, including data privacy laws, it would seem that utilizing the blockchain would already conform to the highest possible standards by comparison to traditional voting methods. After all, an encrypted database secured by billions of cycles per second is going to fare better at protecting pseudonymity than any regular database secured by more traditional means.
The prospect of blockchain-based voting has, in an ethereal sense, been part of the mission of Bitcoin for years. Allowing people to vote with less hassle is bound to lead to more representative results. Further, the technology would have certainly been useful in previous hotly contested elections, such as that between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Nearly every problem noted in the documentary “Hacking Democracy” would have been impossible.
Will the EU lead the way, and begin to use the blockchain in some of its internal decision-making, later helping member states integrate the technology on a larger scale? How many years before voting is most commonly conducted through the web browser or a desktop window instead of the voting booth? Time will tell, but it seems that if such a thing does happen, this generation will be the first to experience it.
Images from Shutterstock and iStock.