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Putting Blockchain to Test for Elections

Last Updated September 23, 2020 12:01 PM
Olusegun Ogundeji
Last Updated September 23, 2020 12:01 PM

How can a voting platform that touts transparency also be secure? That’s the question posed by Jackie Burns Koven, a Research Assistant of Technology and Public Policy at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs in her published piece by Forbes 

It looked into how the solution to safeguard against vote rigging could be through the adoption of blockchain technology as advocated by some cybersecurity experts who see offline paper-based elections as the ultimate security measure to protect U.S. elections from foreign tampering.

This is based on increasing concerns that hackers will seek to infiltrate the decades-out-of-date voting machines with very little technical sophistication and manipulate votes cast for the next U.S. president in November.

In July, it was revealed  that Federal investigators tried to warn the Democratic National Committee about a potential intrusion in their computer network months before the party moved to try to fix the problem.

There were also accusations of election rigging which have lead rights group in the US to call  for a return to hand-counted paper balloting as a universal standard for elections in an effort to boost transparency and prevent vote irregularities that many see as a threat to the country’s democratic system.

Worst of it all was the FBI’s confirmation  that someone breached into voter databases in two big US states.  Though the FBI bulletin did not identify which states were compromised, but Yahoo! cited “sources familiar with the document” that indicated voter registration databases in Arizona and Illinois were targeted by suspected foreign hackers.

According to Koven, one of the startups that believe the solution against vote rigging through the adoption of blockchain technology is Follow My Vote. Its cofounder and CTO, Nathan Hourt, considers paper-based voting systems reliant on the procedural security of officials. He says there is no way to detect a breach of security with offline systems and the more voters a paper-based system attempts to accommodate, the easier it becomes for a fraudster to corrupt.

Paper ballot

Follow My Vote is proposing an open source secure end-to-end voting system to combat electoral fraud and protect user credentials. The system would enable voters skip the lines to cast votes online using a webcam and government-issued ID. The election could also be watched in real-time entrusting the veracity of results to the underlying blockchain auditability features.

Co-lead of the Secure & Resilient Systems group at Newcastle University’s School of Computing Science, Dr. Feng Hao, argues that voters can use end to end verifiable voting systems to verify the correct recording, tallying and detecting any tampering with their votes. However, he said it is not known for sure if the blockchain-based voting is really a viable idea until there is concrete experimental results.

Pamela Smith, the president of Verified Voting Foundation, a non-governmental organization dedicated to the reliability and security of election results in the digital age, says blockchain does not solve many of the issues relating to Internet voting.

Dr. Jeremy Clark, a specialist in cryptographic voting systems at Concordia University, added that blockchain might introduce new risks as hackers can compromise voters cryptographic keys used in the voting process through interception or malware.

Follow My Vote recognizes the necessity for further investigation and has issued an open invitation to hackers to test their platform during Follow My Vote’s online mock U.S. Presidential election this November. The mock election would be an opportunity to give voters a chance to experience an alternative way of voting. It will also seek to address the most challenging obstacle for e-voting end-to-end verified platforms which is to win over a would-be electorate to entrust their credentials to a platform commonly associated with cryptocurrency theft and the blackmarket.

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