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Authoritarian regimes around the world hold elections and manipulate them every step of the way. It is like their job to be involved in any fraud-related illegal acts during an election. With the growing instability in politics and balloting, people no longer trust this system shackled down by power and corruption. And are slowing and gradually losing their sense of responsibility and thus are no longer interested in getting involved in such matters. To cater to the needs of such individuals and create 100% transparency, the technology is here with a brand new solution. Blockchain voting systems can bring back life to the voting system of any country or even a single organization!
As the world has evolved over the years, the ways of doing specific things have drastically changed. With multiple factors contributing, we can now see a significant change in multiple areas/sectors when we compare them from those of tens, or even hundreds of years back. The same goes for voting systems. Whether political or non-political voting processes, they have changed after going through different stages of their development and finally now into a new era of advanced technology. But we cannot ignore the fact that there are still a few things that are common in both!
Let's rewind our lives to the time of origin of the first voting system.
The history of voting can be traced back to the early 508 BC in Ancient Greece, where the earliest forms of democratic process were believed to be implemented. They had this "Negative" vote that would only allow the male landowners to cast ballots for a new political leader or against a candidate who they wanted to get exiled for 10-15 years. The idea of paper ballots was not yet discovered thus they used broken pieces of clay pots, called Ostraka in Greek (which means to ostracize) to write down their choices. If any of them receives the agreed amount of negative votes, was to be exiled, but if no one can reach the maximum of votes, they would be allowed to reside. This Method had a lot of drawbacks and it faced huge criticism from the locals:
After the idea of the voting system was introduced, people around the world started to adapt to it accordingly. In ancient times, when the paper was not yet made, people used animal skins, rocks, bones, and even metal pieces to show their own choices and to vote for or against a position or a person. The early stages involved only the superiors and the officials and completely rejected the involvement of poor locals and women.
After the origin of paper, people decided to use it as a medium for recording and casting votes. By this time, the inequality had lowered to the extent when the males of any occupation and financial class were part of the electoral system, but still, the women were left out. Now, if we talk about safety and security, the paper ballots had their pros and cons. The biggest reason why the candidates don't trust it anymore is, that the rate of rigging such elections is quite high and is quite common nowadays. Also, it is inconvenient for people living in remote areas to come in search of the ballot box!
An alternative solution was found for that too. Different governments around the world allowed the voters to mail-in ballots or use the postal ballots according to their convenience. But it still had the chance of vote-buying and altered vote totals. Time evolved again and the very next time bought a digital software with it, where the date would be recorded on the internet and would reinforce election integrity. This time the voter was enabled to used his/her mobile phone to log in to software through which he could cast ballots. This was when the fundamental change took place.
An "online voting system" also known as "Internet voting" is a software platform that allows groups to securely conduct votes remotely and elections as well. Voters cast their votes with the aid of a computer during an election. High-level Online voting systems balance the overall ballot security and ensure the accessibility as well as tamper-proof behavior of recorded data.
Ballot casting, recording, and tabulation are routinely done with computers even in voting systems that are not, strictly electronic. Electronic voting in the strict sense is a system followed nowadays n elections, where the first step, ballot composition (or choosing), is done with the aid of a computer.
Because of security and access concerns, most large-scale electronic voting is currently held in designated precincts using special-purpose machines. This type of voting mechanism is referred to as e-voting. There are two major types of e-voting equipment: direct recording electronic (DRE) machines and optical scanning machines.
A typical DRE is composed of a touch screen connected to a computer. Ballots are presented to the voters on the touch screen, where they make their choices and cast their ballot. The touch-screen display can be used to assist the voter in a variety of ways, which include displaying large fonts and high contrast for those with limited vision, alerting the voter to undervotes, and preventing overvotes.
A DRE is a secure process that directly records the cast ballots and stores the data in its memory. Thus, a single machine is used for the composition, casting, and recording of votes. The third step, recording the cast ballot in a memory device, is invisible to the voter. Assurance that the vote is recorded as cast relies on testing of the machine’s hardware and software before the election and confidence that the software running during the election is the same as the one tested before the election. Both of these are subjects of much controversy.
In other optical scanning systems, voters compose their votes on a computer screen. Once a ballot is completed, the computer prints an optical scanning ballot. The voter verifies the ballot and then inserts it in another device that scans and tabulates the vote. Both of these systems are considered electronic voting systems.
This system is quite useful especially for the people who don't have access to ballot boxes or live in remote areas, and also when the blank absentee ballots were not available in time for overseas and military voters to meet the Election Day deadline. It used to be widely believed that Internet voting/online voting would be the best way to resolve these problems. But today overseas and military voters face far fewer such obstacles. By law absentee ballots must now be made available 45 days in advance of Election Day, and in some states voted ballots can be received after Election Day and still be counted. Furthermore, ballots must be made available electronically, so most voters can download them.
Blockchain technology is widely used across the globe in multiple sectors of the economy, including cryptocurrency, media, and entertainment, and yes in the voting system too!
Blockchain is a digital ledger, type of a shared database that differs from a typical database in the way that it stores information. Blockchains store data in blocks that are then linked together via cryptography. As new sets of data come in, they are entered into fresh blocks. Once each block is filled with data, it is chained onto the previous block, which makes the data chained together in chronological order.
While connecting Blockchain to the voting system, we can easily evaluate how efficient it would make the system after its implementation. Firstly, blockchain vote helps monitor the increasing/decreasing count of votes every second, completely minimizing the chances of hacking, alteration, or tampering the sensitive information. It even makes life easier for overseas voters who can easily access the election administration through mobile phones over the blockchain networks. Just a single click on a mobile device can help you cast a vote remotely through online voting, without any problems.
The blockchain-based system tends to create a secure environment for the citizens and helps build trust and overcome any uncertain situation. Blockchain could play an important role in securing the voter registry. Citizens and authorized government officials could update voter records more securely, as a blockchain creates by its nature an audit trail of changes, including information on what account made the change and when. Independent watch-dogs could track the edits being made to voter records on a blockchain in real-time, watching for purges or suspicious activities. Also, it provides correct vote counts and 100% transparency during an election.
In the early stages of its evolution, voters had always faced trust issues regarding their votes. They either thought their ballot is being altered, discarded, or replaced after they cast their votes either in-person or via the mail. Electronic voting technologies backed by the security properties of blockchain can be used to reduce the risk of votes being manipulated after being cast and before being tabulated. In such a system, voters cast ballots in polling stations using electronic voting machines, which records the data onto a blockchain and provides a voter with a paper receipt of their vote for auditing purposes. Voters then can verify that their ballot was cast according to their vote. This way the blockchain systems, will help show accurate election results and count votes without any chance of human error.
For the people who were concerned regarding the security of data, this decentralized is irreversible, no one can transfer one vote to another nor can encourage vote-buying due to the program dynamics; blockchain internet voting creates by its nature an audit trail of changes, including information on what account made the change and when. Independent watch-dogs could track the edits being made to voter records on a blockchain in real-time, watching for purges or suspicious activities.
Examples of Blockchain Voting Projects
As the pandemic struck, it disrupted many of the normal day-to-day functions and routines that we all were forced to look up to some new innovative formulas/solutions that would assist us to come back to our previous track. One of them was the voting system, and believe me, it was not an easy task to switch to a different and complex mode of recording transactions, from a very old and traditional style of voting and election.
There was a handful of countries and states which preferred using blockchain voting systems and conducting elections despite this whole catastrophic event of pandemics. A few of them are as follows:
Tsukuba City became the first Japanese City to introduce blockchain-based digital voting in 2020. LayerX, a Japanese blockchain startup was integrated into the voting system as part of Tsukuba's smart city initiative. Tsukuba already has an electronic voting system in place, and LayerX's proposal met the criteria that the election officials have set out for electronic election systems.
Outside of the global development sector, some local-level governments have begun testing blockchain elections. West Virginia allowed blockchain-based online voting for overseas residents and members of the military in its 2018 primary election, becoming the first U.S. state to do so.
Brooking Institution after the West Virginia's local government elections reported:" Mobile voting using a safe and tested interface could eliminate voter fraud and boost turnout. It is also a beneficial tool for the election commission to maintain transparency in the electoral process, minimize the cost of conducting elections, streamline the process of counting votes and ensure that all votes are counted.”
If we talk about the countries that are moving the elections and voting process towards blockchain voting and are still in a development stage, India and South Korea would be on the top of the list.
India is a fast-moving economy with one of the highest population per square per. And according to circumstances, it is a brilliant step that India has taken of leaving the traditional form of voting and preferring blockchain technology over it. India's Election commission collaborated with IIT Madras to build a blockchain-based voting system to allow remote voting around the country. It would work with EC's Electoral Registration Network to confirm identities with biometrics and mobile cameras. As of February 2020, the project was in the development stage.
With increasingly high threats of election rigging and current systems, South Korea is moving to a Blockchain voting system in search of a secure, and cost-effective voting process.
South Korea worked with IBM's Hyperledger Fabric to create a blockchain voting pilot. The system will look to authenticate voters and save results in real-time. It's been trialed in the private sector by Handysoft Consortium for surveys issued by Korea's internet and Security Agencies. It needs to be voted on by the South Korean legislature before it can be implemented in a federal election.
Like the problem faced by the Japanese, Korean locals forget their passwords and get locked. This way they are unable to vote on time, which eventually is of no such use. Plus voters in Korea sometimes are in a confusion about whether their votes are cast or not.
Blockchain voting is now a trend that is gaining momentum in the present era. It has unique features and functions including the decentralized system of recording and anonymized chain of records. Also, it has great potential to change all the traditional processes around the globe into fast and efficient peer-to-peer technology systems.
Following are a few but main reasons why people prefer using Blockchain technology in voting:
Every system has its own set of advantages and shortcomings. Nothing in this nature is flawless and the same goes for the Blockchain voting system.
After adapting to this new technological advancement, citizens and the election authorities realized that solving some voting problems didn't address some of the core concerns but even create more vulnerable situations than in mail-in voting or voting through internet-connected devices.
Blockchain is a relatively new technology and has its pros and cons in the context of internet voting. We have already seen its use cases in the real world, through startups and even political initiatives. There is still plenty of room for improvement. Still, it has been gaining ground and is a promising blockchain application, already being used in small and medium-sized applications in several different areas, as it addresses the needs of voters around the globe.
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