Ultimate Resource On Blockchain Voting (#GotBitcoin?)
Utah County follows West Virginia and Colorado. Utah County Becomes 3rd US Jurisdiction To Launch Blockchain Voting (#GotBitcoin?)
One of the 29 counties of the U.S. state of Utah, Utah County will enable eligible voters to participate in the upcoming municipal primary election through a special application on their smartphones, according to an official press release on July 23.
New blockchain-powered voting pilot continues till Election Day, August 13
The new e-voting pilot is made in collaboration between the Utah County Elections Division, mobile elections platform Voatz, Tusk Philanthropies, and the National Cybersecurity Center.
According to the announcement, voting started on June 28 and continues till Election Day, August 13. The pilot voters include active-duty military, their eligible dependents and overseas voters, the report notes.
In March 2019, Denver, the capital and most populous city in the U.S. state of Colorado, was reported to become the second U.S. jurisdiction to pilot a blockchain-powered mobile voting platform in its upcoming municipal election. The announcement came almost one year after the first initiative of this kind in the U.S. — the launch of mobile voting solution in West Virginia primaries and then midterm elections in March 2018.
Recently, Overstock’s blockchain subsidiary Medici Ventures led a $7 million funding round in Voatz platform.
Blockchain Voting Systems — Can Democracy Rely on Them?
At the beginning of October, a story released by CNN claimed that a student affiliated with the University of Michigan attempted to hack into West Virginia’s blockchain-based voting system called Voatz. As per the report, the FBI is now actively investigating the matter and is looking to authenticate the veracity of these claims.
Voatz is a smartphone-based app that was used by the West Virginia government last year to collect ballots from its citizens that were either living overseas at the time or were stationed abroad for military purposes. The aforementioned disclosure was made by West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner, who claimed to have identified certain activity that he believes was geared toward gaining illegal access into the voting app’s mainframe operational module. In this regard, the Voatz app makes use of a plethora of personal ID-verification layers, such as facial recognition, thumbprints and voter-verified ballot receipts.
As a result of these developments, Warner recently went into damage control mode and stated that all of the digital safeguards (that had been created for the Voatz app) had worked as designed and that no votes had been altered, impacted, viewed or in any way tampered with.
However, to better understand the frailties of blockchain-based voting systems, Cointelegraph reached out to Barry Gitarts, one of the implementing developers of the voting decentralized application (DApp) for the Status network. He said that it has recently become popular to attempt to implement quadratic-based voting, even though it has some flaws:
“The biggest unsolved issue with these types of votes is that in order for the vote to not be prone to manipulation there has be to identity tied to the voters, otherwise some voters can get a disproportionate amount of voting power by splitting their tokens among multiple addresses and voting with them.”
Another interesting point of view was put forth by John Lloyd, the chief technology officer for cybersecurity firm Casaba Security. In his opinion, the question is not really about the reliability of blockchain-based voting systems in general but rather the transparency of the Voatz app itself.
Cointelegraph spoke with Ivan Ivanitskiy, chief analytics officer at software solution firm SmartDec, who said in an email conversation:
“The very fact that the developer of the system cannot publicly prove that no vote was stolen (if this is the case) means that the whole idea of using blockchain is flawed. The killing feature of a blockchain for voting is publicity: in a correctly built system, anyone should be able to check that the results were calculated correctly.”
Lloyd told Cointelegraph that a number of researchers have found abnormalities with the program and that the company responsible for running the platform has not shared any of Voatz’s attestation documents or audit summaries publicly. He further pointed out that the Voatz blockchain is essentially a private hyperledger network that has less than 10 nodes — which led him to believe that the system is no more useful than a traditional database. Lloyd then went on to add:
“A blockchain running only provisioned nodes still needs those nodes to be exposed to the internet for people to vote. People attempting to compromise public facing applications is routine for any web application. The FBI is involved because of the target. You can’t ‘change votes’ after the fact. The target would have to be the voter’s mobile phone and then only when they have authenticated and are ready to vote.”
Ivanitskiy also mentioned that this past September, a blockchain voting system was used for the city of Moscow’s parliamentary election. The results statistically differed from the in-person voting count, which meant that the overall result was a bit distorted. Ivanitskiy then added:
“The blockchain part worked well, the problem was in the identification part. Blockchain is great for voting; however, identification is a complicated problem. We should not use any electronic voting system unless we are sure that identification works correctly.”
Blockchain In Voting Systems
It is important to distinguish between blockchain technology and the applications that make use of this framework. Simply put, blockchain allows for the creation of a datastore that is tamper-evident, and by distributing multiple copies of this tamper-evident datastore, the information automatically becomes highly resistant to the nefarious activities of third-party individuals.
This is because if one copy of the datastore is altered (in any shape or form), the change immediately becomes visible to all of the other participants of the network. Not only that, once an alteration is detected, it can be overwritten with one of the many copies that are not corrupted to bring the information back to its original state. To further elaborate on the subject, Jeff Stollman, a principal consultant at Rocky Mountain Technical Marketing, provided Cointelegraph with some insights:
“The problem with blockchain voting is the front-end application that manages the new data that is added to the blockchain. Blockchain technology does not stop someone from hacking the front-end application and altering the data (e.g., votes) before it is added to the blockchain. For example, it a fraudster is able to impersonate a legitimate voter (because he has stolen the voter’s credentials), he can vote in place of the legitimate voter. This has nothing to do with the blockchain.”
In relation to Voatz, since there has been no solid evidence to prove that the infiltration attempt in question was successful, it might be safe to assume that the hacker was seeking to access certain areas of data input associated with the app rather than the blockchain itself.
Additionally, since Voatz reportedly makes use of a permissioned blockchain consisting of a relatively small number of verifying nodes rather than a permissionless ecosystem, John Wagster — the co-chair of blockchain legal team Frost Brown Todd — believes the latter would be better suited for voting-related activities, as each transaction would need to be verified by a larger number of participants, adding that:
“No system is fool-proof, but the security in the Voatz application seems to have held up nicely even though it was designed for a permissioned blockchain. This looks more like an attempted break in than an actual break in.”
Was The Voatz Incident A One-Off Thing?
A pertinent question that is bound to arise as a result of the aforementioned incident is whether or not more blockchain-based voting systems could be compromised in the near future. Virtually all of the so-called hacks related to this domain are not security lapses of the blockchains. Instead, they are hacks of the data or data relays that connect to the central blockchain ecosystem. On the subject, Wagster told Cointelegraph:
“Voting applications are actually an excellent use case for blockchain technology because they allow transparent, verifiable interactions between non-trusting parties.”
A similar sentiment was echoed by Henry Ly, project manager at cyber security and technology company OccamSec. In a conversation with Cointelegraph, he said that even though blockchain-based voting systems need additional verification protocols in terms of an assessment from a security vulnerability standpoint (as is highlighted by some of the blockchain hacks that have occurred recently), incidents such as these are nothing new. Every new technology, in his view, regularly goes through infiltration bids.
Ly further pointed out that hacking attempts are a daily occurrence on blockchain apps, but that doesn’t mean that such offerings don’t possess any long-term promise. He went on to add:
“Its highly impossible to build ‘foolproof systems.’ Given enough time and resources everything and anything can be broken into. Electronic voting and blockchain voting has a lot of problems but it holds some promise.”
Government-Related Blockchain Use Cases Continue To Increase
Even though critics continue to harp on the vulnerabilities related to blockchain tech, its global use cases continue to grow steadily. For example, Æternity, a decentralized application-focused blockchain venture, recently entered into an agreement with the Uruguay Digital Party in order to create a new platform that will allow Uruguayans to participate in a variety of local political decisions in a transparent, decentralized manner.
Similarly, the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced last year that it had successfully completed a pilot program using blockchain to track the distribution of meat within the region.
Blockchain Voting is Vulnerable to Hacking and Low-Quality Data: Research
Nir Kshetri, a professor of management at the University of North Carolina, has suggested that before blockchain-based voting can be considered safe and trustworthy, some major issues must be resolved.
In an article published on Oct. 18, Kshetri claims that “small-scale tests run so far have identified problems and vulnerabilities in the digital systems and government administrative procedures” that must be solved before adopting the technology.
Hard to audit
Per the report, such systems need to verify voters’ identities — often by analyzing a portrait photo or video with facial recognition software. According to Kshetri, contemporary voting tokens are anonymous and cannot be used to trace anyone’s identity. He also noted that many of the previous tests involved informal ballots such as community projects and student government groups.
Kshetri also voiced concerns that “even experts don’t have a way to identify every possible irregularity in online voting.” On the other hand, he points out that paper-based voting is well-understood and easy to verify and audit.
One major issue is identity verification since various secure keys require large amounts of computing power to verify. Because of this, for instance, the initially assigned keys were found to be easy to hack during the last elections in Moscow.
Experts also fear that devices used to vote could be compromised or that facial recognition systems might make mistakes or get tricked by hackers. Lastly, proprietary systems like the one developed by blockchain voting startup Voatz do not allow to verify whether the votes were cast accurately.
Testing On A Small Scale
That being said, in November 2018 multiple election officials in the United States allowed members of the military stationed overseas to vote electronically. In the same month, 144 voters living abroad have been approved by West Virginia’s authorities to cast ballots from 31 different countries by means of an app developed by Voatz.
The state reportedly plans to continue and expand the trial in the 2020 presidential election.
Also, 119 voters who were overseas used Voatz’s system to vote during Denver’s municipal primary elections in May.
The last — and biggest — example of blockchain voting test provided by the article is the one used at the beginning of September during the city council elections in Moscow. That being said, out of the city’s 20 electoral precincts, only three allowed users to vote via the Internet because of security concerns.
As Cointelegraph reported on Oct. 18, two state counties in the U.S. are implementing blockchain-based mobile voting in the special elections in November.
Two More US Jurisdictions Launch Blockchain-Based Mobile Voting
Two state counties in the United States are implementing blockchain-based mobile voting in the special elections in November.
On Oct. 18, the nonprofit Tusk Philanthropies announced its partnership with Jackson and Umatilla Counties in Oregon to pilot the mobile elections platform Voatz. The pilot offers eligible voters to cast their votes using their smartphones, which are secured through blockchain and facial recognition technology.
Pilot Participants Are Mostly Servicemembers Overseas
The pilot is only available to a small and select group of voters, allowing servicemembers overseas, their eligible dependents and other overseas voters to cast their ballots via the mobile app, which was developed by Tusk Philanthropies.
Dan Lonai, Director of Umatilla County Administrative Services, said that the pilot aims to expand voter participation and make it easier for citizens to exercise their right to vote.
This latest e-voting pilot is a collaboration between the Oregon counties, mobile elections platform Voatz, Tusk Philanthropies and the National Cybersecurity Center.
Other U.S. Jurisdictions Have Piloted Blockchain-Based Voting
West Virginia was the first state to offer blockchain-based mobile voting in a federal election through the Voatz platform. Since then, Tusk Philanthropies has partnered with the City of Denver, Colorado, and Utah County, Utah, who all conducted successful mobile voting pilots. CEO and founder of Tusk Philanthropies Bradley Tusk said:
“Jackson and Umatilla Counties just made history as the first in Oregon to give voters the ability to vote in the same way they conduct most of their other business – on their phones.
Ultimately, giving everyone the opportunity to use mobile voting means we can dramatically expand turnout and loosen the grip on power by special interests and extreme ideologues on both sides.”
Blockchain Could Improve Voter Participation
Cointelegraph previously reported that Tusk Philanthropies wants to use blockchain technology to address the problem of low voter turnout in the American electoral system. This will improve political representation and subsequently, the quality of government, according to Tusk. Sheila Nix, president of Tusk Philanthropies, told Cointelegraph:
“Blockchain is the most secure option that exists right now but we are vendor and technology agnostic and are open to new solutions in the future. We think there is a lot of growth potential for blockchain-based voting — especially due to the auditability features.”
Indian University Students Create Blockchain-Based System for Online Voting
A group of students from an Indian university has created a blockchain-based voting system that enables voters to cast their ballots online.
The voting system was developed by three students from Malla Reddy Engineering College for Women, local business and finance publication The Hindu BusinessLine reported on Oct. 21. The impetus behind the idea is to eliminate voting challenges in urban areas like long queues at polling centers.
The system was tested in gated communities — walled communities that consist of small residential streets and include shared amenities — and reportedly demonstrated a high level of security and resistance to tampering.
Blockchain Gains Traction In Voting Systems Around The World
Blockchain deployment in voting is gaining traction as various countries around the world have been experimenting with the technology, primarily aiming to bring more transparency and expand voter participation. Earlier in October, two counties in the United States announced that they will implement blockchain-based mobile voting in special elections in November 2019.
The Uruguayan Digital Party has also embraced blockchain through a partnership with the decentralized, application-focused blockchain Æternity. The partnership aims to build a new system whereby citizens and members of the Digital Party can participate in various political decisions in a transparent and decentralized manner.
However, Nir Kshetri, a professor of management at the University of North Carolina, questioned the readiness of blockchain technology for voting processes. Kshetri claimed that “small-scale tests run so far have identified problems and vulnerabilities in the digital systems and government administrative procedures” that must be solved before fully adopting the technology.
Blockchain Voting Is Here To Stay
Recently, many political commentators and media analysts have been speaking out against mobile- and blockchain-based voting technology. However, Rachel Livingston of Tusk Philanthropies — an organization working to advance the use of advanced mobile voting technologies — told Cointelegraph that these novel ballot systems are here to stay, especially since they are already being used by a number of states across the United States. On the subject, she pointed out:
“I don’t think it’s too early to judge the overall utility of mobile voting as we have now used Voatz in West Virginia, Denver, UT County, Umatilla & Jackson County, Oregon and Pierce County, WA. All these elections have completed and through audits (some are still in process) the tabulation of the results came back 100% accurate.”
Livingston Also Provided Cointelegraph With Some Data On The Matter:
The technology used to facilitate the proceedings in Iowa was brand new, untested and created in secrecy.
The technology was rolled out by the state party with zero opportunities for input from stakeholders prior to the election.
There was no backup plan in place in case the app malfunctioned — which, incidentally, it did.
Traditional Voting Methods Are Outdated And Lack Transparency
As mentioned earlier, ballot voting has been at the center of a number of prominent election scandals in the past. For example, during the 2004 U.S. general election, a number of concerns were raised regarding the voting processes used to determine the winner, resulting in several experts believing that the final vote tally in itself was incorrect.
Blockchain and mobile voting systems attempt to serve the diverse needs of constituents by providing them with accessible and convenient ways to vote irrespective of where they may be during the time of election. Moreover, they allow users to check and see if their vote was counted without them having to compromise on their privacy. For example, most voting platforms provide their users with a high degree of verifiability as well as the option to independently confirm the vote of each participant in real time.
When asked about the similarities shared between the Shadow Inc. app and other popular voting platforms such as Votem, SecureVote, Scytl and Voatz, Martin stated, “We don’t know very much about the Shadow app other than what we have read, but our understanding is that it wasn’t truly mobile, nor is it blockchain-based.”
The Masses Want An Alternative
A quick look at the U.S. voter turnout in recent years shows us that fewer people are participating in the country’s electoral process with each successive cycle. For example, the total turnout in the 2016 presidential race dipped to 55% of voting-age citizens — one of the lowest tallies since the 1996 elections, when only 53.5% showed up.
Although there could be many factors to explain this decline, it seems as though many blockchain platforms are ready to tackle the issues surrounding trust, verifiability and security that exist in relation to the various democratic processes that seem to be in place today all over the world. For example, Voatz claims to be working in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security as well as the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to test the efficacy of its security infrastructure on a routine basis.
Also, it appears as though the blockchain voting industry has been gaining a lot of prominence over the last couple of years, with a number of politicians conceding that the technology does indeed have the potential to increase the transparency aspect of any election process, as it helps establish a record base that is immutable in nature.
For example, back in August 2019, Andrew Yang — a pro-crypto presidential hopeful from the Democratic Party — stated in an interview that if he were to come into power in 2020, he would implement blockchain-based mobile voting protocols to help increase voter turnout as well as to restore the public’s trust in America’s electoral process. It has also been reported that the state of Virginia is currently considering making use of this technology to streamline its elections.
Last but not least, while most mobile voting systems prefer to make use of blockchain technology, there are platforms like Democracy Live’s OmniBallot that employ Amazon Web Services’ Object Lock to facilitate its native ballot collection operations. To be a bit more specific, AWS is NIST-compliant and has even been certified by FedRamp, a government program that provides a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization and continuous monitoring for cloud services.
After MIT Find Vulnerabilities, Medici Ventures Defends Blockchain Voting App Voatz
Jonathan Johnson, CEO of Overstock and president of Medici Ventures, has issued a statement supporting blockchain in voting in response to the technology’s vulnerabilities claims published on Feb. 13.
Emerging technologies got in the crosshairs of regulators when a mobile software application that had been devised to help calculate the total number of votes in the recent Iowa Democratic caucus reportedly malfunctioned, resulting in the Democratic Party having to delay its public reporting of last Monday’s results.
But Does Blockchain Really Fail When It Comes To Elections?
Following the Iowa caucus scandal, blockchain-based voting apps fell under scrutiny, which resulted in a Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s security analysis of Voatz, the self-styled first Internet voting application used in United States federal elections.
The researchers claimed that they had found vulnerabilities in Voatz that enable “different kinds of adversaries to alter, stop, or expose a user’s vote, including a sidechannel attack in which a completely passive network adversary can potentially recover a user’s secret ballot.”
As such, the authors of the analysis concluded that the app is not secure, adding that “our findings serve as a concrete illustration of the common wisdom against Internet voting, and of the importance of transparency to the legitimacy of elections.”
In the meantime, Voatz carried out its own analysis through the CISA Hunt and Incident Response Team (HIRT) to determine if there was evidence of targeted malicious activity in the app’s network. HIRT concluded:
“HIRT analysts did not detect threat actor behaviors or artifacts of past activities on the in-scope portions of the Voatz networks. HIRT identified some areas where defense-in-depth protections and configurations could be improved to help Voatz’s IT security personnel defend their enterprise network. HIRT commends Voatz for their proactive measures in the use of canaries, bug bounties, Shodan alerts, and active internal scanning and red teaming.”
Tech Discussions Run To Extremes
In his Feb. 13 statement, Johnson backed Voatz, saying that it prevents voting fraud and safeguards the privacy of each voter. He outlined that recent speculations around technology in elections had run to extremes turning to an anti-technology and anti-learning stance. Johnson said:
“I firmly believe this undermines American progress. This false premise is shutting down our pursuit of piloting, testing and developing technologies that not only mitigate risks, but makes voting accessible for populations who cannot physically get to the polls.”
Earlier in February, another major blockchain-powered voting firm, Votem, pointed out that it is still not completely clear what function the app provided for the Iowa Caucus. Pete Martin, CEO of Votem, said in an email to Cointelegraph:
“Our assessment is that this was not truly mobile voting where a verifiably authenticated voter is casting a verifiable and auditable electronic encrypted ballot that is shuffled and publicly tallied. The Caucus is unique in that the voter’s identity is known, but in most cases the voters identity is separated from their ballot to protect their identity, all of which we detail in our “Proof of Vote” protocol.”
India’s Citizens Will Vote With Blockchain, Election Commissioner Says
India’s citizens will soon be able to cast votes from outside their city of registration thanks to a blockchain-based system.
According to The Times of India on Feb. 13, India’s Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said that the country hopes to increase voter turnout with a blockchain-based voting solution.
Using Blockchain To Prevent “Lost Votes”
Arora said that, in the 2019 elections, 300 million eligible voters did not vote because they were either not politically engaged or were far from where their registered voting district on election day.
The Times of India states that the country has over 450 million migrants that move for work, education, or marriage, but may only do so temporarily, leading most to not bother with re-registering in a new district.
The commissioner said that regulators are collaborating with the Indian Institute of Technology to develop a blockchain system that would allow citizens to vote remotely.
Arora said that he hopes the blockchain voting system will be put in place during his tenure, which ends in April 2021, adding that there is a proposal pending with the ministry of law to link voter IDs and citizen ID system Aadhaar.
Apparently, blockchain is being used by the system to allow citizens to vote outside their city of registration while also preventing them from casting multiple votes.
Is Blockchain The Way Forward For Voting?
While paper ballots seem antiquated to some, many oppose the idea of digitized voting because of the fear of hacks.
As Cointelegraph recently reported, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s security analysis of Voatz, the self-styled first internet voting application used in United States federal elections, resulted in claims of cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
According to researchers, it was possible to “alter, stop, or expose a user’s vote, including a sidechannel attack in which a completely passive network adversary can potentially recover a user’s secret ballot.”
Still, many argue that blockchain is the way forward and can make elections fraud-proof. Former American presidential candidate Andrew Yang said in August last year that he planned to implement blockchain-based mobile voting if he won the election.
MIT Professor: Blockchain Is Good On Its Own But Not Good For Voting
Computer scientist Ronald Rivest has said that blockchain is not the right technology for voting, although it can find proper application in a number of other areas.
Rivest delivered his opinion at the RSA Security Conference, held in San Francisco earlier this week, technology-focused news outlet ITWire reported on Feb. 28. Rivest — who is a cryptography expert and a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — called voting an interesting problem that requires a more stricter approach compared to many existing security applications. He said:
“Blockchain is the wrong security technology for voting. I like to think of it as bringing a combination lock to a kitchen fire or something like that. It’s good on its own for certain things but it’s not good for voting.”
“We Need Software Independence”
According to Rivest, voting is an area that does not require hi-tech to work, and anonymity and secret ballots only complicate the process of audit. “Blockchain technology really doesn’t fit for a couple of reasons. One is that we have learned we need software independence,” Rivest said and further added:
“And if you do use some technology, use the paper ballots to check on it and you can do very well. We call this software independence, so you don’t need to trust the results because you trust some software. That’s a dangerous path to go down if you don’t need to go down that path and with voting we really don’t need to.”
Elaborating further on the matter, Rivest compared blockchain with garbage stored in forever. “Once they’ve had the chance to manipulate your vote, it goes on the blockchain and never gets changed again,” he concluded.
E-voting Comes Under Criticism
Rivest’s speech came on the heels of the Iowa Democratic Caucus scandal, when a mobile software application that had been devised to help calculate the total number of votes in the voting reportedly malfunctioned, resulting in the Democratic Party having to delay its public reporting of the results.
Following the event, blockchain-based applications were heavily criticised by regulators, with many political commentators and media analysts speaking out against mobile- and blockchain-based voting technology.
In the meantime, companies on the forefront of blockchain technology realize the potential of the products they are developing to not only transform the global economy, but also the way voters cast their ballots. Most recently, cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab unveiled a new type of a blockchain-based voting machine using Polys, the system released back in November 2017 designed to be an effective and secure way to vote online.
Earlier in February, India’s Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said that the country will soon be able to cast votes from outside their city of registration thanks to a blockchain-based system. With this move, the government hopes to increase voter turnout.
West Virginia Abandons Blockchain Voting In Favor Of Paper
On Feb. 27, West Virginia decided against using blockchain-based platform Voatz for residents with disabilities and citizens residing abroad to cast their votes in the state’s upcoming primary election.
Instead, citizens will vote using a platform offered by Democracy Live. The platform allows voters to either fill out a ballot or print and post it. Democracy Live and Voatz share entrepreneur Bradley Tusk as an investor.
Democracy Live is already in use for disabled voters in the state of Washington, and select counties in California and Ohio.
MIT Audit Reveals Security Concerns Regarding Voatz
West Virginia’s decision to ditch Voatz comes following a recent security audit conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that was published on Feb. 13.
The report found that “Voatz has vulnerabilities that allow different kinds of adversaries to alter, stop, or expose a user’s vote.” While West Virginia had used Voatz during its 2018 midterm elections, no malicious actors were found to have exploited its vulnerabilities.
MIT’s findings were shared with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency prior to publication. They were then forwarded to state and local electoral officials who had planned to pilot or use Voatz during the 2020 election cycle.
“If the public doesn’t want it, or is skeptical to the point they’re not confident in the results, we have to take that into consideration,” Donald Kersey, general counsel to West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner stated.
Voting App Wreaks Havoc In Iowa
Results from the Feb. 3 Democratic Party Iowa Caucus were delayed by multiple days following a disastrous experimentation with a smartphone voting platform developed by tech company Shadow Inc.
The company was commissioned less than two months away from the election. The platform was not thoroughly tested, and volunteers and electoral officials had not been properly trained in how to use it.
Many people faced errors when attempting to cast votes on the platform, and data did not transmit effectively. The chaos resulted in support lines being overwhelmed, and the party resorted to relying on paper results to determine the election’s outcome.
Voatz ‘Blockchain’ App Used In US Elections Has Numerous Security Issues, Says Report
Voatz, the Massachusetts-based company touting a blockchain-enabled mobile voting app, has been met with public criticism for a lack of transparency, among other things, particularly when it comes to data security. And with the threat of election tampering, the stakes are as high as ever.
Voatz has been used in elections in West Virginia; Jackson County, Oregon; Umatilla County, Oregon; municipal elections in Utah County, Utah; as well as in runoff elections and municipal elections in Denver, Colorado.
The public security audit by a reputable third-party firm that experts have been calling for is here at last. In December 2019, Voatz and Tusk Philanthropies, which funded most of Voatz’s mobile voting pilots, engaged security firm Trail of Bits to conduct a comprehensive white box audit.
Although Voatz failed to provide a backend to live-test malicious attack vectors, Trail of Bits had access to all of the source code, including the core server, Android client, iOS client and administrator web interface.
The audit report is comprehensive, and includes a 122-page security review and a 78-page document on threat-modeling considerations. Here’s a quick rundown of the main parts.
Voatz Doesn’t Need Blockchain
The appeal of blockchain voting is that it’s a decentralized system that doesn’t require voters to trust anybody. But the blockchain Voatz uses doesn’t actually extend to the mobile client.
Instead, Voatz has been applying the votes to a Hyperledger Fabric blockchain, which it uses as an audit log — something just as easily done by using a database with an audit log. The code Trail of Bits looked at did not use custom chaincode or smart contracts. In fact, the report reads:
“All data validation and business logic are executed off-chain in the Scala codebase of the Voatz Core Server. Several high-risk findings were the result of data validation issues and confused deputies in the core server that could allow one voter to masquerade as another before even touching the blockchain.”
Because voters do not connect directly to the blockchain themselves, they can’t independently verify that the votes reflect their intent. But anyone with administrative access to Voatz’s back-end servers has the ability to “deanonymize votes, deny votes, alter votes, and invalidate audit trails.”
The report found that the Voatz system doesn’t have any mitigation for deanonymizing voters based on the time their ballot was recorded in the blockchain. Although Voatz’s FAQ claims that “once submitted, all information is anonymized, routed via a ‘mixnet’ and posted to the blockchain,” this was called into question in an MIT report — and now again in this audit.
“There does not appear to be, nor is there mention of, a mixnet in the code provided to Trail of Bits,” the audit reads. “The core server has the capability to deanonymize all traffic, including ballots.”
Trail of Bits Confirmed MIT’s Findings — Voatz Disputed Them
On Feb. 13, MIT researchers published the aforementioned report, “The Ballot Is Busted Before the Blockchain: A Security Analysis of Voatz, the First Internet Voting Application Used in U.S. Federal Elections,” to which Voatz responded with a blog post the same day to refute what it called a “flawed report,” leading the MIT researchers to post an FAQ with clarifications.
It turns out that Voatz’s refutation was written three days after Trail of Bits confirmed the presence of the described vulnerabilities to MIT, having received an anonymized summary report of the issues from the United States Department of Homeland Security. This suggests that Voatz was aware that the report was accurate before publicly discounting it.
The audit also disputes some of Voatz’s objections to the MIT researchers’ reports. Voatz stated that the Android app analyzed was 27 versions old, but Trail of Bits wrote that it “did not identify any security relevant changes in the codebase” between the September 2019 version of the app used by the MIT researchers that would substantively affect their claims.
Voatz also took issue with the researchers developing a mock server, calling it a “flawed approach” that “invalidates any claims about their ability to compromise the overall system.” Voatz even wrote that this practice “negates any degree of credibility on behalf of the researchers.”
But Trail of Bits claims that “developing a mock server in instances where connecting to a production server might result in legal action is a standard practice in vulnerability research. It is also a standard practice in software testing.” Furthermore, the report points out that the findings focused on the Android client, but did not rely on in-depth knowledge of the Voatz servers.
Prior Audits Were Not Comprehensive
Despite Voatz touting multiple security audits, this is the first time a white box assessment has been conducted, with the core server and backend having been analyzed. Although not all of the prior audits are public, Trail of Bits summarized all of them.
One prior security review was conducted in August 2019 by NCC, an independent, private nonprofit that doesn’t employ any technical security experts. The audit focused on usability rather than security. In July 2018, an unnamed vendor conducted a black box audit of Voatz’s mobile clients.
In October 2018, TLDR Security, now known as ShiftState, conducted a broad security hygiene review that included system architecture, user and data workflows and threat mitigation planning, but didn’t look for bugs in the system nor in the actual application.
ShiftState then conducted another audit in December 2018, looking at whether the system operated as intended and followed best practices.
Although ShiftState CEOAndre McGregor has previously said that Voatz “did very well,” Trail of Bits’ review of ShiftState’s audit points to issues with limited logging, unmanaged servers and a Zimperium anti-mobile malware solution that wasn’t enabled during the pilot.
Since all of Voatz’s anti-tamper protections for mobile devices are based on Zimperium, it being inactive means the application could have been trivially tampered with, as Voatz lacks additional protection against malicious applications that could access sensitive information.
The final audit by the DHS, conducted in October 2019, simply looked at cloud resources, not at the application — whether there’s evidence of hacking or if it could be detected if it takes place.
Beyond the limitations of prior security assessments that Voatz has touted without making public — such as the fact that none of the audits included server and back-end vulnerabilities — Trail of Bits’ report states that the writeups from the other security assessments conducted were technical documents. This calls into question whether elected officials are making decisions based on documents they’re unqualified to read.
Voatz Appears Wildly Disorganized
Trail of Bits’ assessment lasted an entire week longer than initially scheduled “due to a combination of delays in receiving code and assets, the unexpected complexity and size of the system, and the associated reporting effort.”
Trail of Bits never received a working copy of the code, prohibiting the firm from live-testing, meaning that the researchers were almost entirely limited to static-testing, which required them to read through a massive amount of code.
According to the report, Voatz has so much code that it “required each engineer to analyze, on average, almost 3,000 pure lines of code across 35 files per day of the assessment in order to achieve minimal coverage.”
Although Trail of Bits received access to the backend for live-testing a day before the assessment was scheduled to end, it was asked not to attack or alter the instance in a way that would deny service to concurrent audits.
Voatz Made Rookie Mistakes — And Doesn’t Seem Serious About Fixes
Trail of Bits described several bugs that could lead to votes being observed, tampered with or deanonymized, or that could call the integrity of an election into question.
Beyond the fact that voters can’t independently validate that their ballot receipt is valid or that votes were tallied correctly, a Voatz employee could theoretically force a user to vote twice, allow them to vote twice or duplicate their vote without their knowledge on the backend. Also, Voatz uses an eight-digit PIN to encrypt all local data — something that could be cracked within 15 minutes.
Furthermore, the report found that the app doesn’t have security controls to prevent unattended Android devices from being compromised. Sensitive API credentials were stored in git repositories, which means anyone in the company with access to the code — perhaps even subcontractors — could use or abuse secret keys exposed in the repositories.
Voatz employees with admin access can look up specific voters’ ballots. Voatz uses an ad hoc cryptographic handshake protocol, which is generally not recommended — as homemade cryptography is prone to bugs, and it’s best to use encryption schemes that have been studied by researchers and tested out in the real world.
The SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) wasn’t configured in an entirely secure way, missing a key feature that helps clients identify when a TLS (Transport Layer Security) certificate is revoked.
In one instance, Voatz even cut and pasted a key and initialization vector from a Stack Overflow answer. Cutting and pasting code is generally discouraged, even in college-level computer security courses, because the quality of information on Stack Overflow varies, and even good code might not work in a specific environment.
However, cutting and pasting a key and IV is even worse, as it means that the key and IV used to encrypt the data are identical to something on the internet, even though it is not supposed to be public.
Even when summarized, Trail of Bits’ recommendations are eight pages long. Voatz appears to have addressed eight security risks, partially addressed another six, and left 34 unfixed. Typically, companies have a comprehensive plan on how to fix high and medium risks.
Shockingly, Voatz decided it “accepts the risk” of many of these bugs, essentially accepting risk on behalf of the voters rather than making the fixes suggested from the firm it hired.
Cointelegraph has reached out to Voatz with a list of questions, and the article will be updated once the company responds. Both Tusk Philanthropies and Trail of Bits referred Cointelegraph to their separate blog posts about the audit and to the report itself.
The Promise And Reality Of Blockchain’s Role In Global Elections
As fears of disinformation and election tampering take hold of citizens across the globe, many are left to wonder if there’s a solution that can quell voter concerns. A recent study by global communications firm Ketchum found growing distrust among individuals around voting machines (59%), issues with voter databases (60%), interference through technology (63%) and the influence of social media (61%).
In the United States, this year’s Iowa Democratic Party caucuses left voters frustrated when a voting app resulted in incorrect and wholly unreliable results. Delays ensued, and a candidate prematurely proclaimed himself the winner, which led to questions as to whether foul play was involved.
Other states like Oregon took measures to prevent voter fraud with aid from the Federal Government, while Georgia acknowledged that its servers were hacked after being left exposed on the open internet for around six months.
That’s just one country, but this is a global issue. In Israel, the entire national voter registry — containing names, phones, residential addresses and national ID numbers — was leaked. Voters in Malawi were promised a rerun after last year’s re-election win of Democratic Progressive Party leader Peter Mutharika was found unlawful due to paper ballot tampering.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico plans to fully move its voting processes onto the internet, leading the American Civil Liberties Union to urge against the move, noting it will “only result in greater public mistrust of key democratic institutions.”
All of these examples have a common thread: a need for trust.
Though tech served a role in a majority of these blunders, it has a chance to redeem itself. Newly emerging technologies like blockchain — designed to be transparent, decentralized and censor-resistant — can offer a solution for elections and address many security vulnerabilities.
For example, blockchain was used in a hotly contested battle for the leadership of the Thai Democrat Party when its incumbent party leader wanted to renew his mandate. To appeal to the common Thai citizens and shed his elitist image, he allowed all Democrat Party members to vote for the party leader — a role traditionally selected only by other leaders within the party.
While the party initially wanted to implement e-voting, rampant distrust among the candidates, including the party’s own election commission, meant they needed additional assurances that the votes would not be tampered with. In the end, they agreed that blockchain technology could bring the trust they needed to the process, choosing Zcoin (XZC), a privacy-first blockchain, as an immutable record for the votes.
Data from the voting also received special encryption to further protect voters’ identities and votes. In total, 127,479 votes were cast with final results made available in under 12 hours. This is one of the world’s first and most successful applications of blockchain in a political election of this scale. Most importantly, Thai citizens — of all ages and backgrounds — were able to fairly and confidently exercise their voting rights.
While blockchain has its critics and may not be a perfect solution, this election offers a glimpse into its potential to bring transparency and trust to the democratic process. In Naples, Italy, blockchain voting was deployed in 2017 and encountered mixed results around the cost of hardware and length of time taken to release the results, which was slower than traditional processes.
Voatz, a leading blockchain voting app in the U.S., has been used in 54 elections, but gaping vulnerabilities were found that, if exploited, would allow hackers to view and alter votes.
Cybersecurity company Kaspersky Labs even introduced a prototype of a voting system based on a web application using Polys, a blockchain system released in 2017, as an alternative to Voatz and others.
Although its software was banned by the U.S. government for fear of it being Russian spyware, other countries and regions including Belgium, the Volgograd region in southern Russia and the Taraclia region in the Republic of Moldova have reported success with votes around corporate and local initiatives
More recently, Tezos announced a partnership with Electis, a nonprofit, community-based organization, to host a smaller-scale voting experiment aimed at universities on its platform. Electis’ first ever “proof-of-concept vote” over the blockchain is expected to take place in autumn 2020 with participants from the University of Edinburgh and Polytechnique in Paris.
Additionally, India’s Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora announced the country will use blockchain to prevent lost votes and increase voter turnout in remote regions where voters are often unable to vote due to registration restrictions. Regulators are currently working with the Indian Institute of Technology Madras to develop the system.
Links to Aadhaar, India’s unique identification authority and issuer of Indian citizens’ 12-digit identification codes have been proposed as a way to ensure identity verification. While India has not expressed a timeline for implementation, Arora has acknowledged that he hopes it will be finished before his tenure ends in April 2021.
As voter distrust and the need to digitize elections grows, the fundamental principles of blockchain brings us closer to enabling secure and trustworthy e-voting. The trick is to apply the technology in a holistic way that shifts the need to trust other individuals to a trustless system.
The most basic capability blockchain offers — immutability — allows it to verify and record transactions from its network of nodes without fear of tampering from outside sources. Blockchain also allows for the addition of privacy features, enabling voters to submit their choices without fear of exposing their identities or political views. Users can still see that their votes were recorded and counted, but only they will know who or what they voted for.
If we take the time to educate communities on how blockchain works and provide explanations around what these features do, voters will feel more comfortable with this technology making its way into the election process. Once the “fear of the unknown” is alleviated, the development and adoption process of these blockchain-based voting systems will accelerate.
Until then, communities will view blockchain as a confusing “mess” of technology, pointing out any negative thing and instigating fear that it’s difficult to use and impossible to control if something goes awry. When actually, the opposite is true — if implemented correctly.
For now, the best thing we can do is keep innovating while educating the naysayers, developing blockchain technology as a promising component of e-voting, pushing its limits and weeding out any weak links. There is room for improvement and growth, and if we continue to innovate together, the blockchain industry can help to create e-voting systems tailored to various election needs around the globe.
Blockchain Voting Systems Could Be the Future, but Current Flaws Persist
As shelter-in-place orders are extended throughout the United States due to the coronavirus pandemic, controversy around online voting systems has surfaced. The dangers of internet voting were recently publicly announced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, or AAAS.
On April 9, the AAAS Center for Scientific Evidence in Public Issues wrote an open letter to U.S. governors, secretaries of state and state election directors expressing great concern regarding the security of online voting systems.
While the letter stated that “internet voting is not a secure solution for voting in the United States, nor will it be in the foreseeable future,” experts note that blockchain could still play a prominent role in the advancement of online voting systems.
Is That True?
Stanford University cryptography Ph.D. student Ben Fisch told Cointelegraph that he agrees with the concerns expressed in the AAAS letter, which states that internet voting is insecure due to malware instructions, denial-of-service attacks and privacy violations. Yet, despite these vulnerabilities, Fisch explained that internet voting is an entirely appropriate application for blockchain technology:
“If designed appropriately, blockchains are supposed to be transparent and auditable databases, ensuring consistency among all viewers. This is entirely relevant to the problem of voter-verified ballots. However, I would also echo the concerns expressed in the AAAS letter, which was indeed endorsed by many experts in the field.”
Fisch further noted that the attacks associated with internet voting is vast, saying that “all current technological solutions are likely too immature to be used right now given the high stakes.”
However, it’s still important to recognize how emerging technologies such as blockchain can appropriately be applied to improve internet voting systems in the future. Chief of staff at Voatz, Hilary Braseth, told Cointelegraph that the five-year-old blockchain-based platform allows those deployed in the military or disabled individuals the opportunity to vote using their mobile phones:
“Today, we run 10 governmental pilots involving less that 800 voters. Historically, these people are voting over email, which isn’t secure. The other option would be a paper ballot, which is hard to access when you are deployed. We now see that States are keen to offer more accessible options for these voters.”
Braseth explained that individuals using Voatz have the advantage of accessing election ballots from their mobile devices. She noted that a public, permissioned blockchain network is leveraged to record votes, ensuring that selections cannot be altered:
“The oval selections individuals make on voting ballots are equivalent to one token on a blockchain, serving as a transaction that gets recorded to the Voatz blockchain, which is powered by Hyperledger Fabric.”
Braseth further noted that every ballot submitted over a mobile phone also produces a paper ballot that contains a long stream of characters called an “anonymous ID.” This ID is used after each election to audit tabulated selections from ballots against the blockchain data to make sure that everything matches accordingly. In addition, voters receive ballot receipts that contain their anonymous ID so they can make sure their vote was properly submitted and accounted for.
Blockchain Doesn’t Provide Security
While the concept behind Voatz is quite revolutionary, MIT researchers uncovered a number of vulnerabilities in its system. They noted that hackers could alter, stop or expose how an individual user has voted. Additionally, researchers found that Voatz’s use of a third-party vendor for voter identification and verification poses potential privacy issues.
While these vulnerabilities are similar to those of general online voting systems, Braseth explained that blockchain is being leveraged in Voatz to provide transparency rather than security. She explained, “Blockchain is used as an audit mechanism for our governmental voting pilots.”
Additionally, Fisch pointed out that while MIT’s security analysis report on Voatz unveils numerous issues with the platform, he notes that the problem is not that blockchain is the wrong tool, but rather that Voatz did not appropriately use blockchain techniques to address the fundamental issues in secure internet voting. He explained:
“In particular, Voatz’s blockchain design does not guarantee query consistency, which is a basic blockchain system requirement. This means that if any two different users query the server(s) hosting the blockchain database with the same question, they get exactly the same answer. Any inconsistency in the responses given to distinct users will eventually be detected. Query consistency is the property that would, in theory, enable voters to verify that their vote was counted in the election tally.”
A Revolutionary Concept In Development
Although Voatz may still be a work in progress, its mission caught the attention of West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner. After serving 23 years in the United States Army, Secretary Warner told Cointelegraph that his military background encouraged him to find a solution that would allow deployed soldiers to easily vote in U.S. elections while overseas:
“Once elected as West Virginia’s Secretary of State, I had a mission to help soldiers in deployment participate in elections. I was never satisfied with military efforts and their voting systems, as the emphasis has always been misplaced — yes, soldiers have the right to vote, but they don’t have the capabilities.”
Upon learning that Voatz was a mobile-based voting platform, Secretary Warner signed a memorandum of understanding to conduct a pilot using Voatz in two counties for West Virginia’s May 2018 primary election.
Satisfied with the results, West Virginia passed a law in February of this year requiring its counties to offer voters with disabilities the option of receiving ballots electronically, starting with the May 12 primary. Yet, due to the vulnerabilities highlighted by the media regarding internet voting and flaws in blockchain-based systems, West Virginia recently decided against using Voatz for the upcoming primary election.
However, Secretary Warner explained that leveraging Voatz is not entirely out of the equation for West Virginia in the future. He noted that blockchain was never a requirement for West Virginia’s mobile voting solution, but that Voatz initially worked well for the state’s goal of enabling voters to vote via mobile devices:
“Voatz worked well with our applications. We tested the system before it went live, but because of recent scruintity we’ve decided to use Democracy Live, a web based voting solution, for this upcoming election. This isn’t about a specific concern over Voatz or blockchain. In fact, we may go back to Voatz once there is a wider application and acceptance of the platform.”
What About Paper Ballots?
Finally, as technology-enabled voting systems continue to advance, officials are now considering using just the paper ballots to keep elections secure during the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, while paper ballots may not be prone to the same security issues faced by online voting systems, there are still many problems with this model. For example, Secretary Warner explained the challenges West Virginia is currently facing with paper absentee ballots, saying:
“While vote by mail sounds attractive on its surface, I’m in a state where we have an application process to ask for the absentee ballot. We are sending out 1.2 million application cards to our voters, which requires hours of work and training. For instance, we have to think about how many ballots we need to print now. Where we typically have 2 percent of voters vote by absentee, it’s a guessing game on how many ballots are needed now.”
Due to the challenges associated with paper voting systems, Warner noted that tech-based solutions are needed more than ever before, even though he has never been an outspoken advocate of such solutions in the past: “But if we had this technology proven and accepted now, then a number of election officials would have turned to mobile voting solutions.”
Controversial Blockchain Voting App Used at Republican Convention
The Voatz platform was reportedly a “success” in the Utah GOP convention despite previous security issues.
On April 25, the Utah GOP convention reportedly picked their nominees using the blockchain voting platform, Voatz. This platform was previously criticized for numerous security issues in preceding election events.
As Forbes reported, the co-founder and CEO of Voatz, Nimit Sawhney, stated that the platform “performed as expected” and managed to process 93% of registered delegate votes.
Voatz Reportedly A Success In Utah GOP Convention
Utah’s GOP chairman, Derek Brown, praised the app, stating that the feedback received was overwhelmingly positive, and the turnout was phenomenal, beating other conventions that applied the system.
Brown Added The Following Regarding Voatz:
“Using Voatz allowed us to digitally recreate our usual convention procedures and implement technology in a way that made the process more convenient and secure.”
The application uses blockchain technology to verify an individual’s identity through biometrics and facial recognition. The technology has been subject to pilot tests for political parties, universities, non-profit organizations, among others.
However, Voatz has not been without controversy. Recently released reports warn of security flaws in the platform.
Criticisms On The Platform’s Security
Cointelegraph reported on March 13 that the application was subject to a public audit by the security firm, Trail of Bits.
The app’s lack of transparency in terms of data security was criticized in the 122-page report, which noted that Voatz did not use custom chaincode or smart contracts:
“Several high-risk findings were the result of data validation issues and confused deputies in the core server that could allow one voter to masquerade as another before even touching the blockchain.”
Moreover, West Virginia decided on April 27 that it would no longer use the blockchain-based platform to cast votes for residents with disabilities and citizens residing abroad for their primary elections. Instead, these citizens will use a platform offered by Democracy Live.
The state was a pioneer in implementing Voatz in 2018, making the move surprising for some.
US Congress Considers Blockchain-Based Voting Amid COVID-19
The United States Congress is contemplating developing a blockchain-based system to allow remote Senate voting.
A staff memo has revealed that the U.S. Congress is considering blockchain technology as a means for the Senate to conduct remote voting amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The report states that blockchain may be deployed alongside end-to-end encrypted, or E2EE, applications to facilitate voting.
The memo was composed after the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations’ Roundtable on Continuity of Senate Operations and Remote Voting in Times of Crisis event.
The discussion came as the Senate prepares to reconvene this week.
Senate Considers DLT-based Voting Contingency
The document states that Congress’ two chambers have always “met in-person to conduct business, including committee hearings, floor deliberation, and voting,” emphasizing that “neither chamber has contingency plans to allow those functions to proceed remotely.”
The Senate staff memo asserts that through an encrypted distributed ledger, “blockchain can both transmit a vote securely and also verify the correct vote — noting that said characteristics have been used to argue for the efficacy of blockchain-based voting systems.
“Blockchain can provide a secure and transparent environment for transactions and a tamper-free electronic record of all the votes,” the memo states. “It also reduces the risks of incorrect vote tallies,” the document adds.
Congress also notes that blockchain-like systems are already being deployed in the context of voting — citing Estonia’s 2019 parliamentary elections that saw 44% of votes cast online.
Senate Concerned About Security Vulnerabilities
The report identifies concerns regarding a 51% attack on the blockchain used to host Senate ballots, emphasizing that “any remote blockchain voting system would need to be properly set up to eliminate any threat of 51 percent attack.”
The Senate also expresses anxieties concerning “possible vulnerabilities from cryptographic flaws and software bugs.”
The memo comes amid increasing discussions surrounding the efficacy of blockchain-based solutions to governance challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin being urged by members of Congress to consider blockchain-based stimulus distributions.
Ohio Lawmakers Propose Blockchain Voting In Elections Overhaul Bill
Democrats in the Ohio State House of Representatives have proposed launching a blockchain voting pilot for overseas military voters registered in the Buckeye State.
Introduced Tuesday as part of the Democrats’ elections law overhaul, the bill calls on Ohio’s Secretary of State Frank LaRose to “establish a pilot program” of blockchain voting specifically for uniformed service members stationed outside the U.S.
The bill was introduced by Reps. Beth Liston and Michele Lepore-Hagan, and cosponsored by a further 16 Democrats.
The proposal is unusually detailed on blockchain’s role. If passed, it would see military members transmit their ballots to election officials via “encrypted blockchain technology” that “protects the security and integrity of the process and protects the voter’s privacy.” The receiving board of elections would then print out that ballot “for counting purposes.”
“The secretary of state shall select the boards of elections that shall participate in the pilot program,” the bill read.
No technology vendor is named in the bill, but multiple companies, including Cleveland-based Votem app, build blockchain-based voting platforms that fit the Democrats’ bill. Others outside Ohio also build well-known blockchain voting tools, such as Voatz, which has been used in Utah county and West Virginia military voting pilots.
The Democrats’ proposed pilot comes as all internet-reliant voting systems, including those that use a blockchain, receive heavy scrutiny from a skeptical cadre of security researchers and experts who argue such systems are impossible to fully lock down.
“Internet voting should not be used in the future until and unless very robust guarantees of security and verifiability are developed and in place, as no known technology guarantees the secrecy, security, and verifiability of a marked ballot transmitted over the Internet,” said a lineup of co-signers to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in an April 9. letter to election officials.
Blockchain only added more possible attack vectors, they said.
Nevertheless, blockchain systems continue their march in the conversation around U.S. voting administration. A number of states already have limited blockchain pilots, and the tech even made it into a recent U.S. Senate memo on ensuring the continuity of Senate operations. Notably, fellow Ohioan, the Republican Senator Rob Portman, chairs that memo’s subcommittee.
Blockchain Voting Will Determine Vladimir Putin’s Presidential Fate
Moscow citizens will be able to vote on Vladimir Putin’s Constitutional amendments via a blockchain-powered system.
Russia’s upcoming e-voting on the Constitutional amendments will be implemented using blockchain technology.
Moscow citizens will be able to cast their votes on Vladimir Putin’s Constitutional amendments online via blockchain-powered e-voting. As announced on the Moscow government’s official website, Moscow voters can sign up for the upcoming e-voting starting from June 5.
Blockchain Makes Voting “Almost Impossible To Hack”
Scheduled to take place from June 25 to June 30, the e-voting will be implementing blockchain technology to “ensure security and transparency.” As officially announced, blockchain will help to anonymize and encrypt each vote to provide safety and immutability of data.
As a blockchain network “does not have a single server,” the chain is “almost impossible to hack,” the official announcement says.
The Statement Reads:
“The safety and transparency of electronic voting will be ensured by blockchain technology. Such a network does not have a single server: in order to change the information regarding bulletins, it is necessary to obtain the approval of most network participants, so the chain is almost impossible to hack. The vote itself is anonymized and encrypted.”
In the announcement, the Moscow government did not specify what kind of blockchain technology exactly is going to be deployed during the vote. The authority also did not mention any company assisting in implementing the technology for the voting process. Cointelegraph reached out to the e-voting customer support to find out more details on the matter. This article will be updated should they respond.
The Vote Could Extend Putin’s Term By Other 12 Years
During the vote, Russian citizens will choose whether they support the Constitutional amendments.
First introduced on Jan. 15, 2020, the Constitutional amendments proposal aims to allow Putin to serve two more six-year terms — until 2036. If Russian people vote against the amendments, Putin will finally have to leave his Presidential post in 2024. Putin has been serving in office either as President or prime minister since 1999.
During his long-running rule, Putin has failed to introduce legislation for the cryptocurrency industry in Russia despite issuing multiple deadlines to adopt one. The Russian President may rule the fate of one of the biggest cryptocurrency and blockchain markets worldwide. As reported by Cointelegraph, Russia has been leading the world in 2020 by its share in global Bitcoin (BTC) trading on peer-to-peer exchange LocalBitcoins.
In late 2019, Changpeng Zhao, CEO of the world’s largest crypto exchange, Binance, called Russian President Putin “the most influential person in the blockchain space.”
MIT Research Says Online Voting Needs More Decentralization To Protect Ballots
New research from MIT says a decentralized protocol is a must for secure online voting, however the current online voting platform is too centralized and vulnerable.
The pandemic has forced many companies to move their operations online. It has also brought the question of online voting to the forefront of conversation in the United States, which is facing an election year.
According to a June 7 paper from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Michigan, Democracy Live’s popular online voting platform, OmniBallot, is vulnerable to vote manipulation. Many states have tried OmniBallot, which uses Amazon Web Services to lock in votes, but it has faced security issues. A more decentralized online voting is part of the solution to protect ballots, the researchers say.
Cryptographic End-To-End Verifiability Plays A Key Role
The researchers believe that a decentralized approach in which a voter does not need to trust a particular client device or official election software or servers is essential for secure remote voting.
As a solution, the researchers put forward an end-to-end verifiability protocol like cryptographic E2E-V. They say such a protocol would allow each voter to independently check whether their vote is correctly recorded and included in the election result. They emphasis that:
“Although experts hold that E2E-V should be a requirement for any Internet voting system, they simultaneously caution that “no Internet voting system of any kind should be used for public elections before end-to-end verifiable in-person voting systems have been widely deployed and experience has been gained from their use”
Online Voting Platform Vulnerability
Studies found out that the OmniBallot platform’s simplistic web-based approach system and its extensive usage of third-party services and infrastructure is putting voters’ privacy and vote accuracy in jeopardy.
OmniBallot reportedly has no intention to seek any decentralized solution. The protocol it uses provides no way for anyone to verify that accuracy of the ballout sections. This will lead cyberattackers to gain control of the platform and change recorded votes without anyone even noticing.
In order to make votes more accessible to all, OmniBallot has turned the traditional voting of letting voters print ballouts and returning it through the mail to allowing voters to return their ballouts online. This web-based system handles blank ballot delivery, ballot marking, and online voting.
As Cointelegraph reported previously, Congress is looking into developing a blockchain-based end-to-end encrypted system to allow remote Senate voting.
Moscow Said To Hire Kaspersky To Build Voting Blockchain With Bitfury Software
Voting and blockchain have been a controversial couple but Moscow appears determined to use the technology for a national referendum involving President Vladimir Putin.
Russia will vote on changing its constitution, adopted in 1993, on July 1. The main issue to be decided is whether to allow Russia’s president to stay in power for more than the current limit of two consecutive six-year terms.
Most of the nation will use traditional paper ballots, but residents of Moscow and the Nizhny Novgorod region will have the option of casting their votes electronically and, at least in the Muscovites’ case, having them recorded on a blockchain.
According to an official page dedicated to electronic voting, Moscow’s Department of Information Technologies, which is working on the technical solution, plans to use Bitfury’s open-source enterprise blockchain, Exonum.
“The blockchain technology is working in the Proof of Authority mode,” the page says in Russian. “A smart contract for the ballot ledger will be recording the votes in the system, and after the voting is complete it will decode them and publish them in the blockchain system.”
The Department of Information Systems did not respond to CoinDesk’s request for comment by press time. Bitfury’s spokesperson declined to comment on the company’s involvement in the project.
“Blockchain-based voting is one of the most important applications of Exonum and blockchain technology overall,” the spokesperson said. “We do not have anything to share at this time, but we will stay in touch with future announcements.”
According to several people familiar with the electronic voting project, the company that built the solution for the Moscow authorities was Kaspersky Lab, the popular anti-virus software vendor that has turned to consulting in the blockchain space in recent years. A Kaspersky spokesperson declined to comment.
Moscow’s previous experience with blockchain voting did not go smoothly.
In September, residents of several Moscow districts could vote electronically in city council elections. When the code for the system was published, French security researcher Pierrick Gaudry showed that it could be easily hacked. After the voting was complete one of the losing candidates criticized the system, saying the offline results were not consistent with those submitted electronically.
Roman Yuneman, an independent candidate who ran for a city council seat, published a report describing the weaknesses of the system built by the Moscow authorities. According to the report, the voting had been down for nearly 30% of the time, and Yuneman’s team received 70 complaints from people who could not cast their votes electronically.
Russian news outlet Meduza wrote that the private key for decoding the votes was written into one of the transactions and could be easily retrieved from it, which made it possible to figure out how particular people voted. At the same time, around 12,000 voters’ records were leaked by the system, Meduza reported.
In addition, all the data was collected on servers belonging to the Moscow authorities and was under their complete control, Yuneman wrote. Independent observers could not check the authenticity of the vote count, and in one neighborhood, the offline and online results showed opposite results.
“Electronic voting has a lot of issues even without blockchain, and that was clearly demonstrated during the Moscow elections,” said Sergey Tikhomirov, a blockchain researcher and a PhD candidate at the University of Luxembourg.
“There was no technical way to observe it and the administrators of the voting could forge the data at any time. And, unlike with the paper ballots, in this case the forgery leaves no traces,” he said.
Blockchain-based voting has proved a tough nut to crack in other countries as well.
One of the best-known blockchain voting apps, Voatz, was blasted after several pilot tests, with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security pointing out the app’s vulnerabilities. So did researchers at MIT.
Still, governments around the world have been experimenting with the concept, and blockchain voting tests have been underway in Thailand, South Korea, Sierra Leone and India.
Nir Kshetri, professor of management at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, wrote in October that despite hopes blockchain could make elections more transparent and fair, “there’s no evidence yet that it is better at preventing election fraud.”
At the end, it’s the people in power who decide what will be the design of a blockchain voting system and who will have access. The technology does not resolve the issue of trust in the political system, Tikhomirov said.
“If people do trust the election system as such, any method of voting would work, even though the electronic one is riskier anyway. But if there is no trust, the electronic vote makes it even harder to check if the vote count was fair or not,” he said.
Russia has a history of election result falsifications on all levels over the past decade, which has prompted a nationwide movement of volunteer election monitors who report voting irregularities during each election cycle.
Russia’s Supreme Court Makes ‘Landmark’ Vote With Blockchain System From Kaspersky Lab
Russia’s Supreme Court for the first time used a blockchain-based system to record votes in a plenary session on Friday.
According to a press release, judges used the Polys app from Kaspersky Lab to record the results of voting on six issues before the court. The session was the latest to take place as a web video conference as part of Russia’s anti-coronavirus measures.
“This voting system is based on a blockchain and is using transparent encryption,” the press release says, adding that the system received a “high appraisal” from the judges of the Supreme Court in the “landmark” vote. The system has been recommended for use in the next plenary session in July.
The Supreme Court’s press office did not respond to CoinDesk’s request for further information by press time.
Kaspersky has been expanding its presence in the blockchain space recently, and is also assisting a project for blockchain-based voting in Moscow. According to a 2017 announcement from the cybersecurity company,
Polys is based on Ethereum and was developed with help from Parity Technologies, a tech startup launched by Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood.
“Blockchain is increasingly being implemented by a vast number of industries and we believe that decentralising the voting procedure will ensure a fair process and create a high level of trust in the system,” said Parity co-founder Jutta Steiner.
Kaspersky pledged to open source the Polys code back in 2017, however, the project’s GitHub page is still currently empty. Kaspersky did not immediately comment by press time.
Russia’s Blockchain-Based E-Vote System Suffers Node Attack
The Bitfury-powered blockchain for the Russian constitutional amendments was reportedly attacked over the weekend.
Russia’s blockchain-based voting system for the constitutional amendments has reportedly been attacked via an election observer’s node.
As reported by state-owned news agency TASS, the attack occurred on June 27 around 8 PM CET. A government of Moscow representative told TASS that the attack did not cause a system malfunction, meaning that all e-votes will be successfully recorded on the blockchain.
According to the official, cybersecurity experts were working to restore access to the attacked node. It is not clear if it’s been repaired at this point.
E-voting, held from June 25 to June 30 for residents of Moscow and Nizhniy Novgorod, is based on the Exonum blockchain platform developed by Bitfury. Cointelegraph reached out to Bitfury for additional comments regarding the attack, but did not hear back as of press time.
Initiated earlier this year, the constitutional amendments will theoretically allow Vladimir Putin to serve two more six-year terms if approved, meaning that he may remain president until 2036.
The System Has Experienced Hiccups Before
According to previous reports, the website for e-voting was inaccessible during the first few hours after going live.
Moreover, the blockchain-based online voting has produced some abnormal results in certain regions. For instance, nearly 7,300 people assigned to a polling station in Troitsky Administrative Okrug were registered to vote online, despite the station only having a total of 2,358 residents eligible to vote. The local electoral commission claimed that this was a “technical malfunction.”
Further, some people have reported successfully managing to vote multiple times due to the system’s apparently poor compatibility with the vote’s offline part.
Local journalist Pavel Lobkov posted a video describing how he initially voted offline at his polling station, and then voted online an hour later.
Similarly, Yael Iliinsky, a Russian national based in Israel, reportedly managed to vote three tunes: online via the website, at the Russian embassy in Tel-Aviv, and at the Russian consulate in Haifa. She also claimed that her daughter, who is still a minor, also voted in Haifa because her documents weren’t checked.
Hackathons Benefit From Blockchain Voting, Rewards And Transparency
TAIKAI has announced that it will use the Telos network to facilitate a secure and auditable voting mechanism to evaluate and reward stakeholders in hackathon events.
Hackathon management platform TAIKAI announced June 29 that it would be using Telos network to provide a fully transparent and auditable blockchain voting system, and as a token reward mechanism.
Telos is built on EOSIO technology, and TAIKAI had previously been using EOSIO for this functionality. It was even the subject of a feature on the EOS blog earlier this month.
Hacking Isn’t Always A Bad Thing
TAIKAI describes its platform as an open innovation social network, which facilitates the bringing together of corporates facing challenges, with a community of innovators to help solve them.
The hackathon format provides a cost effective way for companies to attract a wealth of highly specialized talent to focus on the problem at hand.
With such a focus on matching up challenges and solutions, finding the right blockchain network on which to run the platform was key. TAIKAI CEO Mário Ribeiro Alves explains:
“TAIKAI is a community-driven platform and we look for like-minded partners that can help us create a network effect.
Fortunately, we’ve found TELOS, and we knew from the first meeting that we were completely aligned. I’m confident we’ll build a great future together as we connect companies with innovative teams to solve real-world challenges.”
Blockchain As Enabler
Blockchain has been part of the TAIKAI vision from the start, with Alves realizing the value of “tokenization as a way to provide a transparent and auditable selection process for use in hackathons and other innovation challenges.”
However, it was important that a regular user would not notice any difference between using a blockchain-enabled platform and a non-blockchain platform.
Since launching in March 2019, the company has brought on board some of the largest businesses and universities in its native Portugal and is looking to expand globally.
The Telos network has been gaining traction in recent months, becoming the blockchain of choice for Transledger’s interoperability platform, the All_EBT food assistance program in the United States, and has announced support for Ethereum smart contracts following the launch of an Ethereum Virtual Machine.
Russia’s Blockchain Voting System Let Users Decrypt Results Before Count
According to local reports, the blockchain-based system allowed constituents to decipher their own private votes or let third-parties do so.
Russia’s blockchain-based voting system for the constitutional amendments had a vulnerability that reportedly made it possible to decipher votes before the official count.
Constituents Could Decipher Their Own Private Keys
This is an implementation of the “Networking and Cryptography,” or NaCi, cryptography library created by the mathematician Daniel J. Bernstein and cryptographers Tanja Lange and Peter Schwabe.
Per Meduza, the voting system relied on the so-called deterministic encryption, meaning that using the same parameters lead to identical ciphertexts. Both the sender and the receiver received a shared key, which could be used for encryption or decryption of the message.
That means that any constituent could theoretically decipher their own vote before it would get decrypted by the electoral commission, or even allow third parties to do so. In order to do that, the voter had to save their private key.
To retrieve the private key, the constituent had to go to the e-bulletin page, open the developer console in their web browser and make a minor adjustment to the election.js library (add logpoint, enter: voter secret key is’, encryptor.keyPair.secretKey) and then cast their vote.
Meduza conducted an experiment where all participants retrieved their private keys, and were reportedly able to decipher all of the votes as a result.
There Is A Positive Side To The Bug
According to the publication, the vulnerability theoretically allows employers to make sure that their employees voted, and even check their votes after inducing them to save their private keys. There have been reports suggesting that state-funded entities in Russia push their employees to vote at the government’s request.
On the other hand, the same bug could be used to increase transparency of the vote in the scenario where the electoral commission refuses to publish the decryption of each vote (as it did after Moscow City Duma election in 2019, where blockchain was also supposedly used).
Meduza elaborated, “For example, supporters of one specific candidate may agree to install the same browser extension. That way, they can track the minimum number of votes that their candidate should definitely get after the count”.
77.9% Voted For The Amendments, Allowing Putin To Rule Until 2036
E-voting took place from June 25 to June 30 for residents of Moscow and Nizhniy Novgorod, and was based on the Exonum blockchain platform developed by Bitfury. The remaining regions could only vote offline.
The referendum itself ended yesterday, on June 1. With all the ballots counted earlier today, 77.9% voted for the reform package and 21.3% against, according to the electoral commission.
As for the e-vote results, 62.33% of the Moscow voters supported the amendments and 37.37% opposed it. In Nizhniy Novgorod, the results were somewhat similar: 59.69% and 40.31% of the constituents voted “for” and “against” respectively.
Notably, one e-bulletin was deemed invalid. As explained by a Moscow government official, the voting user stopped “the transaction between a mouse click and getting it into the crypto library of his computer.” Since the blockchain can only take “yes” or “no” for an answer, the system allegedly marked the said vote as invalid during decryption.
As per the Constitutional amendments, Vladimir Putin’s term limits will be reset in 2024, meaning that he may remain president until 2036.
Russia’s Blockchain E-Vote Participants May Have Had Their Private Data Leaked
Russia’s blockchain vote experiences yet another hiccup, as e-constituents’ personal data is reportedly exposed.
Personal data for over a million Russian nationals has reportedly been leaked. The data allegedly belongs to some of the citizens who participated in the recent blockchain-based e-vote on Constitutional amendments.
The Archive Was Reportedly Available For Everyone To Download
According to an investigation published by Russian language media outlet Meduza, an archive titled “degvoter.zip”, which contains said data, was publicly available for download for at least several hours on July 1 via a government website. The file has since been distributed through various Telegram groups and channels.
The archive was password protected. According to the publication, however, it could be easily hacked with a free password cracking tool.
Along with the archive, there was an unpassword protected database titled “db.sqlite”. This database allegedly contained passport numbers for over a million voters from Moscow and Nizhniy Novgorod — two cities in Russia where residents could cast their votes online. The system that allowed for online voting was based on the Exonum blockchain platform developed by Bitfury.
Although that data was encrypted with the SHA256 algorithm, the reporters were allegedly able to decode it “very easily” using free software. That has lead them to the following conclusion:
“Considering the poor security and availability of the degvoter.zip archive, the Russian government actually put the personal data of all e-constituents from Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod in the public domain.”
Journalists reportedly cross-referenced the leaked data with the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ official service for checking the validity of passports. They found that over four thousand of passports registered for the e-vote were invalid.
The Ministry of Digital Development, Communications, and Mass Media has since commented on the investigation, saying that they exclude “any possibility of leakage”, since the passwords were distributed through “secure data channels” and only to authorized personnel.
The agency also stressed that the passport numbers were encoded and consisted of a randomly obtained sequence of characters, or hash sums, adding:
“Hash sums are not personal data. Publication of random sets of characters cannot harm citizens,”
Not The First Failure
As previously reported by Cointelegraph, Russia’s blockchain e-vote system has been attracting a lot of controversy. Not only did it malfunction soon after going live, it also allegedly allowed double voting, and had a vulnerability that reportedly made it possible to decipher votes before the official count.
E-voting occured online from June 25 to June 30, while the referendum itself ended on June 1. With all the ballots counted, 77.9% voted for the reform package and 21.3% against, according to the electoral commission.
As per the approved Constitutional amendments, Vladimir Putin’s term limits will be reset in 2024, meaning that he may remain president until 2036.
Russian Voters’ Data On Sale After Blockchain Poll To Keep Putin In Power: Report
Hackers are reportedly selling the personal data of over a million Russians who voted electronically, using blockchain technology, during the recent constitutional amendment process.
Over 1.1 million data points were stolen and put on sale for $1.50 each on the online forums, the Russian newspaper Kommersant wrote. The data, consisting exclusively of passport numbers, has little value on its own, the anonymous sellers admitted to Kommersant. But such data can be used for phishing attacks when combined with information from other leaked databases.
Moscow’s Department of Information Technologies, which is responsible for the design of the voting system, denied the report in an email to CoinDesk.
“The department is regularly monitoring the internet for publications of such data, including the darknet.
The database mentioned in the publication has nothing to do with the list of voters who registered to vote online,” the department’s press office wrote, adding that the information on the Moscow city hall’s servers was properly protected and “there had been no leaks since the beginning of 2020.”
The online voting was a part of nationwide voting dedicated to the amendments to the Russian constitution, which, among other things, eliminated the two-term restriction for presidents, effectively allowing Vladimir Putin to stay in power longer.
The online voting system, based on Bitfury’s open-source Exonum blockchain and built with the help of Kaspersky Lab, was previously reported to have poor data protection. Journalists were able to decrypt people’s votes as well as pull passport numbers out of a weakly protected file posted online by the authorities, a Russian media outlet Meduza wrote.
The voting took part during the last week of June and ended July 1, both online and at the physical polling stations. Municipal authorities’ employees were forced to vote electronically, BBC reported.
In a blog post earlier Tuesday, department representative Artyom Kostyrko said the department compared the screenshot the seller provided with the voter database, and the information didn’t check out. However, according to the founder of the cybersecurity firm DeviceLock, Ashot Oganesyan, the database was genuine and has been on sale for a while now.
Kaspersky declined to comment on the security issue when asked by CoinDesk.
In Russia, every citizen older than 14 has a passport, which serves as a universal ID for any kind of interaction with the government. Each passport has a unique number, and those numbers have reportedly been retrieved from the online voting system and put on sale.
Russia is planning to expand the practice of online voting, despite the issues mentioned above. The previous blockchain voting experiment by Moscow, which took place in the fall 2019, used the Ethereum blockchain and also turned out to have weak security.
Much of Russia’s Blockchain Voter Data Is Now For Sale On The Dark Web
Many Russian citizens now face exploitation on the dark web after their Blockchain voting data was accidentally leaked in early July.
Passport data from 1.14 million Russians is now available for sale on underground shops via the dark web. This data was stolen from citizens who voted in the country’s recent constitutional reform referendum, which utilized Blockchain technology.
According to Kommersant, quoting information provided by the hackers, illegal sellers have already sold over “30 thousand lines” of a document that contains the leaked data. Lines are listed at a cost of $1.50 each, but the price-per-line goes as low as $1 for parties purchasing the data in bulk.
Although passport data cannot necessarily be used for sensitive purposes, the sellers claim their information will allow buyers to obtain credit history, home addresses, and company names registered by each victim.
The authenticity of the data was confirmed by the local media outlet after receiving a text file containing some of the stolen passport data.
According to an investigation published by Russian language media outlet Meduza, an archive titled “degvoter.zip” was publicly available for download for several hours via a government website on July 1.
US Postal Service Envisions Blockchain-Backed Mail-In Voting
The United States Postal Service (USPS) has moved to patent a novel vote-by-mail elections system secured with blockchain technology.
* An application published Thursday by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and filed by USPS on Feb. 7 envisions combining the “dependability and security” of the USPS with blockchain “to prevent tampering” of electronic ballots.
* Saying in the filing that voters want a “convenient” means to access the polls, USPS offers a number of different methods to accomplish this objective.
* Among the various “embodiments” include: mailing out token-linked QR codes; distributing scannable paper passcodes to a digital voting system; storing voter identification on the blockchain; storing electronic voting signatures on the blockchain; and storing the votes themselves on the blockchain.
* Whether any of these proposals could bolster mail-in ballot security or avoid the pitfalls security researchers routinely lob at existing blockchain-backed voting systems was unclear at press time.
* Also unclear was the Postal Service’s intentions for the patent. A USPS press officer did not immediately respond to questions on whether or when USPS would actually test its methods.
* Any change to the United States’ patchwork voting systems would almost certainly proceed down to the state and county level.
* Forbes first reported the news, which comes at the height of a rhetorical standoff between U.S. President Donald J. Trump and the very concept of secure mail-in voting. Trump claims secure mail-in voting to be all but impossible.
US Postal Service Files Blockchain Voting Patent Following Trump Cuts
Is it enough to meaningfully resist election fraud?
A new patent has been filed by the U.S. Postal Service, or USPS, following recent comments from President Donald Trump concerning the mail service’s funding in light of his fight against mail-in voting. The patent appears to use Blockchain technology to make mail-in voting a safe alternative to physical polling stations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This developement releates to a voting system that also incorporates the use of cryptographic elements, such as blockchains, as are used with cryptographic currencies, to track and secure the vote by mail system,” said a patent filing, dated Aug. 13, 2020.
COVID-19 still remains a global hot topic as the 2020 U.S. presidential elections draw closer. As a result, mail-in voting has also surfaced as a point of contention among members of the country’s political parties. Trump opposes the movement, and has posited the idea of withholding further USPS funding in light of the situation, a CNBC article said.
Russia Pilots Federal Voting On Waves Blockchain
The country’s interest in Blockchain voting marches forward.
Russia is set to pilot a national blockchain-based e-voting system in September. The new system was developed in partnership between Rostelecom, Russia’s largest integrated provider, and Waves Enterprise.
Another recent blockchain e-voting experiment in Russia ended in fiasco after the system suffered a number of setbacks and attacks. The Russian government used a different blockchain provider of digital services and solutions, Bitfury, for that particular implementation however.
Artem Kalikhov, chief product officer of Waves Enterprise, told Cointelegraph that their work with Rostelecom was independent of that previous pilot. Kalikhov said that the system developed by Waves employes zero-knowledge proofs and many other advanced cryptographic primitives. He also is prideful of the implementation for not relying on a single point-of-failure.
The Team Is Securing The Platform Using Five Main Encryption Keys:
“They generate encryption keys, these keys are being generated in a decentralized fashion by blockchain nodes that run cryptographic services. The public keys get published on the blockchain.”
Later these five keys are combined into a single master key that is used to encrypt all blockchain transactions. In order to decrypt the voting results, one would need to have k out of n (in this case 5) corresponding private keys.
As for the question of who will own said private keys, Kalikhov explained that they should be held by independent observers. He acknowledged, however, that this decision ultimately lies outside of Wave’s control.
In the past, many have criticized Russia’s elections for their perceived unfairness and lack of transparency. We asked Kalikhov if they had received any requests to create a back door from their state-owned partner, Rostelecom. He replied, “No, we don’t participate in such endeavors, we value our reputation. We support transparency and decentralization”, adding:
Actually, it may sound surprising, but our partners from Rostelecom, they are really keen on making everything transparent and verifiable.
According To Kalikhov, The Company Is Currently Focused On Scaling The System To Tens Of Millions Of Users; It Currently Handles About 1/10Th Of That Amount:
The first run of the new system will happen for the State Duma, which is the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia, elections on 13 September 2020 on United Voting Day in the Kurskaya and Yaroslavskaya areas. Approximately 600,000 voters can participate in this e-voting.
If the initial pilot proves to be a success and this newly developed platform becomes the backbone of Russia’s online electoral process, the country could be the first major nation to use blockchain technology for voting.
Blockchain Voting Hailed A Success At Michigan Democrat Convention
This was one of the first virtual conventions in the US to utilize blockchain voting.
Despite its history of security and technical issues, blockchain voting platform Voatz has reportedly been deployed successfully at the Michigan Democratic Party State Nominating Convention.
More than 1,900 delegates at the virtual convention, held from Aug. 29-30, were able to nominate candidates using Voatz for the state’s Supreme Court, state Board of Education, and boards at state universities. The event was held online due to restrictions caused by the pandemic.
“There were so many unique challenges with this year’s convention because of the pandemic, but the Voatz platform eased many of our concerns,” said Chrisy Jensen, Executive Director of the Michigan Democratic Party.
“Voatz enabled our delegates to be verified remotely and participate through their smartphones.”
This is the fourth time the blockchain-based voting system has been used by the Michigan Democratic Party, but the first rollout at a virtual convention in the time of COVID-19. While the app has facilitated different elections across West Virginia, Oregon, Utah, and Colorado, Voatz is not without controversy.
In February, the technology was used during the Iowa Democratic presidential caucuses, but glitches in the app caused several days’ delay to determine the winning candidates.
The Massachusetts-based company has also been met with public criticism for a lack of transparency, particularly when it comes to data security. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a report earlier this year in which they identified security vulnerabilities within the app’s core framework.
These bugs could potentially allow bad actors to compromise existing vote tallies and the individual privacy of users. Following the release of the study in March, West Virginia announced that it would temporarily halt its use of Voatz for any future elections.
However, the technology was subsequently used during the Utah Republican state convention in April. Voatz CEO Nimit Sawhney stated the voting app “performed as expected” and processed 93% of registered delegate votes.
Voatz Calls For Restrictions On Independent Cybersecurity Research In Supreme Court Brief
Blockchain voting startup Voatz argued that bug bounty programs concerning cybersecurity should be operated under strict supervision in a “friend of the court” brief before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).
Voatz weighed in Thursday on Van Buren v. United States, a Supreme Court case examining whether it is a federal crime for someone to access a computer “for an improper purpose” if that person already has permission to access other files on that computer.
Nathan Van Buren, the petitioner in the case, is a former Georgia police officer who was charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) after looking up a license plate for an acquaintance. Van Buren claims that a lower court ruling that upheld his conviction could be taken to mean that “any ‘trivial breach’” of a computer system could be a federal crime.
The case’s scope appears to have broadened, addressing not just breaches, but how the CFAA itself can be interpreted. The question listed on SCOTUS briefs reads:
“Whether the evidence was sufficient to establish that petitioner, a police sergeant, exceeded his authorized access to a protected computer to obtain information for financial gain, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(2)(C) and (c)(2)(B)(i), when in exchange for a cash payment, he searched a confidential law-enforcement database for information about whether a particular person was an undercover police officer.”
The U.S., the respondent, argued the case is “poor vehicle” for examining whether the CFAA is too broad, and said in its brief that SCOTUS review isn’t even warranted.
In its brief, Voatz said the CFAA does not need to be narrowed, and some breaches of computer systems are necessary. However, the firm argues researchers looking into potential vulnerabilities should specifically check with the companies they are evaluating prior to doing so, and should only proceed with authorization from the companies.
“Bug bounty programs are highly effective,” Voatz wrote. “They are extremely widespread in the technology industry, and even outside that industry, one survey in 2019 reported that 42% of companies outside of the technology industry were running a crowdsourced cybersecurity program.”
The brief may come in response to another filed by a group of security researchers who argue the CFAA has indeed “been interpreted too broadly,” which is holding back computer security efforts. This brief criticizes Voatz among its other arguments.
Voatz has notably faced criticism from cybersecurity researchers, including by a team at MIT who published a report in February claiming Voatz had insufficient transparency and that its internal systems faced a number of vulnerabilities. Voatz has disputed the claims in the report.
Trail of Bits, another cybersecurity firm tapped by Voatz to conduct an audit of its systems, confirmed the MIT researchers’ claims in a subsequent report.
Voatz has tussled directly with researchers as well. Late last year, U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart of the Southern District of West Virginia announced the Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking into “an unsuccessful attempted intrusion” into Voatz, which was likely caused by a University of Michigan student or students participating in a security course.
In its brief, Voatz said the “students’ ill-advised activity” was reported to West Virginia officials because the company could not distinguish between their research and an actual hostile attack.
“Regardless of the particulars, however, the West Virginia incident illustrates the harm caused by attacking, or ‘researching,’ critical infrastructure without proper access or authorization especially in the middle of an election,” Voatz wrote.
Non-malicious researchers trying to break into digital tools “imposes significant additional costs” to organizations, the legal brief said, and could harm public confidence.
Jake Williams, who founded Rendition Security, told CNET that a “vast majority” of cybersecurity researchers likely do not have authorization, meaning Voatz’s support for a broad CFAA would “100% make it more difficult” for researchers.
Voatz’s brief comes a day after it published a press statement claiming the Michigan Democratic Party used its app during a recent party convention when voting for a number of positions. The Michigan Democratic Party did not immediately return a request for comment.
Voatz’s arguments aside, its brief makes a number of citations and claims that seem to lack context.
Voatz says it has been used in 70 elections, including state and municipal elections, and claims in the brief that it is considered “critical infrastructure” by the Department of Homeland Security.
The elections include West Virginia (which announced in March it would not be using Voatz for its upcoming elections) and Utah County (whose clerk and auditor received a $1,500 campaign donation from Overstock CEO Jonathan Johnson, who is also the president of Voatz investor Medici Ventures).
The company has said it’s meeting requirements by Pro V&V, a federal Voting System Test Laboratory, but according to Politico cybersecurity reporter Eric Geller, “the report is meaningless” because the standards were set years ago and the evaluation was not objective.
Eddie Perez, the global director of tech development at the Open Source Election Technology Institute, wrote that the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the federal entity that accredited Pro V&V, doesn’t actually have any national standards for remote voting systems.
The EAC itself released a statement saying “these test reports should not be viewed as implicit approval by either the [voting system test laboratories] or the EAC that the evaluated systems are compliant with the [voluntary voting system guidelines] standard or are equivalent to an EAC-certified voting system.”
“Currently these programs are organized by Voatz itself, but in the past some were conducted through a vendor such as HackerOne Inc.,” the brief said. It did not mention that HackerOne severed ties with Voatz in March.
What’s more, HackerOne founder and CTO Alex Rice said on Twitter that “we support the opposing arguments made by” the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which calls for a narrowing of the CFAA, unlike Voatz, which cited HackerOne in the brief.
Similarly, Casey Ellis, founder and CTO of crowdsourced security platform Bugcrowd, which Voatz cited a number of times, also wrote that he signed off on and supported the EFF’s brief, and not Voatz’s.
Both Rice and Ellis said Voatz did not contact them prior to filing the brief.
Russian Blockchain Voting System Shows Up On GitHub
The Russian government keeps betting on blockchain for elections.
As Russia is set to pilot a blockchain-based e-voting system, the country’s federal elections authority has provided public access to the platform’s source code.
According to an official announcement by Russia’s Central Election Commission, or CEC, the source code for the e-voting system was partly released on GitHub on Sept. 7.
The initial release included the source code for smart contracts and front-end elements of the e-voting platform like developer libraries and servers responsible for the vote count.
According to the CEC, the internal elements of the e-voting platform are expected to be published on Sept. 10. At the time of publication, the internal part of the code is purportedly still not released, although latest publications on GitHub were released on Sept. 7.
Russia is set to pilot its blockchain-powered voting system at the upcoming elections for the State Duma, which is the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia.
Scheduled for Sept. 13, the Duma elections were originally expected to come no earlier than September 2021. The elections, which also include other federal offices, come shortly after Russia piloted its blockchain-voting system during a vote on constitutional amendments in summer 2020.
Entering into force on July 4, the amendments allow President Vladimir Putin to serve two more six-year terms until 2036. At the vote, the blockchain system reportedly suffered a number of bugs as well as major data breaches.
As reported by Cointelegraph, the upcoming e-voting system was developed in collaboration between Russia’s state-owned telecommunications provider Rostelecom and major local blockchain company, Waves Enterprise.
Nearly 30,000 Blockchain Votes Were Recorded In Russian Elections — The Most Ever
Has Russia fixed its elections with permissioned blockchain technology from Waves?
Close to 30,000 votes were recorded on the blockchain during the Russian parliamentary elections in what appears to have been the biggest case of blockchain-based voting yet. The blockchain component of the online voting platform was built by Waves Enterprise. The voting concluded early yesterday, and according to the chief product officer of Waves Enterprise, Artem Kalikhov, everything went off without any hiccups.
He told Cointelegraph that the elections took place on the permissioned network run by Rostelecom. The firm was contracted by Russia’s Central Election Commission, which, in turn, subcontracted Waves Enterprise to build the blockchain part of the online platform. The 10 nodes run by Rostelecom cannot be observed by the public. According to Kalikhov, this was done to prevent potential cyberattacks.
He also believes that in the near future, Rostelecom will make its blockchain network observable to the public. All of the transactions have been published in the two comma-separated values files, nonetheless. This means that everyone is able to verify the cryptographic hashes of all transactions recorded by the platform.
There are five main encryption keys that are generated in a decentralized way, which are later combined into a single master encryption key. In order to decrypt the results of the elections, a predetermined number of the keys are needed.
This is similar to multisignature wallets, which require multiple keys to authorize transactions, rather than a single signature from one key. Thus, it is important that these keys are held by independent, reliable observers. Kalikhov does not know who was responsible for the key management this time around.
The elections took place in two Russia oblasts (regions), Kursk and Yaroslavl, which have a combined population of almost 2.5 million. Locals were given the choice of either voting in person or online. In the Kursk oblast, 13,184 individuals registered for online voting, with 11,940, or 90.59%, eventually recording their votes on the blockchain.
In the Yaroslavl oblast, 16,828 out of 18,834 who registered cast their vote online, which constituted a 91.54% turnout. In total, 28,771 individuals recorded their votes on the blockchain.
Kalikhov hopes that the success of this first experiment will lead to blockchain-based voting rolling out across Russia in future elections. If that happens, it would likely lead to several million votes recorded on the blockchain. For voting in the two oblasts, the team was internally stress-testing the system for up to 1 million votes, so there appears to have been a lot of extra capacity.
Meanwhile, the team behind Waves’ public blockchain has been working on a similar voting system that works in a permissionless environment. According to Kalikhov, potential use cases do not just include government-held elections. He believes the technology could also be used in the private sector; for example, for shareholder voting.
Although blockchain technology possesses many valuable features that can be successfully applied to voting — such as immutability, transparency and anonymity — no technology can serve as a silver bullet against a rigged system.
South Korean Gov Pledges To Bring Blockchain Voting Into People’s Homes
Blockchain could soon be integrated into South Korean apartments.
The Blockchain frenzy in South Korea has now reached the housing sector, with the national government pledging $1.27 million in funding for a blockchain-based platform that targets apartment residents across the country.
According to ZDNet Korea, the South Korean Ministry of Science, or ICT, chose a local firm, Ksign, to develop a contact-free platform which will let residents engage with electronic voting, parking space management, and other housing-based governance measures.
The platform will also aid with social distancing, said the announcement. The project’s creators further noted that they expect it will “strengthen public health in the apartment spaces.”
Homeowners, residents, and management will be able to use the platform, which will also provide video conferencing and electronic payment solutions.
Keo Ja-in, vice president of Ksign, commented on the upcoming platform:
“We are developing a DID that can be applied to the token ecosystem by controlling personal information and verifying the identity by controlling personal information. The goal is to also create a token ecosystem that can be used in any store.”
The head of the Seocho regional government recently proposed a blockchain-powered voting platform for residents and praised the recent influx of crypto-related developments across the country.
Voting By Phone: The Promise And Peril of Digital Ballots
Limited experiments in mobile voting have taken place in elections across the U.S. Whether they prove secure enough for wider adoption is an open question.
Bradley Tusk made millions as an early investor in Uber. Now, he’s devoting a chunk of that fortune to a cause he says goes to the heart of democracy: Mobile voting.
Filling out a ballot on a smartphone makes intuitive sense: We already work, bank and socialize through the glowing screens in our pockets.
Many Americans can’t or don’t make it to the polls. Historically, only about half of U.S. citizens who are registered to vote actually do, though election watchers predict higher turnout in November. Staunch partisanship and the electoral college effectively mean that roughly a quarter of American voters determine who gets into the White House. Both trends could be magnified this year by a pandemic that has kept people at home.
For Mr. Tusk, a better political system means increasing turnout and forcing politicians to respond to the will of the people.
“We have to accept politicians for who and what they are,” he says. “We have to give them different inputs and incentives if we want different outputs.”
Mr. Tusk has financed more than a dozen mobile-voting pilot programs through a nonprofit called Tusk Philanthropies. They and others expect that over the next five to 10 years, the generations that have grown up on their smartphones will demand services for voting as well. They are testing systems now that make use of mobile phones, the internet and blockchain technology, with the goal of having these systems in place in the coming years.
Convincing skeptical election officials won’t be easy. There are already well-founded concerns about hacking existing election systems. Carting voting onto mobile devices and the internet opens the ballot box up to the myriad security vulnerabilities that plague the digital world. Can phones be secured against malware and other threats? Can voters’ identities be protected? Can hackers alter the vote count? Can the system be audited after the election?
Because of that, groups like the nonprofit Verified Voting Foundation, which is focused on modernizing the election system, have taken a hard line against internet-based voting.
Mobile voting already exists in controlled experiments. At least eight jurisdictions in the U.S. have experimented with mobile-voting systems, mainly for either overseas military personnel or for citizens with disabilities. Several dozen private organizations are dabbling with mobile voting. At least half a dozen countries have tried it as well.
The city of Denver used a mobile-voting system from a Boston startup called Voatz in its 2019 municipal elections. Colorado already allows every registered voter to vote by mail, but the city’s director of elections, Jocelyn Bucaro, was looking for a better option to offer voters overseas or with disabilities.
In the May 7, 2019, municipal election, 156 eligible Denver voters in 36 different countries used the Voatz app, and 119 ballots were counted.
The voters returned both a signed affidavit and the ballot. Both are recorded digitally but can be printed out. One particular benefit, Ms. Bucaro says, was that the system separated the affidavit from the ballot in a way that prevented election judges from seeing who voted for whom, keeping the votes anonymous and providing a way to audit the system. Surveyed voters who used the system said they preferred it over previous systems.
West Virginia started testing mobile voting in 2018, for military personnel overseas, and will use it again in next month’s election. Mr. Tusk has also financed mobile-voting pilot tests in Delaware, Umatilla and Jackson counties in Oregon, King County in Washington, and Utah County in Utah. This year, New Jersey used mobile voting for residents with disabilities in its May elections.
Several companies, such as Voatz, Democracy Live and Votem, are trying to build and sell mobile-voting systems to the nation’s more than 10,000 election jurisdictions. The essential elements are similar for them all: Users download an app, verify their identity initially with some combination of a driver’s license, biometric scan, or PIN supplied by election officials, and then find their election and fill out a digital version of the physical ballot.
The complications are myriad, though. Voatz, for instance, relies on third parties for parts of its system. That opens up doors for malicious actors to force their way through, according to a group from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Internet Policy Research Initiative.
Some critics also worry that taking voting out of a physical location allows voters to be coerced. Somebody may be looking over the voter’s shoulder, either influencing or outright buying a vote. Physical polling stations will likely endure to serve people who don’t have smartphones or lack internet access.
Blockchain was supposed to solve at least some online-voting issues. The basic idea of a blockchain is to create an open ledger in which a series of transactions are stored publicly for anybody to verify, while protecting the identity of the individual users. For voting, that ostensibly should result in a system where anybody could verify the validity of the election while individual voters’ choices are kept private.
On a practical level, though, it may not work. The reason bitcoin, the original blockchain, works isn’t necessarily the power of its cryptography, but a number of incentives and disincentives built into the program. Attacking the system is more expensive than participating in it and earning rewards in bitcoin. The entire transaction history is kept public, but it typically isn’t worth somebody’s time to try to piece together the identities of buyers and sellers.
For voting, these incentives work in reverse. Because there is no cost deterrent, there is no way to dissuade malicious actors from trying to take over the network. Because every vote is valuable, critics fear there is no good way to keep a user’s identity and vote separate.
“The thing that intuitively seems like it might help in reality doesn’t,” says Michael Specter, a researcher at the Internet Policy Research Initiative, which published two reports on the Voatz app.
West Virginia, which had used Voatz in 2018, dropped it for its March primary and went with Democracy Live, which relies on a web-based rather than blockchain-based system. New Jersey used Democracy Live’s system in its May primary.
Democracy Live’s system revolves around a portal hosted on Amazon Web Services servers, where data is stored and secured. While AWS security has a track record, that hasn’t satisfied critics, who still worry about the overall concept.
“The use of unproven voting technology only provides more opportunity for disruption,” Verified Voting wrote in a letter to New Jersey officials.
Mac Warner , West Virginia’s secretary of state, says he didn’t have security concerns with either Voatz or Democracy Live, and would consider both for future elections, but wanted to try a different system.
Despite that setback, West Virginia officials were “incredibly helpful,” Voatz founder and chief executive Nimit Sawhney says, and the company is planning to run more pilots, despite criticism from MIT and elsewhere.
“The criticism is to be expected,” he says. “Our goal is to keep pushing the needle forward.”
With mobile voting still in the pilot stage, the risk of swaying an election is minimal. Fewer than 1,000 people in total have voted from their phones in live elections on the Voatz app, Mr. Sawhney says.
“The future doesn’t appear overnight,” Mr. Sawhney says. “It’s a series of steps.”
It’s clear even to proponents of mobile voting that no system is secure enough yet to be trusted for a general election. For it to take off, it’s going to have to win the trust of election officials, voters and candidates.
“The goal is to convince the loser that they lost,” MIT’s Mr. Specter says. “If you can’t do that, it doesn’t matter how much cryptography or research has gone into it.”
CZ and Vitalik Agree Blockchain-Based Voting Is A Must
Binance’s CEO Changpeng Zhao and Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin believe blockchain-based voting apps would significantly improve current voting systems.
Binance’s chief executive Changpeng Zhao or CZ and Ethereum’s co-founder Vitalik Buterin are in furious agreement that a new blockchain-based voting system is required to improve democratic processes in the United States. But it won’t be as easy to implement as one might think.
Responding to prolonged uncertainty over the result of the controversial 2020 U.S. presidential election, CZ tweeted that now is the right time for developers to build “a blockchain based mobile voting app.”
Binance’s CEO argued that such a voting system would reduce the time taken to confirm the outcome of an election, enhance voters’ privacy, and eliminate questions surrounding the validity of results.
CZ Urged Developers To Begin Working On Such A System:
“Develop something now, get it approved (obviously hardest step), and get 300 million plus (fully KYC’ed) users in 4 years time. Any capable developer should be willing to do it ‘for free.’”
Buterin shared the post, although he added that it isn’t going to be an easy task:
“The technical challenges with making a secure cryptographic voting system are significant (and often underestimated), but IMO this is directionally 100% correct.”
He clarified that a cryptographic approach doesn’t necessarily mean a blockchain approach, although he explained it could be used to “maximize anti-censorship guarantees.”
While such systems can resolve the question of whether every vote has been counted, they aren’t yet able to solve the problem of determining whether the votes were valid in the first place.
Ultimately, Buterin Said, It Shouldn’t Be Hard To Improve On The Current System:
Beating 73% accuracy is not hard.https://t.co/zt9bn1IBQZ
— vitalik.eth (@VitalikButerin) November 5, 2020
Cardano founder Charles Hoskinson also believes blockchain voting is the right path to travel, last week suggesting that Cardano had been “building the infrastructure” for this specific use case.
Not everyone is on board. CEO and founder of MyCrypto Taylor Monahan countered that with the number of security issues facing current blockchain and cryptocurrency networks, the community is not ready for “blockchain democracy.”
She argued, “We cannot come close to securing fake internet money that tech geeks play with and manipulate for fun,” citing initial coin offerings, scams, ponzi schemes, hacks and insecure smart contracts among the current hurdles:
“It’s not [because] people want money. It’s because people want power. Money = power. Votes = power.”
Last week, Overstock chief Jonathon Johnson said that Voatz, the voting app backed by Overstock’s subsidiary Medici Ventures, could have solved the problems facing the current election during an earnings call on Oct 29.
However, Voatz has been criticized for exhibiting security vulnerabilities, with MIT security researchers condemning the app’s cybersecurity safeguards earlier this year.
Last month, Russia appeared to have successfully used a blockchain-based voting system built on Waves, recording almost 300,000 votes.
Japanese Firm Layer X Labs Develops Blockchain-Based E-Voting Protocol
The new system will bring blockchain security and immutability to local elections as well as reinforce Tsukuba City’s “smart city” initiative.
Japanese firm Layer X has announced the development of an electronic voting system based on a blockchain protocol as part of a wider “smart city” initiative being pursued by Tsukuba City.
The Tokyo-based company said that the new system will meet the technical needs of electronic voting, including the prevention of double voting, accurate storage of voting content, voter confidentiality, and management of operation records.
In addition, it will enable voters to check their own voting results, providing the cryptographic ability to verify that the recording and aggregation processes for the votes on the blockchain network was performed correctly.
Layer X explained that, through its new system, it seeks to push for a shift towards electronic voting in local governments. It also indicated that it is working to strengthen efforts aimed at solving technical problems related to the digital transformation (DX) of various administrative services.
Layer X also announced that it will join the Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture smart council, which aims to transform Tsukuba into a “smart city” and move it into the digital age.
The Coronavirus pandemic has prompted many countries and local states to develop blockchain-based online voting options. Russia has already experimented with blockchain-based electronic voting and has also published the source code for the platform on GitHub.
Likewise, the French commune of Verneuil-sur-Seine took a vote on a road project through a blockchain-based app, and the Michigan Democratic Party announced a successful electronic voting experiment via the blockchain-based Voatz platform.
Blockchain Voting Is The Alternative For Trusted Democratic Elections
There is a way to give the voting system greater legitimacy and veracity: backing it with blockchain technology.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people’s lives, the relationship between governments and citizens, and the entire world economy, and of course, it has had a major impact on the United States presidential election.
Due to social isolation, a large number of American voters opted to vote by mail, which increased vote counting time, led candidate and acting President Donald Trump to judicialize the electoral process with actions in several states, and triggered intense debates about the veracity and legitimacy of the current American electoral system.
The Current Voting System In The Digital Age
Currently, many have proposed “mobile” voting as an alternative more compatible with current times, allowing people to vote without leaving their homes.
We are able to shop online, there are professions that are performed 100% remotely — which has intensified with the current pandemic — but electoral participation still needs to be exercised in person and in a specific location.
Now, does this not go against the digital age where information and technology serve as facilitators of communication, data transfer and business transactions?
How does one make mobile, or remote, voting possible without compromising the security of electoral participation?
The addition of blockchain solutions to the mobile voting process can give confidence to the electoral system and bring peace to the electoral process.
The combination of sequential hashing and cryptography in a distributed structure allows for the protection of voters’ identity and the verification of absolutely all votes entered in the blockchain platform, which can enable secure and transparent voting mechanisms with electoral vote monitoring.
Imagine how good it would be to check if your vote was actually counted for the candidate chosen by you, with the absolute guarantee of the secrecy of your vote? All of this is possible with blockchain technology.
American Electoral Jurisdictions And Blockchain-Based Pilot Projects
Electoral jurisdictions in several U.S. states have tested mobile-application-based blockchain voting for state, federal and municipal elections — primarily to enable remote voting by military and civilian residents abroad via smartphones and tablets, rather than the traditional and mail, fax and paper methods.
West Virginia, for example, enabled mobile voting via blockchain for its state and federal elections back in 2018. Denver, Colorado; Utah County, Utah; and two counties in the state of Oregon also tested pilot projects for their 2019 municipal elections.
In total, 29 counties in five states tested Voatz’s mobile voting app in official elections.
In all of the examples mentioned above, to the surprise of many and according to the authorities responsible for voting via blockchain, the electoral process proved to be easier and more accessible.
For that reason, there are already advocates of the use of blockchain in American elections.
The Positions Of American Political Personalities On Mobile Voting
As a result of the good performance mentioned in the previous paragraphs, there are already notable figures in American politics raising the banner of blockchain mobile voting, such as Bradley Tusk — an American businessman, philanthropist, political strategist and founder of Tusk Philanthropies; Mike Queen — deputy chief of staff to the West Virginia Secretary of State; and Jocelyn Bucaro — director of elections in Denver.
But because we are living in the age of polarization, there are also people strongly against mobile voting, including voting via blockchain. In that sense, we can refer to Jeremy Epstein, a member of the Association for Computing Machinery’s US Technology Policy Committee.
Here, it is important to note that Epstein — who was a vice chair of the committee at the time — co-authored an electoral security report titled “Email and Internet Voting: The Overlooked Threat to Election Security,” which was developed in conjunction with Common Cause, the National Election Defense Coalition and the R Street Institute.
The report points to blockchain and internet voting as a target for online attacks by foreign intelligence, saying the transmission of ballots over the internet — including by email, fax and blockchain systems — makes them vulnerable.
Despite the pros and cons, are there solutions already in place that can protect citizens from electoral fraud?
How would identity verification be used in the process? What projects and solutions can we think of implementing for identity verification in the voting process, and how would they work?
A Blockchain Solution That Can Enable A Virtual Election In The U.S.
The Voatz application, for example, looks for vulnerabilities and signs of commitment or vulnerability from the start. If the app finds that a smartphone has been compromised, it does not allow the user to vote. If the application passes security tests and third-party tools linked to it, the voter is authenticated on their mobile phone by a fingerprint or facial recognition.
The voter then provides their government identification, usually a driver’s license or passport, and takes a selfie for further authentication. Finally, the voter touches the fingerprint reader of their cell phone to verify that the smartphone is actually in the voter’s hands.
In this step, the Voatz application combines the selfie taken by the voter with the image of the identity document and, after rechecking all the registration information given, confirms that the voter can vote.
Voters can use their own additional authentication factor, such as an Apple Watch, Google Authenticator or a YubiKey. And if they wish, they can still receive an SMS message or email as an additional authentication factor.
Cybersecurity In A Blockchain Vote
Regarding cybersecurity, as “all” software has vulnerabilities, it cannot be ignored that denial-of-service and distributed denial-of-service attacks are legitimate risks in a mobile vote. Therefore, it is important to look for backup methods for possible infrastructure failure in the case of a DoS attack on the mobile voting system.
The blockchain part of the process is the least worrying in terms of security. It is just one component of the voting process, which also includes the steps of identity security, verification and validation.
Blockchain, in the case of Voatz, is for the specific application for which it was built: to distribute voting records so that it is more difficult to attack remotely. It also has cryptographic audit evidence of each transaction.
The main security risk in voting via blockchain is in the interface with the electoral jurisdiction, where the ballot is also printed with a hash or encrypted key on top. After it is stored, it is finally digitized in the election systems and software ballot-reading systems. At this stage, the electoral process “is out of reach” for Voatz.
In addition to cybersecurity issues, another point in a blockchain vote that has been questioned is: How would the voting book be processed and the ballots verified in a blockchain solution?
Taking the Voatz app as an example again, it uses a 32-node blockchain infrastructure on Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, each hosting 16 nodes in the United States. Cloudflare is among several companies that provide DDoS-protection services, and Voatz has said that the system employs end-to-end encryption and multi-factor authentication for infrastructure nodes.
Another blockchain voting solution was used in Colombia in 2016. “Blockchain Voting for Peace” is a case study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development of a referendum held in Colombia back then.
In it, the nonprofit organization Democracy Earth Foundation creates a blockchain platform to allow Colombians living abroad to symbolically participate in the plebiscite on the peace treaty between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, commonly known as FARC. The interesting thing here is the possibility of democratic coverage provided by the blockchain.
From what we have seen so far, it is not an exaggeration to imagine that in the near future, many countries will see blockchain technology as an ideal voting method for a society that is increasingly digitized faster than ever.
However, even if the maturity of the technology is reached and it effectively brings greater legitimacy to the electoral process and veracity to the voting system, will we be able to overcome the cultural barriers and digital illiteracy that still exist in today’s world?
MIT Cybersecurity Experts Do Not Trust Blockchain-Based Voting Systems
“I haven’t yet seen a blockchain system that I would trust with a county-fair jellybean count, much less a presidential election.”
While certain parties in the United States continue to challenge the integrity of the election process, a group of researchers is advocating against using Internet-based and blockchain-based voting systems in the future.
According to a Nov. 16 report from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, relying on blockchain voting technology is not a reliable means of promoting greater turnout and may increase the risk of hackers tampering with elections.
The cybersecurity team of Sunoo Park, Michael Specter, Neha Narula and Ronald L. Rivest concluded that blockchain was “unsuitable for political elections for the foreseeable future” when compared with software-independent methods including voting in person and mail-in ballots.
Some of the concerns they raised were the potential lack of ballot secrecy — traceable on the blockchain — and the lack of auditing in the event of a contested race.
“While current election systems are far from perfect, blockchain would greatly increase the risk of undetectable, nation-scale election failures,” said Rivest, an MIT professor and the senior author of the report. “Any turnout increase would come at the cost of losing meaningful assurance that votes have been counted as they were cast.”
The Researcher Continued:
“I haven’t yet seen a blockchain system that I would trust with a county-fair jellybean count, much less a presidential election.”
The team argues one of the main differences when using blockchain technology for a democratic process like voting versus financial transactions is that when hacks or fraud occurs, financial institutions sometimes have methods to compensate victims for their losses.
Credit card companies can reimburse funds, and even some crypto exchanges have been able to freeze tokens associated with a hack.
“For elections there can be no insurance or recourse against a failure of democracy,” the report states. “There is no means to make voters whole again after a compromised election.”
Blockchain-based voting also invites opportunities for “serious failures” according to the MIT team. For instance, should hackers find a way to attack votes without being caught, then authorities would essentially have to hold an entirely new election for reliable results.
A blockchain-based voting system with just a single point of attack could potentially provide hackers with the ability to alter or remove millions of votes, whereas “destroying a mail-in ballot generally requires physical access.”
Many countries are trying to further integrate blockchain technology into the voting process following small-scale deployments.
Russia’s blockchain-based voting system on Vladimir Putin’s term limit reportedly did not allow for ballot secrecy, as users and third parties could decipher votes before the official count.
In February, a different MIT team — which included researcher Michael Specter — released a report identifying security vulnerabilities within the blockchain-based voting app Voatz.
However, both the Democratic and Republican parties used the app for voting at conventions prior to the general election this year, and Utah reportedly allowed certain residents to cast their ballots in the presidential election using Voatz.
“Democracy — and the consent of the governed — cannot be made contingent on whether some software correctly recorded voters’ choices,” said Rivest.
LayerX Will Develop Blockchain-Based Voting System Using Digital Id Verification In Japan
“Voting over the Internet presents more challenges, such as preventing double voting, technical hurdles to keep ballots secret, and the cost of voting devices.”
Japanese firm Layer X will be partnering with a digital identity application called xID to build a blockchain-based voting system in the Japanese city of Kaga.
In a Thursday announcement from LayerX, the Tokyo-based company said it will be developing the electronic voting project in an effort to promote safe and secure elections for the city of 68,000 inhabitants. The firm stated that the cost and stability of current electronic voting systems in the region needed to be addressed.
“Voting over the Internet presents more challenges, such as preventing double voting, technical hurdles to keep ballots secret, and the cost of voting devices,” stated the company announcement. “LayerX researched and developed an electronic voting protocol that balances the transparency of the voting process and the confidentiality of voting records.”
According to the firm, the xID application will strengthen the company’s existing voting system by helping verify a voter’s identity and ensuring only one ballot is issued per person.
LayerX’s system will reportedly allow voters to check their own voting results, as well as provide the cryptographic ability to independently verify that the recording and aggregation processes for a particular vote was performed correctly on the blockchain network.
Officials in Kaga were the first in Japan to declare the area a “blockchain city.” The initiative was reportedly intended to address the country’s population decline in rural areas by encouraging firms in public and private sectors to use innovative technology.
LayerX also made a similar announcement in November when it stated it would join Tsukuba City’s “smart city” initiative.
Could Blockchain End Bitter Vote-Rigging Disputes Once And For All?
There are fears that voting on the blockchain might not be practical. Instead, the real value of this technology may be linked to counting ballots afterwards.
From the United States to Uganda, allegations of vote rigging have become part and parcel of elections worldwide.
Some of these claims are legitimate, with strongmen leaders suppressing the will of the people in a desperate attempt to cling on to power. But in other cases, such accusations are made with little evidence. Fake videos swirl online that paint a picture of manipulation on an industrial scale — depicting a world where ballot papers are dumped in bins.
Whether true or false, even the mere suggestion of vote rigging is enough to undermine confidence in the democratic process — dividing communities and triggering violence, as we saw at the U.S. Capitol back in January.
A recent poll performed by Morning Consult and Politico suggested that just 33% of Republican voters now trust U.S. elections.
In this age of uncertainty, talk has inevitably turned to how blockchain can help modernize elections — amid hopes that this technology can deliver a sense of finality to proceedings. Proponents also believe these immutable databases could also enable national votes to be run far more efficiently.
We often take elections for granted, yet forget about the sheer manpower and organization that’s required to ensure tens of millions of people can vote on the same day.
But it isn’t enough to just say the word “blockchain” and trust that the pain points in global elections can be resolved. Instead, a great deal of thought is required to determine how this technology should be applied.
Should voters be casting their ballots electronically, meaning their choice is automatically recorded on one of these networks, or should the technology be brought in when results are being validated?
A flurry of blockchain-based voting systems have emerged in recent years — including the likes of Votem, Voatz and Horizon State. Some have struggled to achieve adoption, while security vulnerabilities have been uncovered in others.
When it comes to the prospect of voting on the blockchain itself, some academics have expressed fears that this technology might not be the silver bullet people are hoping for. A November 2020 paper from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology warned claims that blockchain would increase election security are “wanting and misleading.”
The four co-authors cast doubt on whether voting from a computer or smartphone would make the process more convenient and accessible for the public — with some studies suggesting that it might have “little to no effect on turnout in practice.”
They also argued that malware and denial-of-service attacks could undermine a person’s ability to cast their ballot. Paper and a pen may be old fashioned, but at least it can’t be commandeered by a hacker.
“Online voting systems are vulnerable to serious failures: Attacks that are larger scale, harder to detect, and easier to execute than analogous attacks against paper-ballot-based voting systems. Furthermore, online voting systems will suffer from such vulnerabilities for the foreseeable future given the state of computer security and the high stakes in political elections,” they wrote.
Even if blockchain technology was rolled out nationwide in a major vote, polling places would still need to be dotted across the country to cater to those who don’t have the technology or knowhow to cast their ballot digitally.
However, such criticism doesn’t necessarily mean that blockchain should be written off altogether — and that these cutting-edge networks have no place in the electoral system.
Counting On Blockchain
Free TON is one community that has been looking into this issue in greater depth — and rather than devising a system to ensure blockchain is used during voting, it is working to create software that delivers value after voting.
In November 2020, a contest was held to produce the specifications for software that would pave the way for votes to be audited in a crowdsourced, tamperproof fashion. Crucially, this technology would enable anyone to verify the counts of existing election authorities — helping to boost confidence in the final results.
Luca Patrick, who ended up winning the contest, created specifications for software that is tailored toward Latin American countries such as Guatemala, where vote rigging claims have gone hand in hand with political instability. He received 30,000 TON Crystals for his contribution.
“The election process is such an obvious problem in so many countries. I’ve been thinking of solutions and their different applications for a few years now. When I saw that I could actually put some of them into action through Free TON, I was quite excited,” he explained.
Game mechanics are a key part of his concept, where those counting the results mine tokens which are locked up. Those who check the vote counters’ work then unlock these digital assets if the results are correct — an on-chain model that rewards honesty.
The next stage of the process will focus on bringing Luca’s concept to life — and a contest has been launched to find the team that will be responsible for development and following the specification closely.
For Carlos Toriello, a Free TON jury member who backed Luca’s winning entry, the magic of his proposal centered on how countries wouldn’t require existing voting systems to be changed — nor does it attempt to introduce electronic voting.
“There is too much waste by elections authorities that haven’t realized that blockchain can save them millions while also dramatically increasing the speed of independent audits,” he added.
Toriello has been campaigning for this sort of technology as part of a wider initiative called Fiscal Digital, following concerns of voter fraud that arose in 2019’s Guatemalan election.
The group’s goal is to publish fully audited election results that are replicable before election authorities publish their own — and it has the ambition of verifying results in real time by 2023. It’s hoped that Free TON’s infrastructure will help turn this target into a reality.
He explained: “This year, Latin America will see presidential elections in Chile, Perú, Nicaragua and Honduras — while there will be legislative elections in Mexico, El Salvador and Argentina. I believe we will see much violence as a result of lack of trust in the voting systems, giving autocratic leaders the excuse they need to curtail democratic rights. Much of this could be prevented if better technology was used to enable anyone to verify election results.”
Faster results and reduced cost would be compelling reasons for countries to embrace blockchain in the vote auditing process. The fact that anyone can verify results for themselves could also help restore much-needed confidence in an election’s outcome — and in some countries, this could end up saving lives.
Voting Evolved: Blockchain Tech Outshines Paper Ballots And E-Voting
The right kind of synergy between blockchain and biometrics will unleash the power of decentralized voting.
Voting is a very important part of any democracy, as it gives its citizens the chance to participate in the democratic governance process. In a democracy, the objective of voting is not just the creation of government but a collective effort that drives the interests of the society and the economy.
The fundamental objective of voting across the world is to ensure that it happens in a fair and transparent way. The traditional ballot system has existed for years, but it’s safe to say now that it has outlived its time. Challenges, such as double voting, spurious votes and ballot privacy concerns, have been in the news time and again showing the inefficiency of the existing system.
Plus, the cost of organizing ballot voting at scale is expensive and is time-consuming. For example, India spent close to $8 billion in its 2019 national elections and took approximately 40 days to finish the entire voting process.
Therefore, we can safely say that the traditional voting system has disadvantages not only when it comes to security and the time it consumes but also with the cost to organize the entire process in a seamless way.
Is Internet Voting The Solution?
Can we then say that internet voting is the solution to all the problems faced by the existing traditional ballot system? Internet voting pilot projects have been implemented across the world but have been discontinued after a while.
Economic challenges, such as internet accessibility, learning and adapting to the new voting style by the population, can still be overcome with development and training.
But the risks related to security (computer viruses/hacking) and scalability mechanisms are the ones that limit the pilot. Also, internet voting also cannot essentially guarantee one vote per one person, and the high cost of implementing it affects the implementation further.
Is Blockchain-Backed Voting The Solution?
Blockchain tech implementation for voting definitely is a good option, as the decentralized consensus protocol ensures security up to a certain limit, which is more secure than the current centralized way of voting.
But Then It Gives Rise To Certain Challenges Like:
* Scalability: Blockchains today are not scalable.
On the Ethereum blockchain, only 15 transactions can be validated per second. This means that as the number of voters increases, blockchain voting takes way more time to finish the voting process.
For example, when the second smallest country in the world, Tuvalu, with a population of 10,600, plans to do its elections on the Ethereum blockchain, for example, it would take close to 11.5 minutes (10,600/15 = 706 seconds) for the entire voting process to be completed, but considering a country such as India, which has a population of 1.4 billion, it would easily take around three years for the entire voting process to finish on the Ethereum blockchain.
These kinds of time frames are practically impossible in a large democracy to even consider.
Energy Consumption: Blockchains consume way more energy than any system present.
For example, the Ethereum blockchain consumes 1.02 kilowatt-hours per transaction. In a country like Tulavu, the energy consumption for blockchain voting turns out to be 10.8 megawatt-hours, which will not have any considerable negative impact on the environment. But on the other hand, for a populous country like India, blockchain voting, if implemented with Ethereum, will end up consuming 1,428 gigawatt-hours.
Energy cost not only turns out to be very high but it will end up having a negative (if not devastating) impact on the environment as well.
Security: Even though blockchains are secure, they are prone to 51%, where malicious nodes occupy 51% or more of the network. Since voting is something that could change the state of an economy, chances for hacking/fraud are very high.
Identity: Existing blockchains cannot ensure a completely decentralized identity, too.
How Should Blockchains Protocols Be Designed Then To Be Scalable, Secure And Less Energy-Consuming?
For Scalability. Instead of all nodes validating all transactions, only a subset of randomly selected nodes can validate a transaction. This way, the entire network can, in a coordinated way, validate over a million transactions.
In a network, only 200 randomly selected nodes are needed to validate a transaction with 99.999999999% confidence.
Energy Consumption. The proof-of-work algorithm designed in Bitcoin (called HashRate PoW) should be replaced with a PoW that consumes less energy since only 200 nodes are needed to validate a transaction. The order of energy consumption needs to ideally be 3.6 billion times less energy-consuming than Bitcoin.
Security. The above hypergeometric distribution demonstrates that even with 90% malicious nodes in the network, only 200 randomly selected nodes are enough to validate a transaction. Therefore, the security of the blockchain should be higher: not 51% or 66%, but 90%.
Blockchain Combined With Biometrics
Blockchain tech coupled with biometrics is the ideal solution for the voting process. The blockchain protocol, of course, should be scalable, involve few validating nodes, consume less energy and be highly secure.
The biometrics should also protect personal data, encrypt/decrypt data/messages, it should have tamper-proof authentication and comply with the General Data Protection Regulation in the European Union.
Presently, there are no players that have been effectively able to combine both blockchain and biometrics to offer a solution for voting.
Going by the challenges that we have discussed above, the truth is that in this internet era, if blockchain truly has to enable a seamless voting system of free and fair elections, it has to be combined with biometrics.
The debate and discussion will be around for a while on how the internet and the blockchain will eventually disrupt or not disrupt the voting process. For example, a recent article published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory pointed out that moving to blockchain-enabled voting doesn’t remove the risk of failures. Such a move can go from bad to worse. Nonetheless, it’s not impossible to declare victory in this domain and keep our elections 100% secure and fair.
Kenyan Electoral Commission Nominee Clamors For Blockchain Voting
One electoral commission aspirant in Kenya said that the country should consider adopting blockchain-based voting.
Justus Abonyo, former chair of Kenya’s Social Democratic Party and current candidate for commissioner of the country’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), has called for the adoption of blockchain voting.
According to a report by Kenyan news outlet, The Star, Abonyo spoke of this while appearing before the selection committee overseeing the appointment of IEBC commissioners at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre on Thursday.
Detailing his support for blockchain voting adoption, Abonyo said such a move would have significant, cost savings benefits of up to 300%, stating:
“The cost of a ballot in Kenya ranges between $7 to $25 (700 shillings to 2,500 shillings). If we use blockchain technology, this cost will go down to ~$0.5 (50 shillings). This is an area I would explore as a commissioner.”
The IEBC commissioner aspirant also argued that adopting blockchain voting will also help to improve the transparency and security of Kenya’s elections. Abonyo’s call for adopting the novel tech also comes as the country prepares for another general election in 2022.
Kenya’s previous presidential polls back in 2017 were reportedly marred by accusations of IEBC’s electronic voting system being compromised. These claims were further given credence by the murder of the IEBC’s IT manager days before the polls.
The jury is still out on the effectiveness of blockchain voting, with MIT cybersecurity experts stating back in November 2020 that voting systems based on the novel tech carried “severe risks” to democracy.
Indeed, some recent deployments of blockchain-based voting protocols have come under performance scrutiny. In July 2020, reports emerged that the system utilized in Russia’s constitutional amendment vote back in 2020 allowed constituents and even third-party entities to decipher the ballots cast.
Meanwhile, Abonyo is not the first to offer blockchain as a panacea for ensuring security and transparency in the country. As previously reported by Cointelegraph, David Robinson, the regional anti-corruption advisor at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, stated back in November 2020 that Kenyan authorities could use blockchain as a tool to fight corruption.
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