The state of Lightning Network
Followmyvote is a platform that allows online voting using blockchain technology. The technology consists of an authentication and registration process of voters, digital counting and a public explorer. Before I describe how FollowMyVote allows the voting with blockchain, I first describe the current process in the Netherlands. I will mention the problems, what solutions exist, and why these solutions do not eventually meet the requirements.
The current voting process in the Netherlands
With the Provincial States and the elections of the “waterschappen” coming, the electoral struggle starts again. On 20 March, people again flock with their stempas and a valid ID at the polling station, after which they receive an anonymous ballot. With the well-known red pencil they color a box on the ballot, after which the votes are manually counted by the volunteers of the polling station at the end of the day.
A report shall be drawn up by the polling office. It collects all the information from the polling station: The valid votes, the invalid votes, the blank votes, the number of voting cards, the number of voters admitted in respect of the number of ballots in the ballot box, and any registered objections. De processen-verbaal gaan eerst naar de gemeenten, dan naar de 20 hoofdstembureaus en uiteindelijk worden ze doorgestuurd naar de kiesraad (het centraal stembureau). At each instance, the minutes of the previous (smaller) instances are merged and added together. In the case of the main voting bureaus and the electoral council, this is based on a session to deal with the reports and any objections submitted. The Electoral Council will publish the official results of the election after its session.
This process has been designed in this way since 1917. After more than 100 years, it is not difficult to imagine that this will bring about the necessary problems, and that it may be time for a modernisation.
Problems contemporary voting process
The first problem with the current voting process is the sensitivity to corruption and fraud. In elections, the interests are large, and emotions sometimes run high. Elections are sometimes not as democratic and flawless as we wish they are.
“It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.” – Joseph Stalin
Countries such as Turkey, Russia, Bangladesh, Congo and recently also Venezuela There are doubts about the functioning of democracy. Elections are often accompanied by alleged corruption and unrest in these countries.
In addition to deliberate fraud, there are sufficient reasons, also in the Netherlands, that not all votes will be counted. In this way, unintentional mistakes can be made during the processing of the verbal processes, for example by volunteers from the polling station, at the municipalities, at the main voting bureaus or at the central polling station. In addition, the necessary physical presence in this way of voting can be a problem. Physical problems, lack of time, or other prioritisation may lead to the fact that not all voters are likely to see their voice put in a voting counter.
In addition, the current voting process is inefficient, which can sometimes lead to a long time between the closure of the ballot boxes and the official results of the elections. In The Netherlands there are two countings: a counting at the party level and a counting at the candidate level. With the quick counting the preliminary result can be made known the same evening. The count at the candidate level determines the final result and takes a lot longer. A good example of this is the result of the second chamber elections in 2017. The polling station closed on 15 March 2017 at 21:00. The final result was only announced on 21 March 2017 at 16:00. In other countries it can take much longer. For example, in the United States every vote of each county is counted, verified and then certified by the local counties and finally also by the state election Board. By this it can take several weeks before the official result is known.
A final problem with the current voting process is the environmental impact. Voters often come to the polling station with motorized transport, and the voice passes and the ballot papers consume a lot of paper.
Despite these shortcomings, this 100-year-old method has always been used today. In the meantime, several adjustments have been made, but these have not been proven to be tenable by various problems.
New solutions and new problems
The Voting computer
In order to make the voting process more efficient and environmentally friendly, the Netherlands in the years 90 introduced the Voting computer. in the years 90 These computers were still in the voting booth, but nevertheless had the necessary advantages over the paper system:
- Paper savings;
- less to no counting mistakes;
- Faster results.
The rearon we stopped with the computers has mainly to do with fraud sensitivity. Hackers and scientists have often proven to be manipulating voting computers. The data of the voting computers is stored in one central system, which means that only one system has to be broken. The interests in elections are too large to take this risk.
The idea of online voting goes a step further than the voting computer. Bringing your vote from your own home could bring many benefits. It could take away the barrier for people who do not want or can physically come to a polling station. It is likely that this would allow more people to vote, which would make the voting process more inclusive and more democratic. In addition, it would be less environmentally damaging because no more transport would have to be taken to the polling station, and there would be less paper been used.
Yet is online voting never been introduced, because this solution also has problems. Like the voting computer, this system mainly has short comings in the area of fraud sensitivity. The central platform and database can be hacked, making it possible for people to cast multiple votes or modify data in the database. Another point of care is whether the voter’s voice is anonymous. The online vote could easily be traced to the voter. Finally, a problem with online voting is that there is still a central entity that manages the platform, processes the data and brings out the results. The centralization of so much power within one entity is worrying in a situation where such high interests as in elections.
Online voting with blockchain technology
Online voting with blockchain technology has the potential to address the problems mentioned above. With blockchain technology, the process of collecting, counting, and publishing to central bodies can be removed and made transparent, and the anonymity of voters can also be guaranteed. In addition, the decentralised nature of a blockchain network can minimize the possibility of fraud and errors.
FollowMyVote, how does it work?
As explained briefly in the introduction, FollowMyVote enables voice-enabled voices through a mobile app or website with reliable authentication, special voter registration, a digital counting and transparent public explorer. The FollowMyVote software is open source. That means that the code of their application is transparent to everyone and therefore to check. This transparency brings confidence in the process and the software.
FollowMyVote initially built their system on the BitShares platform, but the platform can easily run on a different blockchain. For every use case can be decided which platform fits best. The voting process of FollowMyVote and its technology is explained in the following paragraphs.
Before someone can vote, that person must prove that he or she is entitled to vote. The authentication process can be passed well before the elections, whereby the user uploads photos from the face and the front and back of an identity document via the FollowMyVote website or mobile app. Then an independent third party verifies the identity and the voting rights of the user. In order to prevent the unlawful exclusion of elections, rejection is only possible with a clear explanation. The authentication process can be completed within a few minutes (see movie).
This authentication of FollowMyVote is similar to traditional authentication in polling agencies. Also there, verifying third parties identify and voting rights on the basis of an identity document and electoral list. Other options for online verification that do not use identity documents would include the use of DigID, IDIN or NotarisID .
Once authentication is complete, the voter receives a single digital token and a voting ID that is authorized to vote. The voting happens because the voter sends the token to the wallet of the candidate to be chosen, similar to sending regular Crypto’s, where the votes are written as a transaction in the blockchain. Now, if you send “normal” crypto tokens from your wallet to a different wallet, this can be traced so that anonymity could be in the proceedings. Because this is undesirable in the case of a sensitive issue, Followmyvote Use of elliptic-curve cryptography and a special registration process. Together, this ensures that the token that the voter sends cannot be traced back to the identity of the voter. The following section explains how the registration process is designed.
The voter sends the encrypted token to the so-called registrar, an automated registration process. The Registrar checks whether it is the first time the token is offered. If this is the case, the token will receive a digital stamp that will authenticated the token to vote as soon as it is unlocked later. The voter receives the authorized token together with a digital vote-ID, both of which cannot be redirected to the identity of the voter. The token and the vote-ID are actually a kind of digital pencil and ballot.
The tokens are automatically unlocked on election day so they can be used to vote. They are sent to the registrar by the voter together with the vote-ID to verify that the vote-ID has not previously reached this step. After that verification, the voter can safe and anonymously release his or her vote by clicking on the desired politician and confirming the choice, after which the token is sent to the relevant wallet.
After the voters have cast their votes, they will be able to check the public Explorer to see if their voice has been processed in the blockchain. The blockchain is a Public Ledger in which all transactions are stored, and the explorer provides a user-friendly way of publicly understanding all transactions in the ledger. For example, the voter can verify that the voice is actually counted from his or her electoral ID, and that all other votes come from legitimate electoral IDs. But because the elector IDs are not to be redirected to the identity of individual voters, anonymity is guaranteed.
Criticism of blockchain in elections
Much has been written about the application of blockchain technology in elections, which also describes many care points. An important point for example is the guarantee of anonymity. By capturing and tracing transactions in a blockchain – as for example in Bitcoin – critics, a blockchain voice is easily redirected to the voter. According to these critics, anonymity is not to be guaranteed with blockchain. “The core of what a blockchain is, makes anonymity much more difficult to guarantee than in the current pencil and paper practice” (uit Medium.com). The FollowmyVote use case shows, however, that through good authentication, registration, and encryption processes, the privacy can be properly guaranteed in the blockchain.
Another point of concern is that the dependence on technology increases in elections. While this is the case, an important question is whether the elections would rather be dependent on human action or a new decentralised technology. History teaches us that human action is not always accompanied by streamlined and democratic elections. The increasing maturity of blockchain technology offers a more reliable alternative.
One last important point of concern that often mentioned is that a recount not possible is with blockchain. However, with the introduction of blockchain technology in elections, recounts will not apply at all. Recounts are made following suspicions of fraud or careless counting. The public ledger automatically counts the votes and each voter can check the count and legitimacy of other voices through the Explorer. A recount will therefore not be necessary.
The implementation of blockchain in elections, of course, brings with it new challenges. Authentication is one of them. On election day there are millions of people who want to vote. It is therefore important that those voters have been authenticateded before then and have come to the point in the process that they have received the locked token and the vote-ID (the digital ballot) from the registrar.
Also the transaction speed of the platform used for the election is a point of focus. For the Dutch elections, the platform will have to be able to handle more than 10 million transactions during the election day. These transactions will also not all be done perfectly throughout the day. Like during the rush hours there will be peaks. FollowMyVote can be built on the public Bitcoin platform. Bitcoin itself has a transaction speed of 3.3 to 7 transactions per second. This is too low for the Dutch elections. FollowMyVote can of course also run on a blockchain with higher transaction speeds. Therefore, more transactions can be written in a shorter time.
Finally, the platform must be accessible to all. For example, each voter must have access to the internet and a camera for authentication. Another possibility is to have the authentication done via DigID or IDIN. Accessibility for older people, who sometimes have difficulties with the use of new technologies, is also an important point of attention. The whole process must be very user-friendly, as many people should be able to use it in a short time frame. A helpdesk may have to be set up to accompany the voter in the process.
Transferring nationwide elections to a blockchain is a difficult and big step, for which there must be sufficient confidence in and support for the technology to exist. All possibilities and constraints must be tested properly, possibly in a smaller-scale voting process where interests are less than in national elections. Examples could be the Eurovision Song Contest or the election of the footballer of the Year. Through a number of successful test cases, confidence in technology could grow, making the application in political elections a step closer.
In this article I mainly dealt with the application of blockchain in the Dutch national elections. In other situations where democratic processes are more difficult, blockchain may offer even more advantages. The details in the application of blockchain in elections, such as the authentication process, will vary by country, but the main concept will remain broadly the same.
Voting with bloc chain has the potential to make the voting process easier, more environmentally friendly, more transparent and more resistant to fraud and corruption. There are no longer central instances that count the votes and manage the important data and everyone can control the voting process. It is therefore time to explore these possibilities further.
More about blockchain in government
At Xurux we are also engaged in the development of blockchain applications that can optimize the processes of the public authorities. We have done blockchain projects for IJssel municipalities and the Municipality of Haarlem .
Learning about blockchain in government
Xurux Academy offers Blockchain courses in which we continue to use blockchain applications within the public domain. For example, we offer a one-day blockchain course for a good basic knowledge, but also a three day Deep Dive in which we go deeper into the matter.