Security

Blockchain could bring electronic voting to Australia by 2017

Australia's government-owned postal service recently announced plans to test digital voting via blockchain technology to increase efficiency.

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Australia plans to use blockchain technology to allow citizens to vote online, as reported by Chris Duckett on TechRepublic's sister site ZDNet.

In a recent submission to the Victorian Electoral Matters Committee, the government-owned postal service said that digital voting would offer convenience, faster counting, efficiency, reduced costs, and transparency.

Blockchain is the digital ledger system where digital currency transactions (such as Bitcoin trading) are recorded and stored. It is emerging above Bitcoin itself as the system with the most value in finance, insurance, and now, government.

"The emergence of crypto-currencies on the technology known as blockchain have highlighted opportunities to repurpose that technology to capture various digital transactions in immutable, distributed and secure ways," said Tim Adamson, Australia Post state director of Victorian Government and Tasmania, in the submission. "In many ways voting is an ideal use case for blockchain technology application beyond cryptocurrency."

A remote digital voting solution would require a strong identity verification tool, in lieu of the face-to-face confirmation that occurs at polling stations, the submission noted. The blockchain system would be able to verify voter identities, securely transmit information, and protect against unauthorized access. It would also offer "tamper-proof protection against cybersecurity risks, fraud, and misuse," Adamson said. Finally, the digital voting would be location agnostic, so people could log in and vote from anywhere.

SEE: Bitcoin & Blockchain, Attorneys at Law: One firm's big switch

The Australia Post's plan involves a vote being an electronic transaction whereby a number of voting "credits" can be "spent" by the voter, the submission detailed. Permission to vote would be secured through the use of secure digital access keys sent securely to each voter. A ballot would be cryptographically represented within the blockchain, with each vote linked to the voter through their preference choice stored within the blockchain, in a way that anonymises and protects that information from being publically accessible.

Once the election closes, the system would tally the results from the database. The votes would be verifiable by candidates and voters, while preserving the secrecy of the ballot, according to the submission.

As a start, Australia Post plans to use the digital voting system at a small, local level for corporate, civic, and community organizations, including universities. Then, it will tackle the more complex challenges of voting at a parliamentary scale with regulatory and legal constraints.

Adamson compared fears around the security of digital voting to those surrounding online banking 20 years ago.

"The acceptance and trust of digital payment solutions has led to its mainstream use, with card-less withdrawals, mobile based payment services and even crypto-currencies rapidly gaining adoption," Adamson said. "Voting is likely to follow a similar, if accelerated, path."

Western Australia is working toward using digital voting for its March 2017 election.

Building up blockchain

The digital voting move is not a surprise: Earlier this month at the annual Technology in Government conference, Australia Post Accelerator announced that it was exploring using blockchain in the area of identity, registries, and e-voting.

Australia Post Accelerator partner Rick Wingfield explained that, due to the pseudonymous nature of blockchain, people's votes would remain anonymous, similar to the current voting system. "You can't reverse engineer who somebody voted for and it's immutable and provides a ledger of all transactions," Wingfield said.

In January, Australia's biggest stock exchange, the ASX, confirmed that it was developing a private blockchain with US firm Digital Asset as a post-trade solution for the Australian equity market.

Russia is also currently testing a blockchain voting system.

In July, the UK started using blockchain to track the spending of welfare recipients, with the goal of creating a more effective, tamper-proof technology for the system. It could also potentially crack down on non-essential purchases such as alcohol or luxury foods.

Blockchain makes it possible to share a digital transactions ledger among a distributed network of computers, rather than a single company or government. As TechRepublic news editor Conner Forrest pointed out, it's ironic that a technology praised for its ability to limit oversight by governments is being used by governments to increase its oversight in financial transactions, and now electoral systems.

A recent report from the World Economic Forum predicted that blockchain will soon occupy a central place in the global financial system, with 80% of banks predicted to start blockchain projects by 2017, and $1.4 billion invested in the technology in the past three years.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Australia's government-owned postal service recently announced plans to use blockchain technology to allow citizens to vote online.
  2. In a submission to the Victorian Electoral Matters Committee, the postal service said that digital voting would offer convenience, rapid counting, efficiency, reduced costs, and transparency.
  3. Blockchain is emerging above bitcoin itself as the system with the most value in finance, insurance, and now, government. It remains to be seen how the tool that was meant to limit oversight will be used to oversee voting in Australia and government processes in other countries.

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About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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