West Virginia will be testing blockchain-based voting on smartphones for military members serving overseas. This has caused a lot of people—from your expected alarmists to reputable security researchers—to scream a little. So what should you know about blockchain and voting? How about these five things?
SEE: Quick glossary: Blockchain (Tech Pro Research)
- Proving who you are shouldn't be a problem. There are robust methods to prove identity, and the system West Virginia is testing is much more rigorous than the method used for paper ballots. Registrants will have to upload their ID, answer questions about themselves that only they should know, and prove their residency. The account can be secured with two-factor authentication and phone-based biometrics, such as a fingerprint.
- It's easier to vote. You have the voting booth with you, and you tap to select your choices in a clear, and hopefully well-designed, manner. No more driving to the polling place, looking for parking, worrying about being late for work, etc.
- It's transparent. Votes on a blockchain are publicly verifiable in a way that effectively cannot be tampered with. Unlike paper ballots, everybody can watch the votes come in as they are made.
- Votes are secure. Each vote, as it is chained, is reproduced on multiple nodes (if the blockchain is implemented correctly), so it's not going to get lost. It's also not stored on a single server that could get hacked and altered.
- It's almost impossible to keep all these advantages and keep it anonymous. We need to prove a vote came from a registered voter without revealing who the voter is—that's something called "zero-knowledge proof." It's absolutely mathematically possible to do a zero-knowledge proof, but nobody has quite cracked how to do it in a blockchain voting system yet.
Yeah, it's that last one that's making the security researchers scream; plus, the general problem of the human being the weakest link in any security effort. But hey, with some math and better security hygiene, it still might be possible. Someday.
- Japanese city trials blockchain to replace traditional voting booth (ZDNet)
- Could blockchain be the missing link in electronic voting? (ZDNet)
- IT leader's guide to the blockchain (Tech Pro Research)
- Blockchain Decoded (CNET)
- Blockchain: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
- 5 signs that blockchain will hit wide enterprise adoption soon (TechRepublic)
Tom is an award-winning independent tech podcaster and host of regular tech news and information shows. Tom hosts Sword and Laser, a science fiction and fantasy podcast, and book club with Veronica Belmont. He also hosts Daily Tech News Show, covering the most important tech issues of the day with the smartest minds in technology.