Voting via the blockchain: experiments and feedback
Blockchain, as a decentralized system for controlling and storing information, offers an efficient alternative to traditional online voting. While traditional online voting, conducted centrally, comes up against the possible corruptibility and fallibility of the voting administrator, the blockchain promises a secure vote – that is to say inviolable – whose result, transparent and reliable , is auditable by all.
The innovative strength of voting in the blockchain is based on the fact that the recording of votes is no longer the responsibility of a centralized authority but of a so-called “peer-to-peer” relationship, that is to say decentralized, a computer network that allows participants to do without a central server. Thus we go from a “single point of failure” (SPOF) or “single point of failure” – that is to say the point of a computer system on which the entire system depends – to a secure recording by all network computers. This ensures perfect transparency of the vote.
Curious to put this principle to the test and see its advantages, BELEM developed for the political movement We Citizens a voting solution via the blockchain for its regional and departmental elections held from April 4 to 7, 2016. A first in Europe. The experiment addressed both the shortcomings of traditional online voting and the ethical and democratic demands of the We Citizens political party. With blockchain, voting gives every citizen the opportunity to participate directly in the public debate without relying on the trust of a third party and thus becomes an absolutely democratic act.
The voting process
During our experiment for Nous Citoyens, we used the Ethereum blockchain designed to allow its users to create public and secure databases.
At the opening of the election, each voter received an email containing the link to the voting page. Once there, the voter could make their choice in a simple way, by clicking on one of the options offered, as shown in the simulation below:
As soon as his choice was validated, the voter received a vote confirmation email with a link allowing him to access the registration of his vote in the blockchain (diagram below). He could thus verify that his vote had been taken into account. Now an integral part of the Ethereum blockchain, it could not be modified or deleted.
At the end of the vote, the participants had access to the results of the election. In the event of a dispute or disagreement, they could browse the Ethereum blockchain on a transaction viewing site like Etherchain to find all the votes for the election.
The mechanics of voting
Let us take a look at the summary of the vote received by the voter. It contains the details of the vote (date and time, option chosen which can be found in the gray cartridge at the bottom of the frame) as well as the elements necessary for its validation in the blockchain.
Each vote is actually a transaction, identified by a number, going from point A (here “from”) to point B (here “to”), and recorded in a numbered block of the blockchain. The sending address and the receiving address are the same for all voters. During the regional and departmental elections of Nous Citoyens, around ten elections were organized simultaneously, each election having its own reception address, but all sharing the same transmission address. Each transaction contains the details of the vote, i.e. the option chosen by the voter.
The issue address (circled in red) is that of the safe that provides the funds necessary for the recording of votes. Indeed, each transaction has a cost, this cost being used to remunerate the miners who ensure the security of the blockchain and the validation of the transaction. This cost is borne by the organizer of the vote who pays into a virtual bank account the funds necessary for the implementation of the election, that is to say the sum equivalent to the number of transactions planned. The amount of the validation of the transaction is expressed in “gas”, that is to say a unit of “gasoline” or currency whose price is fixed by the system, and in Ether (currency of Ethereum) which is exchanged in Euros on the foreign exchange market.
Here is an excerpt from the summary of all transactions that started from the same issuing address. You’ll notice that the receiving addresses vary, each referring to a specific election:
The receiving address (circled in blue) is that of a “Smart Contract”, a computer program that replicates the execution of a classic contract between two parties, here between the different actors of the blockchain. The Smart Contract that we programmed for the We Citoyens elections was very simple: it only received the content of the transaction and thus counted the number of votes for each option. Its objective was only to count the votes.
The compiled code of the Smart Contract is made public (as below where it appears in the gray box) so that the election results are accessible and auditable by all.
We were able to confirm the effectiveness of the blockchain vote. It is an undeniable technological innovation because it makes it possible to organize a reliable and transparent election, a clear optimization of the digital vote as it was practiced until then. However, we observed two pitfalls that would need to be corrected for a very large-scale vote such as a presidential election for example.
Indeed, voting via the blockchain cannot for the moment fully replace physical voting, the only system to date capable of truly certifying the identity of the voter and guaranteeing the secrecy of the voting booth. We do not yet have the technical means necessary to verify the identity of the voter: nothing can today counter the hacking of the mailbox, identity theft or influence games. We can imagine that in the near future the exercise of online voting will be associated with a biometric sensor that would allow voters to identify themselves reliably and thus ensure the validity of their identity.
In addition, the validation of each transaction takes a few minutes. For a very large-scale election, with several million participants, it would be necessary to organize the vote over several days to avoid saturation of the blockchain. The physical vote, it usually does not take more than a day.
However, remember that physical voting is much more costly, in terms of time, staff mobilization and money. It can also be the object of embezzlement. While voting via the blockchain cannot now fully replace physical voting, it nevertheless has many advantages to consider:
protection against loss of records and erasure of data
transparent and auditable results by all
flexibility in creating new votes and polls
Romain Rouphael is the co-founder of BELEM, a start-up exploring the applications of “blockchain” technology. A graduate of ESSEC, he specializes in FinTech and Data Science.
Como Jean Jarry is the co-founder of BELEM, a start-up exploring the applications of “blockchain” technology. Previously, he was an Executive Director at Daiwa Securities Group in Hong Kong.
Photo credit: Fotolia, royalty-free stock images, vectors and videos
Read also: What is blockchain?