Blockchain secures e-voting, eliminates concerns of voter fraud

Innovative security newbs compete to create a blockchain technology solution for securing digital voting systems

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What if technology allowed for a more secure and streamlined voting process during elections? Citizens could cast their votes via secure digital voting systems, ensuring voter privacy, while mitigating the risks of voter fraud.

Students from 19 universities in the U.S. and UK came one step closer to making this a reality when they competed in Kaspersky Lab's Cybersecurity Case Study Competition, hosted by The Economist’s Which MBA? site.

Each team was required to address these five points in its submission:

  • Privacy and the ability to check votes- How will your digital voting system ensure voter privacy? How will you guarantee that each voter is unique and can still test how their vote was tallied?
  • Voting under duress- Since voting may no longer occur in a secure space, how will you mitigate the risk of voting under duress? Will your solution pose performance issues or present new abuse potential? If so, how will you address these?
  • Availability of interim results- Where countries may legally prohibit the publication of interim results, how will your digital voting system ensure that data cannot be seen until the end of the voting process?
  • Undecideds- How will you handle undecided voters or those who wish to abstain? How can you ensure that these ‘blank’ votes aren’t being used to fraudulently support a candidate?
  • Voting aftermath- Once the votes have been counted, there is always the possibility that voters will contest the election. What mechanism is in place to address these claims?

The grand prize winner was the team from New York University, for their submission of Votebook: A proposal for a blockchain-based electronic voting system.

Team member and NYU student Kevin Kirby said, "Blockchain is a really useful tool for certain applications. There's a buzz and hype around it, but it’s pretty legit for use."

The team found that blockchain had many advantages. Kirby said, "It’s distributed in many different places. With so many copies, there’s no single point of failure. There's also control over who can implement changes."

Describing how they approached streamlining the election process with the use of blockchain technology, Kirby said, "Any new addition to the ledger, a new block, has to chain together all the other blocks of the previous ledger through cryptography."

Sturdy hash function also enhance the security of digital voting. "If my hash of the ledger matches your hash, we know we have matching copies of the same ledger," said Kirby.

The strengths of their idea, said Kirby, was that they wanted a system that was easy to implement and required very little change from the average voter. "We didn’t want voters to have to understand blockchain, so we kept change management at a minimum."

What also landed their submission to first place was that they did not want to do online voting. "The prompt sort of prompted us to think in that direction of digital or e-voting that voters are able to do online, but there's a unanimous collection of researchers saying you can’t have an online voting system that is secure when done remotely because there is no paper trail," Kirby said.

The team knew they wanted a paper trail, which meant they were designing a technology to be use for in-person voting with onsite security. They focused on the ballot booth where voters are physically there and completely rejected an online remote platform.

What Kirby learned from his win is that the concept of secure digital voting seems so feasible, he said. "This really could be rolled out without a ton of difficulty. It doesn’t need to be rolled out nationally, but I'm pretty excited about the feasibility," Kirby said.

Given the ongoing debate over how widespread the hacking or voter fraud issues were in this past election, there remains an enormous public distrust of the system, and Kirby said, "That is something we should look at. Blockchain is a mechanism to do that. Whoever voted can go home login in a private way and check that their vote was counted."

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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