Blockchain Ethics

[Project Proposal] Crypto Voting: The U.S. Election

In the United States voter turnout is low (problem: lack of accessibility), and there is a severe security threat of foreign adversaries tampering with election systems (problem: lack of security).

In many jurisdictions, votes are tallied by “black box” machinery (problem: lack of transparency) and the tallied vote counts may only be questioned and audited when counts for candidates are close, or widely deviate from polls (problem: lack of verifiability).

In the midst of the “blockchain” hype, many blockchain advocates point to “voting on the blockchain” as a way to increase voter turnout and the integrity of the U.S. election system. At least one presidential candidate has even made it part of their platform.

Yet “voting on the blockchain” is underspecified – what does it mean? How would it work? Would it actually solve problems, and would it introduce new ones?

Many security experts are skeptical of e-voting, and for good reason. If people can vote remotely, is the secrecy of their vote lost? Vote secrecy is one of the mechanisms that prevents votes from being coerced or purchased.

continued in my google doc with the project proposal. Comments invited!


There are also some other cool things one could potentially do with voting systems that are not possible/practical without automation and cryptography. One example is blind vote delegation, where you can state that you want to vote in the same way as some other specified person for an election, effectively delegating your vote to someone who you may trust to have similar values and better information on that election. For something like ranked-choice, one could imagine even more complex specifications such as ‘put candidate x first, then follow the ranking of voter b’. One could also imagine something like conditional voting where votes change based on information observable to the system but not necessarily visible to the individual.

Both of these have issues of course, like election markets or election by influnecer, but they may be interesting ideas to explore.

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The integrity of the US election system is clearly of great importance. It seems to me that we couldn’t get to a blockchain-based solution in one go. Let’s say we developed a perfect technology for it - it still wouldn’t be trusted. So trust needs to get built up. That occurs in many small steps, where it is shown to work, and maybe mishaps are addressed. So for me the main question is this: where should blockchain-voting get tried out first? Which use case is feasible (in other words it can get paid for or preferably pay for itself), and is it a use case from which one can learn a lot to get towards the greater goal of integrity of the US electoral system.

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yes, my project will partly be about why internet voting would destroy the integrity of the U.S. election system.

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Thank you for this thoughtful project proposal @aberke!

Some gut-reactions (posting these here and will comment in your project proposal soon!) :

Integrating blockchain with voting doesn’t necessarily mean that people can vote remotely. While it is something that could be enabled, I don’t know if it is necessary. There might still be benefits such as third party verifiers that can keep track of votes through a permissioned blockchain (sorry Rhys). You still have to show up to vote, but it would be tracked and recorded on the blockchain. There are still some things to think about though, such as how do you allow for privacy in an immutable ledger. Maybe that’s in the form of getting a random private key that can’t be attached to you, to sign your vote when you go into a voting center.

Hi @bumangues
I agree! I will discuss this in the project, as well as previously explored ways that cryptographic voting does not even need to involve blockchain. I have seen little evidence that blockchains provide more benefits than complications in the research I have done for voting systems.

Thank you for these links @oceane!
I have been aware of Voatz, and following along to Professor Duncan Buell’s work regarding it. He coauthored a paper in May 2019 What We Don’t Know About the Voatz “Blockchain” Internet Voting System which is concerning. But Voatz is going to keep operating… Here is The contract between Denver, Tusk, Voatz, and NCC for the municipal election in Denver

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@aberke You should also check out Democracy Earth – theyve been doing some cool stuff in blockchain voting here.

yes thank you - they’re on my radar!