Blockchain to revolutionize elections?

Changing one’s mind, real-time querying of the ballot box during an election, and instant results are some of the benefits to a blockchain-based election mechanism

Blockchain to revolutionize elections?
Credit: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Shell-shocked from the startling Brexit vote, followed by back-to-back political convention diatribes coddling Twitter streams and big screens, one could ask—surfacing briefly from a media device—have elections changed all that much over the years?

The answer must be yes, and that’s partly because of the speed at which public opinion gets spread by social media. We all knew the Brits regretted Brexit within moments of the result being called. And we haven’t needed journalists to tell us what some, collectively, think of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

+ Also on Network World: Google wants you to be able to vote online +

One remarkable thing, though, is that given all the tech available, we still need to attend a voting booth, trust a counting system (remember hanging chads) and wait for the votes to be counted. The speed at which the election takes place, doesn’t match the speed of our media.

And it’s not necessary, some developers say. Blockchain could be adapted for elections to allow early voting from smartphones; allow second-by-second, public audit transparency of the ballot; allow you to change your vote right up to the poll close; and provide instant results right then and there.

Follow My Vote is a blockchain-based voting software solution that promises to revolutionize elections.

It works along the same principals as Bitcoin, where an encrypted ledger is distributed using computer power. That open-source, secure, peer-to-peer asset maintenance and payment system could be mimicked for numerous other purposes, many say.

That includes banking, distributed patient medical data, real estate transactions and elections. I wrote about a private blockchain operating system recently that promises to fix banking software problems.

Follow My Vote says its system, as with other blockchains, removes vulnerabilities. Fraud, external influence such as intimidation, miscounting and other shenanigans are eliminated.

Plus, voting would join the 21st century à la social media. The individual’s actual vote, not just his post-vote tweet or polling station’s exit poll, becomes an element in play on election day.

Transparency is a benefit, too, the organization says of yet-to-be adopted software.

How blockchain works

Roughly, blockchain works by securely managing a database via network nodes that all maintain a copy of the ledger. It’s supposedly impossible to scam because each node has a copy of the database, and the pending transactions, added in a block, are determined as valid through hash markings.

Each new block includes a hash function that must correlate to the previous block—thus the “chain” in the term. If it doesn’t match up, the block is rejected.

Follow My Vote sees webcams and government-issued identification being used along with smartphones for voters to log in.

“After they’ve selected their candidates, they can use their unique Voter ID to quite literally open the ballot box, locate their vote and check that it is both present and correct,” the company says. The voter then watches the election in real time, switching his vote as he pleases.

Follow My Vote has been demonstrating its blockchain proof of concept successfully at “several events.”

“Let’s face it. No one except for election officials really knows what happens to your vote once you cast it,” the organizations’ website says.

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