For the first time in Romania, the recent national parliamentary elections, which were held in November, used blockchain technology with the main purpose to guarantee the integrity of the electoral process and to strengthen its transparency. The government aimed to ensure tamper-proof and real-time data on voters’ presence.
There is still a way to go for the voters to be empowered to record, manage, count and check the votes themselves (without bypassing it to the electoral authorities) by allowing them to hold a copy of the voting record. However, the perspectives of fostering the development of a tech-enabled community consensus and of protecting the democratic values have been stated.
The novelty of using blockchain technology in Romanian elections
Blockchain technology has been adopted in various industries, where a chain of trust was needed for the flow of information, whereby any change brought to such flow was intended to be visible and marked. Elections proved to be a field where such technology would be of the utmost use in order to signal and prevent fraud, illegal voting (wrong person votes) or multiple voting by the same person or in more than one location.
The main value added resides in the fact that it clearly does not allow any alteration or amendment of the data recorded up to a certain moment, even by their administrators. It works similarly in other industries — it computes unique and unrepeatable data imprints, which are updated every five seconds. Any potential change in the information generates a new imprint, which further makes the respective change visible.
The information recorded was made available to the public through a specifically designated portal. For statistical purposes, this comes as another layer of trust to data and its sources, as well as the security of information.
In terms of red tape in Romania, the blockchain also helped with reporting post elections: The management of the minutes prepared in each voting section, which further resulted in lower costs with other devices and human resources.
Ideas of innovative blockchain technology revolutionizing voting were introduced in the European Union in 2016 when the European Parliament started to address their implications on the future of democracy of such a switch from the offline, paper-based process to a modern, simplified and easily tracked process.
Elections of political parties in Estonia, Norway and Switzerland have already applied blockchain technology, but it has been repeatedly recognized that proposals to use blockchain in national elections would have to comply with several other areas of European law, including privacy and data protection for voters, as well as accessibility for all citizens. In Russia, a DLT-based system was used for the 2019 Moscow elections.
Sierra Leone used a blockchain-based voting system for its presidential elections in 2018 and became the first country to do so, whereby blockchain was seen as a savior in election processes by ensuring uncorrupted elections in Africa.
Japan is currently envisaging to partner with a digital identity application in order to build a blockchain-based voting system of its own to be used for elections in the city of Kaga. The partnership plans on creating a stable and transparent election process, with the goal to verify voter identity and ensure only one ballot is issued per person, as well as allowing voters to check their result and that it was performed correctly on the blockchain network.
Academics and cybersecurity experts agree that DLT-based voting systems are still in the experimentation phase. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory do not consider blockchain voting technology as reliable, and it has released a paper showing that blockchain systems must mitigate the following risks:
- Ballot secrecy
- Software independence and contestability (An error in the software should not affect the outcome of the vote. If an error arises, can the ones managing the software agree that an error arose?)
- Voter verification and audits.
In principle, such voting requirements could be undermined by human intervention and cybersecurity attacks. The fintech space is riddled with theft examples.
However, using a two-step approach might be the path toward e-voting systems reaching maturity. Romania has already used a voting reporting tool, and the nation had numbers on voter turnout and additional statistics, which prove that applying blockchain technology in elections is possible.
This article was co-authored by Alexandru Stanescu and Ioana Mitu.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the authors’ alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.