The election process is one of many elaborate infrastructures in politics whose current fabric has been considered by some to be one of the most demoralizing aspects of governance. Malicious actors continue to jeopardize these processes by tampering with the voting results, manipulating the masses; and alongside cases of interference from external bodies, have oftentimes brought the integrity of election processes to question.
With a faulty electoral system, governance falls short of political standards even before public officers assume their duties. It goes without saying that the old ways of election processes need to be reviewed as they are cumbersome, and are becoming less practical as civilization needs are evolving and population growth is ever increasing.
A political epidemic
Election fraud spans all continents leaving no country without its blight, and its complexity in many forms has taken countries captive, with even so-called developed countries falling into its web. Data from The Heritage Foundation shows numerous counts of election fraud cases across American states; featuring falsified absentee ballots, ineligible voting, and vote-buying.
In Europe arguably, certain countries’ electoral bodies may deny the level of corruption existing in the system. However, as one source reported, the state of affairs after the recently concluded elections in Bulgaria last month the narrative becomes clearer. It suggested that:
“Bulgaria’s electoral body rarely detects the elusive electoral fraud patterns that so many Bulgarians talk about routinely in private.”
This statement followed the rather bizarre comment made by the president of Bulgaria’s Central Electoral Commission, Stefka Stoeva, who reportedly said: “Overall, the elections went according to the law. The complaints we received were few… and there were no serious violations.” Such remarks are common among many electoral bodies of different nations. However, the reality is often far from the narrative presented by those in governance.
Just before then, a report covering fresh evidence of Hungary vote-rigging – involving “vote-buying, voter intimidation, tampering with postal votes, missing ballots and election software malfunctions” –seemed to have troubled concerned citizens as another election approached. This increasingly proves the extensive lack of trust and transparency in the system.
Numerous other cases as seen in election-fraud from Malaysia, alleged evidence of “irregularities” in Thailand’s election, and others across the globe back the claim for a desperate need of an overhaul in election processes, especially in countries where the multiparty political system exists.
Supposedly, most societies have tried to embrace technology to move past the paper ballot system to an electronic voting (e-voting) system in order to address some of the daunting challenges with the former. Indeed, this implementation may have simply curbed human errors mostly due to counting ballot papers, which was also a major concern plaguing paper-based balloting. However, other system problems rage on.
Voting system dilemma
Despite these adaptations of election infrastructures to technology, e-voting, however, ported a host of other problems along with it. This is largely due to the fact that even as technologies complicate the process, one aspect remained unaffected – the human factor. The susceptibility of technology to security breach such as hacks is the most pronounced problem with e-voting systems. This has pushed some countries to roll-back their voting system, tending to re-embrace paper and pen voting system.
But with emerging technologies like the blockchain, many wonder if the technology can provide an all-encompassing platform for e-voting to thrive, as places such as Sierra Leone and US state of West Virginia are among a few to launch a pilot for the enterprise. Although not everyone thinks blockchain-based voting should be scaled to replace current systems, or at least that’s what West Virginia Secretary of State’s deputy chief of staff Michael Queen thinks. She told Washington Post: “Secretary Warner has never and will never advocate that this is a solution for mainstream voting”, implying the pilot was only an inclusion mechanism for the overseas military population.
Another who seem to share Michael’s opinion from a logical standpoint is professor Matthew Green, a cryptographic lecturer at John Hopkins University have also voiced their concerns of a wide-scale blockchain-based e-voting system:
Why blockchains don’t solve the voting problem. Part 1/833837
Large-scale voting requires a number of complicated properties. People need to be assured that their vote will be accurately recorded and counted. But votes also have to remain secret.
— Matthew Green (@matthew_d_green) August 28, 2018
Another proponent for blockchain-based voting Jocelyn Bucaro, Deputy Director of Elections at Denver Clerk and Recorder, Denver Elections Division, currently handling the tasks of directing the administration of all elections thinks highly of the initiative to explore blockchain-based voting in Denver. She said:
“We believe this technology has the potential to make voting easier and more secure not only for our active-duty military and overseas citizens but also for voters with disabilities, who could potentially vote independently and privately using their phones’ assistive technology.”
Do votes really count?
If history has taught anything about politics, it is the lack of a global standard for free and fair elections. Laden with distrust – largely due to the number of human entities involved in the election process; vote counting and assessment have always brought about a great divide among factions of political interests. There have been extreme cases of incited riots and violence accompanying dashed hopes from either election candidates or a faction of the electorate.
The sadder truth about the reality of votes is the fact that opinionated polls about events and policies are far more trusted, public, and considerably more valuable than actual electoral voting of new government officials.
A wind of change: more elections implement the technology
The amazing thing about the blockchain is how it has become an intriguing open system to many of the real-world applications spanning economic, social and political purviews. With regards to political interest, one of the foremost studies on the application of blockchain technology involves election processes, which has led many to believe the blockchain could offer solutions to some of the long-standing issues regarding elections.
While making a case for blockchain-based e-voting, intelligence platform CB Insights recounted the desperate efforts by the US intelligence officials, and an attempt by Social Media giant Facebook to monitor malicious activities regarding elections on its platform. A former chief security officer at Facebook, Alex Stamos, was quoted saying it was “too late to protect the 2018 elections”. This may have been due to the complexity of election-related corruptions.
Could blockchain really help provide a lasting solution? Certainly, as a handful of pilot studies have revealed the technology could offer decentralized trust, transparency and irrefutability of election data due to its immutability. Moreover, CB Insight further recounted the experience of First Lieutenant Scott Warner, who said: “In the same amount of time that I could’ve pulled up and watched a YouTube video, I actually got to go perform my civic duty”, illustrating the time-saving properties of the blockchain.
Perhaps after grinding at the problem for so long, many governments are now more open-minded to emerging solutions outside the norms as can be seen by rapid adoption in blockchain-based e-voting systems such as in Moscow, Thailand, Denver, and Seoul. Startups such as Voatz, and Agora, among many others, are offering the possibility of tapping into the properties of the blockchain technology and leveraging its perks to further bolster the election processes.
Paper ballots may soon be history, as it appears, blockchain-based voting systems are rapidly being adopted around the globe. Transcending the traditional e-voting systems, blockchain-based voting is bound to turn the election process right-side-up, possibly ending conflicts and restoring faith in the system.
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