Can blockchain be used to implement anonymous and fraud-proof voting?

A good proportion of the American media and Facebook over the past few months seems to have been devoted to concerns about U.S. election integrity.

Lyndon Johnson was apparently elected to the Senate in 1948 through fraud (see “Were American politics better 50 years ago?“). Maybe it isn’t crazy to worry that today’s politicians are also getting elected either due to money-driven fraud or Russian meddling.

I’m wondering if readers who have thought about the latest blockchain technologies can help me out here…

What if every American citizen had an electronic ID card (see Estonia: Tough campaign stop for Bernie Sanders for a reference to one system)? Then could we trivially develop a blockchain-based voting system where anyone interested could verify the vote tallies? But it wouldn’t be anonymous, right? Or maybe it could be pseudonymous? People would somehow be able to verify that the issued personal ID codes were valid but not tie them to individual identities? But now it isn’t in fact verifiable because how do we know that a Russian isn’t generating IDs and then voting for Trump (one thing that I learned: Russians love Trump!)?

If there is no way to use blockchain and keep voting anonymous, maybe we give up anonymous voting? (see “Get rid of the secret ballot?“) Through the miracle of Facebook, political sentiment isn’t truly anonymous anymore.

Maybe we could use blockchain and Estonian-style electronic IDs to address concerns about voting by dead people, non-citizens, etc. Checking people into a polling station could be done using blockchain and then anyone interested could verify to see who had voted. After that, if the concern is Russian manipulation of voting machines… what about having three voting machines at every polling station? One machine could be Windows-based, another Android-based, and the third one iOS-based. Have each voter vote three times. The machines upload data to three separate server farms, again running a diversity of operating systems. Can Russian hackers compromise, without detection, three entirely separate systems?

Readers: Is there anything we can do to stop these endless rounds of hand-wringing?

 

17 Comments

  1. Neal

    July 16, 2017 @ 1:24 pm

    1

    >What if every American citizen had an electronic ID card

    Isn’t this the hard/expensive part?

  2. Jackie

    July 16, 2017 @ 1:40 pm

    2

    Civil libertarians are (perhaps rightly) suspicious of national IDs.

    Democrats depend on a certain amount of voter fraud because most fraudulent votes are Democrat votes. Vote fraud happens mostly in big Democrat controlled cities with large minority populations. As non-urban whites (who are still the majority) increasingly vote Republican, Democrats need big city minority voters to even the score. They already get close to 100% of the black vote but in some cases they need 110%.

    So no one really wants to fix the voting system.

  3. Eric D Hanchrow

    July 16, 2017 @ 1:54 pm

    3

    I’ve been idly wondering about just this (“could you use blockchain tech for electronic voting”) for years. Emphasis on “idly” however 😐

  4. Ed M.

    July 16, 2017 @ 2:31 pm

    4

    National Voter ID cards would require voter verification, a non starter for Democrats who thrive on fraudulent voting.

    We retarded Libertarians would fight against a national id, but that would be a mistake.

    Personally, I would restrict the franchise to land-owning men*, that would MAGA in short order.

    –Ed

    *I do not own property.

  5. George A.

    July 16, 2017 @ 3:27 pm

    5

    We already have a voting system that works: pollsters.

    We should take the poll results from pollsters on the day of the election and call it a day. By doing so none of your FB friends would be upset today and this Russian influencing / meddling the election would be as bizarre as the news that Hillary spent all her life as public servant leaving off tax payers.

    Back to reality. In the news, there is almost no mention of pollsters getting it so wrong for the 2016 election. This is part of the issue why democrats are upset about this election. To them and to all Hillary supporters, the election was theirs to take, delivered on a silver-platter, but that didn’t happen no matter how outrageous Trump was.

    I remember watching the election results on election night. CNN was trying so hard to find a way to see how Hillary might still pull it off, but none of their scenarios worked out.

  6. Frank Miller

    July 16, 2017 @ 6:32 pm

    6

    No.

  7. Raleigh

    July 16, 2017 @ 8:52 pm

    7

    The Radiolab episode of The Ceremony (about the creation of ZCash) said that Bitcoin is not really anonymous. But I guess it is anonymous enough for voting. On my ballots in NC, they write a number on the ballot that can be traced back to me, so it’s sort of anonymous.

  8. ZZAZZ

    July 16, 2017 @ 8:55 pm

    8

    Representative democracy will work.

    Divide the population into eleven person voting blocks. Each block chooses one of the ten among themselves to represent the block at the next level of the hierarchy. Blocks that can’t back one of their members at least 6 to 1 lose their vote at the next level. Do this recursively until you reach a root block with about a thousand people who finally decide the winner.

    Every person can (is obligated to) verify that his vote was counted correctly by observing the voting in the parent block–ie. was the representative from my block the guy we voted for or not.

    Depending on your definition of fraud, it may or may not be completely fraud proof. If you voted up a schmuck, he can betray your group at the next level. And of course, representatives will come under outside pressure in the rarefied groups. But other kinds of fraud look squashed to me.

  9. Vince

    July 16, 2017 @ 9:39 pm

    9

    Back to reality. In the news, there is almost no mention of pollsters getting it so wrong for the 2016 election.

    The election was 8 months ago. There was plenty of discussion of polling failure at the time.

  10. jack crossfire

    July 16, 2017 @ 10:12 pm

    10

    Considering the forecasts for quantum computing, all privacy will be going away eventually. It’s going to require a massive change in thinking. Still, it’s not clear why data has to be public to be considered a blockchain. It’s like the arbitrary rule that startups must raise money in annual rounds rather than continuously.

  11. Ben Williams

    July 17, 2017 @ 11:59 am

    11

    These folks are working on such a system. When you register to vote, you’d be issued a public/private key pair but no record would be kept of which voter was associated with which public key. So votes are anonymous assuming you trust whoever is managing voter registration.

  12. David Wihl

    July 17, 2017 @ 12:14 pm

    12

    It would have to be implemented on a state by state basis per the constitution. An innovative state, say Washington, could implement it first and the other states would copy. National IDs are non-starter for historical, political and possibly even constitutional reasons.

  13. superMike

    July 17, 2017 @ 2:48 pm

    13

    Can’t we just do IDs and purple thumbs?

  14. JRL

    July 18, 2017 @ 1:30 pm

    14

    Everyone loves blockchain right now but this has nothing to do with blockchain.

    One of the main building blocks of blockchain (and most other computer security) is public key encryption. Bitcoin depends on this.

    You need to give each person a private key/public key pair. The person keeps the private key secret and publishes the public key.

    Each person is checked for citizenship and then assigned a private key. The person signs their vote with their private key. It can be verified using their public key. This is how transfers work on bitcoin.

    The big problem is that if a person that loses their private key, or has it stolen from them can have their “identity” stolen from them. This is the big problem with bitcoin.

  15. dean

    July 18, 2017 @ 2:45 pm

    15

    JRL 14:
    Map key pairs to driver license/ fingerprints or some social recognition process and have revocation / reissuance of key pairs based on it. But of course Shor’s quantum algorithm will make the scheme vulnerable in the not so distant future, or so is expected.

  16. wally o

    July 19, 2017 @ 6:03 pm

    16

    Why not the low tech idea of voting machines printing out a paper receipt, which the voter can verify, and then these can be used to verify questioned results. (I get a receipt every time I buy gas with a credit card, maybe we should convert gas stations to polling places)

    As for fraud benefitting Democrats, I think the particular fraud of voter supression far outweighs any non legitimate votes being cast. And this benefits the Republicans

  17. Anonymous

    July 21, 2017 @ 2:48 pm

    17

    wally o, how does voter suppression works? I have been voting for a while and yet to see any republican gangs preventing disadvantaged people to vote. And I have to search for my voter registration card to see where my voting location is. Does it mean my vote is being suppressed? But I have been repeatedly harassed in shady places by community disorganizers that tried to signe me up for voting since times I just stepped form the boat. Most people were like me and my English skills were among the best there.

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