Electis is currently pushing a next-generation decentralized e-voting system together with members of the Tezos community, academics and students from currently eight different countries (and growing). Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to get involved!
Even though there is a lot of research being done by many institutions, and more and more e-voting solutions are being used around the globe, e-voting appears to be a highly divisive topic — especially regarding high stake elections.
Western democracies are working with a voting system that has been improved and tested for hundreds of years and is considered trustworthy by most citizens.
If it’s not broken, don’t fix it!
This leaves us with the question this blog post is asking: why should we bother to replace a seemingly working system with a new, potentially riskier one?
Democratic principles of elections
First, let’s go to the basics of democratic election principles. There are some widely understood qualities an election requires to be considered democratic and valid.
“The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.” (United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1984, Article 21, Section 3)
Any kind of voting, therefore, should solve a set of problems to secure a universal, equal, free, secret and direct suffrage election.
An election is only genuine if the ballot represents the voter’s choices and the voter is able to verify its vote was cast as intended. Also, it must be ensured there is no discrimination amongst voters. Every person only has one vote, but also, nobody is capable of deleting, changing or adding votes. This is meant by an equal, universal and direct suffrage.
Everyone should be voting after their own conscious and free will and therefore an election has to be secret. Nobody should be able to tell who a person has voted for after the election. This ensures that votes can’t be bought or forced (coercion resistance).
Finally, there are other goals that have to be factored in. For example, the goal of a high voter turnout and equal accessibility for all citizens to voting facilities (e.g. for disabled people).
Nonetheless, it appears that there are certain tensions between different requirements an election has to fulfil.
Efficiency vs. security:
Electronic solutions can help reduce the high organizational costs of paper ballot voting. A digitalized system could also save time and labour that is now done by mostly volunteer citizens, making election results ready and tallied right after the closing of the polls. Also, the high number of invalid votes that are caused by errors made in the voting booths could be reduced significantly — a machine could lead a voter through the process until he or she got it right.
Electronic voting technologies are tackling most of the human-factor risks that are common in paper ballot voting. Yet, on the other hand, it can take a hacker the same amount of effort to change one vote than it takes him to change a thousand votes (“wholesale fraud”). Compared to this, physical voting is not perfect and can be attacked, but simply doesn’t scale in the same way.
Authentication vs. a free and secret vote:
Next to the security risks, the biggest problem yet to be solved is the dilemma of the goals regarding authentication and secrecy of the vote. On the one hand, identification and authentication are important to make sure only eligible voters are taking part in an election and everyone only votes once. On the other hand, elections are supposed to be anonymous and secret.
Coercion resistance vs. accessibility:
Remote participation, like postal voting or e-voting per app, always entails the threat of coercion. Private polling booths are the only way to guarantee against fraud and forcing of votes. Considering the fact that postal voting is an option for voters in many nations already and the number of citizens choosing remote participation shows that this is not only an e-voting problem.
On the other hand, remote voting can solve the issue of accessibility. It is key to an equal and universal election, that every eligible voter has access to a polling station. Traveling citizens, people living abroad, voters who are not able to leave their house or have disabilities need to have access to voting.
In a more and more multicultural society language becomes a greater issue, as not all eligible voters speak the local language. On an electronic voting device, it would be much easier to include different languages than you can print on a piece of paper — there can even be solutions such as voice interfaces for blind citizens.
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