More and more government organizations are now considering online elections as a potential tool for improving the democratic process, increasing voter turnout and cutting costs. A couple of weeks ago, the European Parliament tested the blockchain-based Polys voting platform at an e-voting event.
In an age where digital progress has touched almost every aspect of our lives, offline voting using paper ballots feels like an anachronism. And yet, online elections still raise a lot of questions and concerns. So, let’s address them here.
The internet is an unsafe place
One of the classic arguments against online voting is the issue of security on the internet.Anonymity and verifiability, in particular, are two requirements of free and fair political elections that are seen as difficult to implement online.
This is where blockchain technology comes in. A blockchain is a decentralized database that distributes information among all the network members rather than storing it all in one place. This makes it very difficult to compromise – you would have to hack all the computers on the network to get at the information.
As for anonymity, the Polys online voting system makes use of transparent crypto algorithms. Votes are encrypted into the blockchain, but, if necessary, it is possible to verify that a vote was actually cast. Of course, this requires certain skills, but it is possible.
Transparency, or verifiability, is the most interesting part of our technology and is actually still being finalized. The main point is that the whole process of accepting votes is encrypted manually by several people: they monitor the voting process, monitor each other’s work and also form blocks in the blockchain. They can be people trusted by voters, representatives of different parties or people appointed by the government.
Elections are always a serious process, and on top of that online elections are also a new process. But at Polys we are serious about security and transparency issues and are ready to openly discuss and comment on any risks that may be associated with online voting.
But even if a solution to ensure the safety of online voting is existed (such as blockchain technology), how do you deal with the risk of electoral fraud? What if the result can’t be trusted? These are a couple of other questions that trouble people when it comes to online elections.
It can’t be denied there is always a risk that voting can be manipulated, whether it's a traditional offline vote or an online election. For example, in the Philippines, vote buying is tantamount to a national disaster and is accompanied by mass arrests. But if traditional elections make it difficult to deal with vote rigging and electoral fraud, the problem is easier to solve with an online voting system – you simply have a re-vote.
How does it work? Well, the voter simply annuls their vote and then casts it again. Only the last vote counts. The idea of a re-vote is not new and took place in an online election in Estonia in 2007.
However, any attempts to improve the electoral system and democracy with the help of new technologies are meaningless without raising the level of voter awareness. Every voter needs to know that only they decide who to vote for and no one else can change or influence that decision. People make democracy – an online voting system is just an instrument for facilitating honest, transparent elections.
Non-users of the internet
Another important aspect that can’t be ignored when discussing e-voting is that of people with disabilities and those who don’t use the internet. As a rule, this is a large proportion of society. For example, in the UK the figure is 15.2 million according to a report by the Good Things Foundation.
On the other hand, just imagine how much voter turnout will increase and how much easier it will be for less mobile members of society to vote. Instead of having to go to a polling station, which may not always be equipped for wheelchair access, online voting means they can cast their vote from the comfort of their own home.
Polys has also developed a solution for the elderly and those less familiar with IT technologies — mixed online/offline voting using unique codes. Voters receive the relevant codes in print or some other format and can then vote on a public computer or their own device.
The benefits of online voting are obvious! Citizens eligible to vote but living abroad can do so easily, and millennials are more likely to get involved in a country's political processes. All the information about the candidates, their programs and visions are stored in a single application, and notifications of forthcoming elections are sent out via email. Then, of course, there is a reduction in election spending.
It doesn’t just sound good – it works. Maybe not perfect yet, but we are doing everything we can to establish an online voting process, to give it life.
We invite you to conduct your first online vote right now – and we’d really appreciate any feedback.