BLOCKCHAIN: Is it the only solution for a transparent and reliable electoral system?

BLOCKCHAIN: Is it the only solution for a transparent and reliable electoral system?

The fulfilment of the right to vote, “to elect” and “to be elected” is the only indispensable element of democracies. Political science considers elections to be the only embodied method by which states, and governments can obtain authority and management rights with the consent of the people. The fact that elections take place in a fair and free environment and under reliable conditions is the lifeblood and cornerstone of all democracies. Even though technology produces enormous benefits in ensuring electoral security and reliability, “institutional authority, human dependent processes and decision mechanisms” keep alive the risk of manipulation of election data. Will the blockchain be able to solve all of our problems?

The use of transparent ballot box for the first time in Turkey — 12th of June, 2011

When we examine our current election processes, we see that in practice, execution is laborious and very prone to human error. Establishing polling station commissions, sealing the ballot papers, counting one by one, etc. All these processes are done by manually and even the slightest mistake can cause the elections to be canceled and repeated at the end of the day! In addition, it is necessary to take strict security measures to control and prevent many illegal events (fake ballot papers, voting on behalf of others, etc.) before, during and after the elections and to catch the perpetrators. The most important process of the electoral system that is open to error is the deliberate data distortion or inadvertent errors in counting and registering the results into the registries or systems. From this point of view, the SECURITY and RELIABILITY of the electoral system, which is the most important element of democracies, is always viewed with suspicion in the eyes of the society, and as a result, the legitimacy of political will falls into shadow.

Well, has the technology come to a maturity level where it can resolve these problems? If so, why is it not brought into life? Does implementing such a solution really require high technology? In this sense, can blockchain provide a definitive end-to-end solution? Before giving answers to these questions, it will be very useful to reveal briefly how the existing process works and to understand the importance of our solutions, which we will talk about later in the article.

It is possible to evaluate the current electoral system under three (3) main headings:

  • Election preparation process(establishment of voter lists of election, determination of polling stations, determination of chairman of the election commission, formation of polling station committees, etc.)
  • Election data generation process(counting, sealing, registering, determining deficiencies or surpluses, counting the results, preparing the minutes, etc.)
  • The process of entering election results into Supreme Election Board (SEB, as Turkish: Yüksek Seçim Kurulu / YSK) and other systems(ballot box presidents deliver the election results to SSB, authorized data entry officers of SSB enter the results, verification and finalization of the results, recount upon objection, etc.)

Although it is necessary to evaluate each stage separately in order to produce the most appropriate solution, in this study I have only dealt with and modeled data generation and entry processes.

Data Generation Process

If we accept that the chairman of the polling station commission should form a polling station commission as the first step of the data generation process, the first step after the seal check is to start counting the ballot papers and envelopes received for the ballot box and registering them in the minute book after the counting. After that, the counting process starts and the ballot papers are sealed so that no fraud is involved by using unsealed ballots during the election process! In almost every election, counting in full and delivering right results at the end of the election have always been a problem and have caused polemics! The most typical example of human error.

Ballot papers and envelopes are counted and registered.

Those who took part in the election know very well that the process of counting the votes and the ballots and their recording into the minutes after the election is a very careful task, and the correction of the mistakes made at the preparation stage leads to serious discussions and tensions as well as loss of time.

One of the most critical issues of the election process is the accurate identity control of the voter, which is a “Must For All” for the full realization of the will of the voter, which is the most important element of the democracies! At this point, the existing electoral system has difficulties in taking precautions in order to prevent fake votes.

Data Entry Process

In our existing election system, all election results are entered manually by authorized persons. The fact that cross-checks are also carried out by manually at this stage does not prevent us from doubting the reliability of data integrity and accuracy. In addition, it is not easy to create an effective mechanism for malicious manipulations in human-oriented processes.

During data entry processes, even if we accept that the election minutes are totally correct, achieving consistent results causes serious time and financial loss, when adding recount of votes in some situations and objections, it directly causes despondency and loss of trust to the election results.

The best example of those losses is that the same data must be entered in more than one system (both the SSB and the systems of the parties involved in election). Hundreds of people are forced to make an effort to enter the election results into the system by putting in serious effort in a certain period of time.

Hundreds of thousands of vote data is entered into the systems manually.

What benefit can technology provide?

These and many other similar mistakes, deliberately and unknowingly, could not fully catch up with the society in terms of TRUST in the existing electoral system and progressed in the form of social acceptance as no alternative was produced. However, at the point where technology has reached today, it is now possible to create much more RELIABLE and ERROR-FREE selection systems. Even so, the election counting process can be followed instantly and it can be known exactly who will win before the day is over!

At this point, I will try to reveal the benefit it creates by taking the use of technology on election process. I will design two different approach so that we can understand more clearly why the blockchain is the ONLY alternative to establish TRUST.

a-Centralized Architecture

If we want to move the existing electoral system to the end-to-end digital environment without using blockchain;

Centralized architecture without using blockchain

most probably it would be similar to this. First, let’s analyze which technologies can be used in the data generation process.

  • E-Identity: With a validity period of 10 years, consisting of polycarbonic material, containing contact and non-contact chip (chip); containing the most advanced security elements in accordance with international standards (ICAO)*; it is a new generation identity document designed to make it impossible for unauthorized persons to reproduce the card or change the information in the card by securely recording the population, photo and biometric data belonging to the citizen on the contact chip on the card. With the E-Id Verification System (EVS, as Turkish EKDS) regulation published by the Ministry of Interior (Official Gazette 22 October 2020, No: 31282), the procedures and principles of identity verification have been defined and implemented. (*https://www.icao.int/publications/Documents/9303_p2_cons_en.pdf)
  • E-Signature: Electronic signature as stated in Electronic Signature Law №5070; Identifies electronic data that is attached to other electronic data or is logically linked to electronic data and used for authentication purposes.

With the implementation of these technologies defined and regulated by law,

* The use of ballot papers is completely eliminated

* The use of seals is completely eliminated

* Since the use of ballot papers is eliminated, there is no need to count and register in minutes

* The process of preparing the minutes is completely eliminated

1 ID = 1 Vote equation is realized hundred percent (%100)

* The only duty of polling station commission is to confirm that the voter who declares his/her identity is correct and id belongs to him/her. By this way, it is prevented from using vote on behalf of another person.

1 ID = 1 Vote is the most valuable part of digital system

Since the data entry process will be completed automatically when the vote is cast,

* No need to fulfill result minutes to forward it SEB

* Authorized data entry officers (for both SEB and party headquarters) are not required

* There is no need for cross checking over the reliability of selection data. Since the data will be entered into the system instantly and with confirmation, the need to operate the recount process after objection is eliminated

* Data can be instantly shared with the public. When the election period is over, the result is clearly known to the public

* Errors or malicious manipulation attempts that may arise from data entry are completely eliminated

According to this architecture, Supreme Election Board (SEB) will be the main center where all election data is collected and the only authorized body for announcement of election results. In such architectures, all data is stored in a central database and the SEB is solely responsible for the security of the database as well as the integrity of the data. It is not possible for anyone else to interfere.

a.1. Advantages

  • Since e-Identity and/or e-Signature technologies are used during voting, the integrity and accuracy of the data are guaranteed during voting.
  • It is essential to take all necessary precautions during the production and installation of the election client software and hardware used by the voters to vote.
  • Since the vote cast by the voter is created with e-identity and / or e-signature, it is not possible to change it over network on the path to central database. If replaced, it becomes invalid instantly.
  • Voting data is verified and validated before it is saved. By this way, it is not possible for anyone who is not declared as a valid voter in the lists.

a.2. Disadvantages

  • All election data are inserted to the SEB database. It is not one hundred percent (100%)possible to guarantee the integrity and unchangeability of this data. Unchangeability process can be hardened, however cannot be zeroed.
  • As the whole process will be under the control of the SEB, it is not possible for other stakeholders (parties, independent organizations, etc.) to create their own systems.
  • The information about who cast which vote must definitely be differentiated. Since the difficulties implementing the separation process and the storage of all election data within the same institution’s (SEB) database may lead to violation of the human rights and freedoms as well as the context of GDPR, it should be applied very carefully in practice.

b. Decentralized and Distributed Architecture

Now, it is time to explain and argue on ONLY RELIABLE claims presented at first. When we want to design the electoral system using blockchain,

Decentralized and distributed architecture using blockchain

probably it would be like this. Before explaining the design in detail, it would be very helpful to highlight the main objectives of decentralized and distributed architecture about understanding the subject.

  • With the help of blockchain nodes, election data is protected and stored simultaneously by all stakeholders (SEB, political parties, independent organizations, etc.).
  • By replicating nodes as desired, data security and immutability can be maximized.
  • With the help of smart contracts, the information about who used which vote is precisely separated and the violation of human rights and freedoms is prevented.

With this summary, we can explain how and at which stages the voting process will change.

The data generation process will be preserved exactly as transferred in the centralized architecture. All security measures required for data generation are sufficient and qualified for this stage.

The data entry process changes completely. With the implementation of the blockchain, all election data stored in the central database are inserted to the blockchain. The central database storing election data is distributed over blockchain nodes and by this way, its functionality completely changes as in the centralized architecture.

In this architecture, blockchain was designed as Private-Permissioned. Because it is private, to increase the integrity and security, it is vital to identify all stakeholders that will keep the chain alive, and to differentiate and multiply them as much as possible. Likewise, this system could be designed on Public-Permissionless blockchains. However, I did not want to raise the possibility of disclosing voter identity and voted to whom, as there is no risk to be taken. Nevertheless, I would like to underline that if we had made an election using a public chain, the whole world could be included in this system and security/reliability issues would have been implemented at the highest possible level.

Data blocks in the chain are linked together like a team and at the same time operating independently from each other

If we want to define the election process step by step;

  • Private election wallets are created for all voters and credits (the value representing the right to vote) are loaded into those wallets for each ballot papers. These wallets can only be triggered by the use of e-signature and e-ID.
  • Likewise, each political party and/or candidates have their own wallets and those wallets are configured as only receivableNo transaction can be initiated and made from those wallets.
  • Voter wallet addresses are assigned and delivered so that only the voter knows. For this purpose, the voter will have to make a wallet definition so that only he/she knows the wallet address and that the privacy of voting can be protected.
  • When the voting is completed, all transactional data can be viewedsearched and calculated clearly on the blockchain, while no one can collect any information about who voted to whom.
  • By this way, the privacy of who voted to whom is 100% securely
  • Each voting transaction is carried out in a controlled manner through smart contracts, enabling wallet owners to manage only their own wallets and use each credit for only one voting rightFor example, in an election with 3 different votes, one vote is guaranteed for each candidate or party from the wallet with 3 credits.

Even if we describe the process in general terms, it is inevitable to use complex structures and technologies in detail. ZKP (Zero-Knowledge Proof) can be categorized for one of them. ZKP methods are implemented using cryptographic algorithms and used for data verification between two parties. The data subject proves to the other party that he knows what the data is, without revealing the requested data itself. For example, it is a method to use when person A wants to verify that person B knows the correct password, without knowing the password of person B. The election system we have designed, we can learn and verify whether person A is indeed person A and has the right to vote by using such algorithms without getting any personal information from person A.

Without knowing the information itself, it can be checked whether the other party knows the correct value

b.1. Advantages

To summarize the advantages obtained through the use of blockchain as follows:

  • Election data is written in the blockchain when it is first created and cannot be changed in any way.
  • Because the integrity and immutability of election data is managed and guaranteed by all nodes in the chain, it cannot be manipulated in any way.
  • It is guaranteed to vote for the maximum total number of voters published in the voter lists.
  • For the help of blockchain, 1 ID = 1 Vote equality is created transparently and can be audited automatically.
  • Usage of smart contracts can handle identity verification and voting transactions can be done fully secure and reliable way, with no way to any manipulation. Controlled access to external systems will also be provided through these contracts as needed.
  • The central database stores only the data and parameters required for the smooth operation of the electoral system software itself (status information, process steps, etc.). Identities and election data are in no way associated with this database.

Absolute Requirements

We can conclude the article by listing the other indispensable conditions for this entire electoral system to be the ONLY 100% RELIABLE and TRANSPARENT alternative.

  • The source code of the electoral system software should be openly shared with the public.
  • Blockchain software and all smart contracts should be licensed as open source and the codes uploaded to nodes should be audited by the public.
  • Stakeholders owning the nodes should be differentiated and multiplied as much as possible.

Ozgur Akbulut

Blockchain Consultant

Contact Ozgur

Definitions:
e-ID: The Republic of Turkey Identification Number is a unique number given to every Turkish citizen by the state.

ZKP (Zero Knowledge Proof): In cryptography, a zero-knowledge proof or zero-knowledge protocol is a method by which one party (the prover) can prove to another party (the verifier) that they know a value x, without conveying any information apart from the fact that they know the value x. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-knowledge_proof or https://zkproof.org/

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