It’s that time again. We’re counting down to the United States general election, and the rest of the world is watching while America erupts in a whirlpool of discord and slander. Turn back the clock nearly four years, and you’ll remember the ‘shock’ results of the previous national elections, followed by multi-year investigations into alleged voter manipulation and social engineering. 

To further trouble the situation, we’ve heard calls for the implementation of a mail-in voting system, allegedly for the sake of maintaining Covid-19 social distancing protocols.

Whatever your political leaning, I think we can all agree that we need the mud to clear so we can regain our trust in the electoral process. Not only for the sake of Americans but for people all around the world who look to the USA as a paragon of democracy.

There has to be a better way, don’t you think!?! Well, guess what? There is! 

On Wednesday, I had a chance to chat to blockchain entrepreneur, Ari Kuqi about the potential of migrating electoral processes onto the Bitcoin blockchain, the benefits to be had and the obstacles to overcome. 

To my surprise, Ari told me that we already have the infrastructure in place to make the big move. And yet, our governments are unlikely to tell us…

[Ari is the *co-creator of the Bitcoin Attestation Protocol that links on-chain content (like a digital signature on a contract) to a verifiable identity, to businesses, to government, to measurements, to anything. His latest project, Legally Chained utilises the protocol for digital identity and document management.]

Voting on the Bitcoin Blockchain: Why and How?

Liz: Back in 2014, we reported on the first cases of Bitcoin and blockchain technology being used in legal elections. Since your Bitcoin Attestation Protocol enables a critical element of the process, can you tell me what it is that makes the concept of voting with blockchain tech superior to our current electronic voting system (or mail-in voting, for that matter)?

Ari: Well, the current voting system suffers from the same issues as the current Internet. For one, it’s very difficult to verify people's identity. Secondly, although records are kept, they can be manipulated and changed. Thirdly, that there is no transparency. So, the electoral commission declares the outcome, but nobody can check the results. Using the blockchain plus an identity protocol (like the Bitcoin Attestation Protocol I created) would solve those issues. 

Liz: Can you walk me through what voting on the blockchain would look like? 

Ari: Sure. It would start with a Government application or website where people can go to vote on. A lot of governments already have an identity system in place. Here in the Netherlands, we have a government identity system which is enabled by username, a password and a two-factor authentication process. Your username is linked to your government-issued passport, which is how the government ensures that the online identity is linked to a real-world identity. 

The same system can be used on the blockchain. So, the government would have an application or website where voting would take place. As a voter, you will have your government-issued identity tied to a public and a private key that gives you access to the voting application. In a simple election, you would have a choice between two options: yes or no. Yes would correspond to a specific address on the blockchain, and no would correspond to another address on-chain. And when a user would vote Yes or No, a new key would be derived from his or her identity to sign the transaction to one address or the other address to indicate your choice. At the end of the voting process, the results would be verifiable and transparent to everybody, even though nobody could see who voted for what, including the government! 

The system can also be designed so you, as a user, have the option to grant a third party access to your vote, and to revoke their access to that data. You can also design it so that voters can access their own voting history. The outside world looking at the election results on-chain would only see the number of votes that each option got, but they won’t be able to see what each individual’s vote was. Having an on-chain identity system allows you to choose the level of information you want to make available, to whom, and for how long.

Liz: How does the system manage to keep my identity private, but my vote public? 

Ari: This comes back to your public and private key. Your public key will be able to identify you, but your private key is something only you have. The new key that’s derived when you vote is a calculation between the two keys, one of which is only known to you. So, nobody but yourself can disclose that information and prove that it was you that signed the voting transaction. In this situation, you can be very selective with what information you're disclosing to whom and be able also to revoke that access again. 

Liz: That sounds similar to the use of a smart identity card or a credit card. I imagine the payment point only calculates whether I have enough funds in my account, but it doesn’t give the vendor access to my bank balance and all that.

Ari: Yes, it’s similar to that. With a credit card, the vendor will also get access to your name, but the system limits the information that’s passed along. Once we have verified identities on the blockchain, we can do this kind of selective sharing of data.

Spin-Off Applications of On-Chain Identities

Liz: I can see how this would resolve the Internet’s issues with identity fraud, data integrity, and monetisation of data.

Ari: Yes, it can be applied to any data system. Let’s say the election has taken place, and there’s a business that’s willing to pay you to get access to your vote. You can agree to grant them access to who you voted for, and if in the future it turns out that this company used that data inappropriately, or not according to the terms and conditions that you signed, you can revoke that access again. And the great thing about the blockchain as an immutable data ledger is that you have proof of the agreement that will be accepted by a court of law. You can prove the conditions under which you granted them access to certain data, you can prove that they used that data wrongfully, and you can revoke that access. If it turns out that, after you revoked access, they still used that data because they copied it on their own systems, you’ll have legal proof to show to a court of law. 

The same system can be applied on the Internet for monetising and securing data like your browsing history, or your social media activity.

Blockchain Elections: Pie in the Sky, or Near-Term Possibility?

Liz: It sounds like the Netherlands have every piece of the puzzle in place to migrate their elections onto the blockchain already. But what about the USA? Do they have a long way to go before blockchain voting can become a reality? 

Ari: Well, the truth is that it wouldn’t actually take a lot of effort for any country that already issues physical attestations of identity, like passports or identity cards. It would be as simple as connecting the identity document to a digital login like a username, passport and securing it with two-factor authentication. Each passport would be tied to their own private and public key for the government to put your identity on-chain. The Bitcoin attestation protocol we developed enables this, so it's not really hard at all. The question is just if the will is there!  

Right now, governments don’t have the will to put elections on the blockchain, because they all have something to hide. They don’t want elections to be transparent. They want the option to interfere with the voting process and the outcome. 

I imagine the same can be said for a lot of big corporations. There’s no incentive for them to provide that transparency.

Liz: It sounds like something would have to give. Do you foresee the situation changing over time?

Ari: I think it’s more likely that local politicians could say, hey, you know what, if you vote for me, I'll make sure that this part of the system, (like our local tax system or this part of our local voting system) is made completely transparent, and use that as a selling point to win votes. That could work on a small scale. Then, slowly you would see this train of thought moving up to the political hierarchy. Once political parties or candidates start seeing an advantage for themselves, like garnering more votes, they might be willing to implement that transparency. 

I suspect that only the new political players will have an incentive to bring transparency to these systems because the establishment already has a leg up. 

Bitcoin and Verified Identities

To wrap up, Ari tells me about his vision for applying Bitcoin in the real world:

“By using attestations, it’s possible to enable legal ownership of data, verifiable results, complete control by users, full privacy and legal compliance, all at once and, in so doing, solves most of the problems of the modern Internet. At the root of making all that possible are verified identities. To me, it’s what Bitcoin is basically all about.”

 

*Ari points out that Siggi Óskarsson created the Bitcoin Attestation Protocol a long time ago. Still, it could only be successfully implemented once Bitcoin SV had restored Bitcoin’s to its original design (i.e. zero-confirmation transactions, low fees, storage capabilities and chronological transaction ordering are essential to the protocol).

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