Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] Blockchain voting in the election

India can characteristically be described as a country obsessed with techno-solutionism, so it is important to lay stress on the further digitization which does not make processes more robust.
By IASToppers
September 15, 2020

Content

  • Introduction
  • What is Blockchain technology?
  • What is remote voting?
  • Arguments in favour of remote voting
  • Arguments against of remote voting
  • Alternative solutions
  • Conclusion

Blockchain voting in the election

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Introduction:

The Election Commission of India has held a conference in collaboration with the Tamil Nadu e-Governance Agency and IIT Madras, through which they explored the possibility of using blockchain technology for the purpose of enabling remote elections. While this exploration is still only in the nascent stages, there are several concerns that must be considered at the offset with utmost caution.

What is Blockchain technology?

  • A blockchain is a distributed ledger of information which is replicated across various nodes on a peer-to-peer network for the purpose of ensuring integrity and verifiability of data stored on the ledger.
  • Blockchain ledgers have traditionally been used as supporting structures for cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, however, their use in non-cryptocurrency applications too has seen a steady rise.
  • Its use has been rise with some solutions allowing individuals and companies to draft legally-binding smart contracts, enabling detailed monitoring of supply chain networks, and several projects focused on enabling remote voting and elections.
  • This systems would use white-listed IP devices on dedicated internet lines and that the system would make use of the biometric attributes of electors.

What is remote voting?

  • Remote voting may take place in person somewhere other than an assigned polling station or at another time, or votes may be sent by post or cast by an appointed proxy.
  • When the requirements to qualify as a remote voter are minimal, remote voting can make up a significant proportion of the total vote.

Arguments in favour of remote voting:

  • The remote voting would appear to benefit internal migrants and seasonal workers, who account for roughly 51 million of the populace – Census 2011, and who have faced considerable difficulties in exercising their democratic right of voting.
  • The use of this technology might also be useful for some remotely-stationed members of the Indian armed forces, like the Siachen Glacier.
  • The requirement of physical presence and biometric authentication may not necessarily make a remote voting system invulnerable to attacks either. 
  • Depending on the circumstances and the other voting channels available for external electors, remote e-voting might save costs.
  • Citizens living or staying abroad are considered to be an ideal test group for remote e-voting, while the real intention is to introduce this new method for electors inside the country as well.

Arguments against of remote voting:

  • Digitisation and interconnectivity introduce additional points of failure external to the processes which exist in the current time.
  • The system envisioned by the Election Commission is perhaps only slightly more acceptable than a fully remote, app-based voting system which face a litany of issues of their own, and which have so far only been deployed in a few low-level elections in the West.
  • The systems used in such low-stakes elections have suffered several blunders too, some of which could have been catastrophic if they had gone undetected.
  • Blockchain solutions rely heavily on the proper implementation of cryptographic protocols. If any shortcomings exist in an implementation, it might stand to potentially unmask the identity and voting preferences of electors or allow an individual to cast a vote as someone else. 
  • Physical implants or software backdoors placed on an individual system could allow attackers to collect and deduce voting choices of individuals.
  • Digitised systems may also stand to exclude and disenfranchise certain individuals due to flaws in interdependent platforms, flaws in system design, as well as general failures caused by external factors.

Alternative solutions:

  • Political engagement could perhaps be improved by introducing and improving upon other methods, such as postal ballots or proxy voting.
  • Another proposed solution to this issue includes the creation of a ‘One Nation, One Voter ID’ system, though it is unclear whether such a radical and costly exercise would be required. 

Conclusion:

If the Election Commission is able to design a system which is proven to be satisfactorily secure in the face of attacks, use of such a system could perhaps only be justified for lower level elections. Any solution to electoral problems must be software independent and fault tolerable, where failure or tampering of one mechanism would not affect the integrity or transparency of the overall process.

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