Technology for 21st century elections

Blockchains, Distributed Ledger Technology, and fair and transparent voting

Blockchain 1

Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) is a revolutionary technology that offers an unprecedented level of security and tamper resistance for information storage. Blockchain is one type of distributed ledger which works by packaging information into blocks and adding them together in sequence to form a chain. This chain is then shared over many computers or ‘nodes’ to ensure that as many people as possible have a copy to ensure data integrity.

Because the network uses a consensus algorithm that requires everyone on the network to agree what the true state of things is, it becomes many orders of magnitude more difficult to compromise a blockchain than it is a standard database that everyone else is currently using. By committing vote results anonymously to the blockchain, we allow the public to verify that their vote was counted correctly and that the winner was legitimate.

Let’s talk about one of the unique technologies Horizon State employs to make elections fair and transparent

Blockchain is a technology that became much more visible in public discourse in 2017 to much fanfare for its world-changing implications to decentralise finance and disrupt entrenched incumbent domination of many industries. Horizon State was one of the first to move beyond the hype and into implementation. Our voting platform has since been used by state governments, government departments, and political parties in multiple countries. In 2018 Horizon State became a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer, joining alumni including Google, Spotify, airbnb, and Kickstarter among others.

While not an exhaustive explanation of blockchain (you can learn more here and here), we have tried to break blockchain down conceptually as much as possible and limited the discussion to how the system can benefit voting.

So what is it?

A blockchain is a type of distributed ledger that records what has happened in the past and where a large number of computers or ‘nodes’ maintain an up to date copy of it. These nodes all work together to approve changes made to the blockchain. All kinds of information can be accessed by reading a blockchain, like ‘wallet’ (account) numbers and balances, information about transactions, and of course other things like vote information, to name a few.

Usually all of this information would be stored and controlled by a single centralised authority, like a bank, credit processor, government agency or voting company. That means they have complete control to modify that information whenever they want. If you send money to the wrong person by accident, your bank has the ability to reverse this for you just by changing a few numbers on a computer.

Your vote is no different. No amount of vote administrators claiming professional integrity and impartial treatment of ballot information can make the public trust what is closed-door process where anything can happen. Employees can make mistakes or abuse their position. Databases can be hacked – even at the largest and most secure of companies – and the risk of something worse such as manipulation, theft or data destruction is always present.

By comparison, a blockchain’s many nodes means there is no central authority that can make changes to it, removing the risk of that entity acting maliciously or being co opted. Instead changes are made by consensus. 

This is because each block in the series that form a blockchain has a unique code or ‘hash’ that is generated using a cryptographic process of complicated math equations. Each hash that is generated is derived from the data contained within that block, and each block uses the hash of the block generated before it as a starting reference to calculate its own. Any changes to the information in the historical record will mean a new hash value for that block which will cascade through the rest of the blockchain. This makes it easy for network nodes to detect any attempted changes, and simply reject them.

If information has been committed to a blockchain, we can be certain that it has not changed since it was written. The blockchain is then great for use as a near incorruptible digital ballot box that the public can trust.

So how is it deployed to prove votes are legitimate?

When you cast a vote, you vote using a cryptographic ‘hash’ of your own, which will serve as a unique code to identify your vote. Everyone will be able to see the vote made using this hash, but only you will know it belongs to you.

Once your vote has been cast and published to the blockchain, you can then view it alongside your personal hash on the public ledger that can be accessed outside any software or website that Horizon State controls.

Because we know blockchains cannot be altered and all votes are visible, the opportunities for vote tampering are greatly reduced and the chain of custody is protected. If there is any deviation between what any individual voted for and what was published to the blockchain, then there is reasonable evidence to presume an error or manipulation that would call the legitimacy of the entire election into question.

In conclusion, blockchain technology provides us with web 3.0, a much easier, more secure, and more efficient way to deploy online applications that can be trusted. By employing blockchain and other distributed ledger technologies, Horizon State gives public and private organisations the ability to host fair and transparent elections that the public can trust and rely on.