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Blockchain: count every vote? Yes you can!

9 November 2020: In light of the ongoing US election controversy, fintech academic and chartered accountant Gavin Brown predicts the implementation of new blockchain-style voting methods, giving us incontestable results in hours rather than days or weeks.

When I qualified as an ACA chartered accountant some 14 years ago, a close friend remarked that “the problem with accountants is that you don’t bat or bowl, you just keep score!” Harsh and arguably unfair. However, it is the ability to keep score in the US election this week that is the cornerstone of the result, and the basis of alleged voter fraud between the rival Republican and Democrat parties.

Our faith in democratic systems hinges on the perceived fairness and equity of our ability to choose (or not choose) elected officials as we see fit. It is the power of the vote which is the voice of the people, giving rise to the recently tending #counteveryvote as the largest democracy wrestles with itself for a legitimate leader. This is not the first time that the supremacy of the global superpower has boiled down to the finest of fine margins. The Florida recount in 2000 in Bush vs Gore, where Bush prevailed by just 537 votes.

Proving to be the bane of pollsters, similar close votes appear to be an emerging trend such as Brexit in the UK (51.9% v 48.1%), the 2019 Australian election (Lib/Nat Coalition 51.5% v Labor 48.5%), the 2019 presidential election in Poland (Duda 51.0% v 49.0% Trzaskowski), and although irrelevant to the actual outcome, the popular vote in the last US election (Clinton 48.2% v Trump 46.1%).

How do you know the vote you cast has been recorded and counted?

It’s a fair question and one which I doubt many registered voters have ever considered before. It is fundamental and beyond debate, but in a global environment of increasingly polarised societies, the pressure upon this basic democratic tenet is heightened. Couple this with the current global COVID-19 pandemic pushing us toward postal voting and we have a situation where the fairness of the democratic process could, and indeed has, been refuted.

Enter blockchain voting as a potential solution. The same technology which underpins cryptoassets such as Bitcoin may be able to provide a decentralised, immutable solution. Blockchain voting has already been used by both Democrat and Republican parties in the U.S. for their state conventions in Michigan and Arizona, respectively. This provided audit transparency of results so that permissioned viewers could see votes cast and counted. Indeed, similar technologies have previously been proposed for use in the accounting industry for the recording of real-time double (even triple!) entry bookkeeping, as conceived by Ijiri in 1982.

Blockchain voting solutions presently include; Vocdoni, Acora Vote, Voatz and Votem

A step-change in societies’ desire for blockchain voting

Security experts warn that the apparent panacea that is blockchain voting still presents a sizeable hurdle. Such internet-based election systems are always open to attack particularly in verifying the identities of applicant voters and their eligibility to vote. Such hacks are known as ‘Sybil Attacks’ where the integrity of a record-keeping system is undermined by the creation of multiple false identities.

Digital identity verifications exist to mitigate eligibility fraud which includes ERC-725, a blockchain-based identity smart contract written on the open-source Ethereum blockchain platform. A blockchain Know Your Client (KYC) process, if you will.

Every vote must count therefore every vote must be counted

We are likely some time away from apps allowing us to cast our votes electronically in real-time for presidential and general elections. 

However, given the increased focus upon the count, I predict new methods of blockchain-type voting will likely be implemented over the next five to 10 years, giving us incontestable results in hours rather than days or weeks and perhaps serving as a protector of our future democratic way of life.

Gavin Brown is an Associate Professor in Financial Technology at The University of Liverpool and Fellow of the ICAEW as a chartered accountant.

ICAEW Insights opinion pieces are intended to be thought-provoking and stimulate debate. Views expressed in these opinion pieces are not necessarily shared by ICAEW.

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