The United States has historically favored centralized voting methods. Over time, punch cards and lever machines gave way to electronic voting machines and optically scanned ballots, which were used prolifically in the 2012 election.
Both of these systems are vulnerable, and depend on a trusted central auditing authority to count the votes. Even in the United States, one of the most successful democracies in the history of the world, there have been numerous cases of potential voter fraud, murky ballot handling, flawed registration processes, and vulnerable technology.
In 2012, a man in Albuquerque, New Mexico successfully registered his dog to vote using a made up birthdate and Social Security number. While he never actually voted using his dog’s identity, the ability to procure a voter registration card for an imaginary person is a testament to the lack of security in the system.
Overlap in voter registrations between states has also recently come to light as a potential vulnerability. The Interstate Voter Crosscheck Program is an attempt to make updating voter rolls between states more efficient, and has found hundreds of thousands of instances of people registered in more than one state.
As of 2014, there are seventeen states that do not require identification to vote at the ballot box. A motivated party could reasonably take advantage of this vulnerability to cast ballots for registered but abstaining voters.
Perhaps even more concerning are vulnerabilities in voting machine technologies. A security evaluation of Sequoia voting systems by a research group at the University of California, Santa Barbara found a number of vulnerabilities that could be quickly and efficiently implemented by an attacker.
“Jurisdictions do not have the money to purchase new machines, and legal and market constraints prevent the development of machines they would want even if they had funds.”
- Presidential Commission on Election Administration
The researchers were able to overwrite firmware on target machines, and modify it so they could perform a number of attacks including denial of service, modifying votes, voiding votes, and voting multiple times.
However, there are a number of blockchain based projects offering alternatives to the legacy system. Blockchain Technologies Corp is hoping to replace temperamental voting systems, “America’s voting machine technology – or lack thereof – is a looming crisis,” states the company.
BTC claims to conduct “secure, tamper resistant elections by using the blockchain as a high-tech audit trail to ensure voting records are transparently verifiable and all votes are unique.” The company showcased their “Blockchain Apparatus” platform by conducting straw polls after GOP Republican debates around the USA. The voting platform creates non-financial distributed ledger records, and can be customized to accommodate different clients and their needs.
“The blockchain enables so many great things that were never before possible. While many people are focused on financial applications, we are bringing the security and transparency it enables into the election process.”
- Nick Spanos, CEO of Blockchain Technologies Corp
A Spanish software project, Agora Voting, uses cryptographic techniques to make online voting more secure, and some of their systems have been experimented with in Spain. The project’s leaders have proposed ways that bitcoin and blockchain technology could be adapted for voting applications, though it’s still early for their experiments.
Austin-based Factom have launched various products to assist startups and institutional clients deploy and build blockchain-based applications. Due to the transparency of these networks, the solutions from Factom can be adapted to almost any organization. The organization also believes that its infrastructure could be implemented by governments, to develop decentralized and automated voting systems.
"We have a dream that a new generation of voting systems can be built on blockchain technology and allow each person one (and only one) vote. Results can be validated by math instead of relying on the sticky business of having people tally and report the results.”
- Peter Kirby, Factom CEO
Nasdaq has also been looking into blockchain voting for shareholders. The group's chief executive, Bob Greifeld, announced that Nasdaq will test blockchain technology to “better manage and streamline the proxy voting process,” starting with a Nasdaq market in Estonia.
Voting is the primary way shareholders can influence a company's operations, its corporate governance, share structure, or mergers and acquisitions. Proxy voting allows shareholders to vote when they can't attend a shareholder meeting.
“We are going to put that proxy voting on the blockchain, on the immutable ledger and obviously enable people to do that with their cell phone and have that record with them forever.”
- Bob Greifeld, Nasdaq Chief Executive Officer
Follow My Vote has recently been in the spotlight, although the project was started as a polling system designed to ensure that elected representatives in the US were voting in the interests of their constituents, on the 4th of July 2012.
The project's stated mission is to, “promote truth and freedom by empowering individuals to communicate effectively and implement non-coercive solutions to societal problems.”
The Virginia-based company has since put together a blockchain-based, open source, online voting platform that targets greater election transparency, built on the Bitshares blockchain.
BitShares is different from Bitcoin in that it uses a delegated proof of stake (DPOS) scheme as opposed to the strictly proof of work scheme used by Bitcoin. While proof of work based systems rely on achieving consensus based on the amount of computing power a node brings to the network, proof of stake systems base a user’s ability to influence the network by their share of coin in the network.
“Follow My Vote software will initially be launched on the BitShares blockchain. Although we are intentionally designing our software to be as portable to different blockchains as possible, we did need to select one as our initial platform.”
- Follow my Vote
Follow My Vote has been focused on product and business development, forging ties with election officials and voting organizations around the globe. In late 2014, Follow My Vote joined the California Association of Voting Officials (CAVO), an organization which has been a critical proponent of the open-source voting movement for over a decade.
A proof of concept, which has been successfully demonstrated at several events, quickly followed. More recently, through its alliance with CAVO, Follow My Vote joined the Open Source Initiative (OSI) in an effort to promote open-source software development.
To demonstrate the technology further, the company is holding a “Parallel 2016 Presidential election.” They plan to test the viability and security of their blockchain-based online voting system, and to gather a high-integrity count of the votes to use as evidence against any vote-tampering or fraud that might occur.
Using a webcam and a government-issued ID, Follow My Vote users can remotely and securely log in and vote for their desired candidates. After they’ve selected their candidates, they can use their unique Voter ID to “quite literally open the ballot box.”
Voters can locate their vote, and check that it is both present and correct. The platform also allows the voter to switch his or her vote at any time before the election deadline closes. ”The ability to change your vote, coupled with the ability to observe the election in real time, has major implications for the current two-party system,” states the company.
The Follow My Vote platform is capable of a lot more than representative elections, any type of vote can be held through the application. Examples provided by the company, Follow My Vote INC., range from direct voting on United Nations' resolutions, to viewer voting at the MTV People's choice awards. Being 'voted off the island' could take on a whole new meaning if the entire audience has a ready way to give feedback to producers.
The same software, which is incomplete, would only need to be downloaded one time per voter, giving them access to all kinds of votes, surveys, and elections, all instantly available inside of the app. The company recently started a kickstarter campaign to raise funds to continue development.
“Now that the technology exists to allow for provably honest elections, we must stand together and demand it from our government. If you are against honesty and transparency in our elections, you must have something to hide, and therefore cannot be trusted.”
- Follow My Vote
Using peer-to-peer architecture, Follow My Vote's team intends for the application to be able to route around both election rigging and Denial of Service (DoS) attacks to their system. “Our decentralized design makes DoS difficult,” their website explains. “there is no server to attack, and since a voter could vote from her phone, it would be difficult to successfully deny her service, as she could simply move to a different access point and try again.”
Malware is, however, a more serious threat, one they have so far only suggested a non-trivial amount of user effort to overcome. “Follow My Vote has hired a malware analyst to help them to harden their software against this threat to the greatest possible extent.” The company stated on a part of their site dedicated to security. “Follow My Vote will recommend users only vote from these computers using a live operating system (a temporary computer operating system which runs in RAM and is used only for voting), which will neutralize the threat of malware on the computer.”
“Follow My Vote application is running and storing data on the computer. Follow My Vote will provide tutorials and/or software to help voters accomplish this. Voting from a computer running a live operating system is the most secure way to vote, and will protect users from virtually all possible malware.”
- Follow My Vote