Since the COVID-19 is here to be part of our ‘new normal’ for the foreseeable future, in the same breath, our dependence on emerging technologies and their capabilities in re-defining business culture and how we re-organise ourselves on the personal end must not be underestimated.
WHAT IS BLOCKCHAIN ?
‘Blockchain’ refers to a decentralised peer-to-peer network which maintains a ledger of ‘transactions’. A ledger stores information and keeps track of these in a data structure or ‘block’ akin to an Excel spreadsheet. However, unlike the Excel spreadsheet it is not centralized because it does not require a manual input (eg an employee or a software controlled by an institution or company). It is described as decentralized because the information in each ledger is stored in nodes ie thousands of computers connected to a common network through the internet. Each computer or node in the network has identical information about the same transactions.
Blockchain can either be public or private and the distinctiveness of blockchain technology resides in this block system inasmuch as each block includes a reference point (or hash) to the last block. Any attempt to change a block produces a domino effect on each subsequent block. It is the relationship between each block which explains the concept of ‘blockchain’.
In essence, there are 6 key components of the blockchain technology as follows:
|§||Decentralization||The entire database is accessible to members of the blockchain network|
|§||Immutability||Blockchain documents cannot be changed or deleted|
|§||Transparency||The blockchain network cannot be manipulated|
|§||Anonymity||There is anonymity because a user generates an addressed as opposed to a user identification|
|§||Provenance||Every transaction in a ledger can be traced in a blockchain ledger|
|§||Cryptography||Transactions are authentic and accurate because there is computation and cryprographic evidence between the parties|
As to users of a blockchain, each user sees and maintains the same copy of ledger by way of a process known as ‘reaching consensus’ which therefore needs to have a reliable consensus engine in order that a ledger is accurate.
Viewed as a system, blockchain technology consists of components which, when working together, have the ability to solve problems both in industries and in society. When blockchain is public, anyone can participate. However, when blockchain is private, only authorized participants are entitled to accede to and add transactions to a ledger.
BLOCKCHAIN AND VOTING?
Viewed on a larger scale, voting through blockchain offers the potential of preserving electoral integrity which lies at the heart of any electoral system and enables a government address the perpetual issue of voter absenteeism during elections when because voters were too busy, out of town, had registration issues or transportation issues. Other benefits of blockchain voting when well implemented are data protection, checking outcome of polling and saving costs of organization making the system legitimate, accurate, safe and convenient.
Voting through blockchain technology would be achieved through smart technology and would take place via an encrypted data which is open and stored publicly on a distributed blockchain network. Through the concept of consensus, each encrypted vote is validated with the effect that the public records each vote on distributed copies of the blockchain ledger which cannot be erased, altered or manipulated. Whilst it would be possible to add one vote at a time, deletion of any vote is impossible at any given point in time. Since blockchain is transparent and publicly available, anyone may inspect it even those who do not have voting rights. The Government then observes how votes are cast and recorded. Furthermore, by operation of the decentralized feature of blockchain, voters are protected because nobody knows who voted whom but instead it is the number of votes which may be counted. As to the voter, each one receives a voting key when registering such that each voter has the opportunity to make only one change on the ledger (ie his vote) after which the key becomes obsolete and cannot be used again.
As of now while the State of Virginia, USA, adopted electronic voting in 2018, there is none in respect of a Government which has applied blockchain technology for voting despite the conclusions of the OECD Working Papers on Public Governance on the use of blockchain technology in the public sector that Governments are already aware of the promising results of using blockchain based solutions.
Admittedly, as a novel concept, it is not anticipated that when implemented, blockchain-based voting will be free from hacking as skilled intruders could still defeat the blockchain technology and breach the voting system and jeopardise the entire election process. However, as our use of technology increases and digital technology is increasingly used in our global ecosystem, the setting up of a voting blockchain technology in the next decade or earlier must not be lightly dismissed.
For further information, please contact:
Sharmilla Bhima, Partner, Appleby