Can blockchain help overcome election voting woes in India?

Published on 22 Feb, 2021

The voting system in India faces many challenges and has come under heavy scrutiny time and again. These issues could be eliminated with the implementation of a blockchain-enabled voting process that would be carried out online. The current voting process requires the voter’s physical presence, which has led to a decline in their numbers, but this online process could be the solution. Voters will be able to cast their votes from another city as well and hence exercise their democratic right. This initiative is still under development and only time will tell if it will be a success.

One of the new-age technologies that is making waves is blockchain. It has already entered the financial sector and is making inroads in other industries as well. The advantage of blockchain technology is that it records information in a way that makes it difficult to hack, cheat, or tamper with the data submitted. It is a digital book of transactions that is replicated and distributed throughout the network of systems on the chain. Each block in a blockchain contains numerous transactions, and every new transaction is added as a separate entry to each journal.

Due to encryption and decentralization of the technology, blockchain transactions are not corruptible, and every transaction is easily certifiable. To corrupt a blockchain, every block in the chain would have to be altered across the distributed systems of the chain, which is not impossible but quite tedious and time-consuming.

Blockchain and the Indian voting process
In recent years, there have been several reports of elections being tampered with across the world. The integrity of the election process is an increasing global concern, especially following the misinformation regarding the 2020 US presidential elections.

India’s current voting system is still fairly traditional and follows the age-old processes. Voters need to assemble at a center allotted by the local authority to cast their votes. The process followed to collect and then count the votes has many irregularities that allow cheating and errors.

Blockchain’s transparent, encrypted, and decentralized system could provide an alternative by facilitating an online voting system that would minimize fraud or tampering. As blockchain transactions are difficult to erase or edit and due to the absence of a central system, it would be a secure way to conduct the voting process.

Apart from the actual process, the counting of votes is a time-consuming activity. If any of the parties challenge the results, the recounting of votes, as seen in the 2020 US elections, becomes cumbersome and consumes significant resource. This issue could also be eliminated through blockchain as it would provide real-time data and ensure error-free results.

Indian elections:
One of the main issues India is facing at present is the declining voter turnout. The government attributes this to the fact that people have to vote from the constituencies where they have registered. Throughout the country, an estimated 450 million people have migrated from their hometowns for work, education, and so on, and many of them do not register in their new constituencies. As a result, about one-third of the 900 million people eligible to vote in the 2019 general elections did not cast their votes.

The decreasing voter turnout, coupled with growing concern over voter registration integrity, poll accessibility, and election security, has prompted the government to contemplate blockchain-based voting platforms. The Election Commission (EC) of India, in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), is seeking to develop a blockchain-based voting system that will allow voters to cast votes without going to the assigned polling center of their respective constituencies. The project, though in the R&D stage, would benefit seasonal and migrant workers, who account for approximately 51 million of the population (as per 2011 census). Moreover, such a voting system could benefit remotely stationed members of the armed forces.

The system would allow registered voters to cast votes from any part of the country, regardless of their constituencies; however, voters would still be required to visit an assigned center to avail of this facility.

Trials across the globe:
This is not a new concept as several blockchain-based elections have already been conducted across the globe. Many companies are already working to develop blockchain-based voting systems.

The first large-scale political elections using blockchain technology were held in Thailand in November 2018, where the Thai Democrat Party held a primary election via ZCoin. The Republic Party of Arizona piloted a blockchain-based voting system, Voatz, where officials used the mobile application-based solution during the pandemic. Similarly, after its initial pilot project, Russia is planning to expand blockchain voting across the country in its next parliamentary elections.

As with any new disruptive technology, there are a few challenges associated with blockchain-based voting systems as well. For instance, in the voting system being developed by the Indian government, voters would still have to reach a designated venue to cast their vote, be it in a different city.

The functioning of these systems depends on the proper execution of cryptographic protocols. In case of any error/inadequacy in execution, it could potentially reveal the identity and voting preferences of the voter or allow an individual to cast a vote as someone else.

Blockchain is an emerging technology and has its set of disadvantages. The process of voting from home, a “anytime-anywhere-any device,” would still require more time and technological advancement. However, the application of a blockchain-based voting system would help overcome the shortfall of India’s biggest electoral challenges, i.e., voting center accessibility.

While the guidelines of election may have to be reformed to make way for such a transparent system, the implementation of a blockchain-based voting system is a great value proposition.