Blockchain’s useful properties are well-documented. The decentralized public transaction ledger has seen increased adoption for a variety of use cases by different sectors, each intrigued by blockchain’s transparency, speed, and security (as well as cost-cutting potential). Now a Japanese city has introduced a blockchain-powered online voting system – an area of increasing interest for blockchain application.
The Japan Times reported that Tsukuba, a hub of scientific research in Japan, declared themselves the “first in the country” to use a blockchain-based voting system – in this case, voters were choosing which social contribution projects to support. Ballots were cast via a computer display, with voters scanning their “My Number” card (a 12-digit number analogous to American social security numbers) on a reader to verify their identity. Each vote was then secured via blockchain, preventing fraudulent votes or digital manipulation. Tsukaba’s mayor, Tatsuo Igarashi, counted himself among the converted: “I had thought it would involve more complicated procedures, but I found that it’s minimal and easy,” said Igarashi.
But the voting process was not without issues. Some voters forgot their passwords, an additional security measure beyond scanning their My Number cards; it was also difficult to tell if votes had been counted. Kazunori Kawamura, a professor at Tohoku University with experience studying online voting systems, told the Japan Times that, despite relative success, it would be “necessary to first enhance [a blockchain voting system’s] reputation by using it for voting by expatriates” – once trust was built, and fear of errors alleviated, organizing bodies might find it easier to introduce to voters.
Despite the initial trepidation and missteps, more municipalities around the world are finding uses for blockchain voting systems. Residents of Zug, Switzerland were able to vote via a smartphone app secured by blockchain in a June election, using the city’s eID system for voter identification. CNN reported in August that West Virginia will be the first state in America to allow voting via smartphone app – state residents serving abroad in the military will be able to cast their ballots through an app developed by Voatz, a Boston-based company.
Concerns remain about voter fraud, especially in light of Russian interference in elections in the United States and elsewhere. But companies offering app-based voting insist that their offerings are secure – West Virginian voters are required to upload photos of government-issued photo IDs and video of their face, for example before casting a ballot; the information is then verified by Voatz’s proprietary facial recognition software, after which users can place their vote.
Blockchain voting systems are in their nascent stages, and hurdles relating to perception and efficacy remain. But positive early returns have officials and experts alike convinced that blockchain will be useful in future elections as processes are fine-tuned and kinks are worked out. A modern, more-secure way of voting appears to be here to stay.
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