Allegations of fraud in elections are nothing new. From the chaos in the US state of North Carolina, in which absentee ballots were tampered with, to the elections for the presidency of the Senate in Brazil, in which 82 ballots were cast in a House that only has 81 senators, these scandals slowly corrode not only our faith in the voting system but in democracy itself.
Because of that, the calls for voting systems with more security, transparency, and accountability are growing every day. In the last three decades, some milestones have been achieved, with many countries, such as Estonia and Brazil, implementing systems of electronic voting, which are much more reliable than their paper ballot counterparts.
Electronic voting currently can be made in two ways: in a physical location with voting machines, under the supervision of the competent authorities, or remotely, via the internet. In either case, however, the votes end up in a black box after they are cast, and we have to trust the agency or organization in charge of counting them that they will do it right.
Because of this, in recent years an interesting third way, which is our focus here, has been gaining traction: blockchain-based elections. Let’s get to it then, shall we?
Elections on the blockchain?
We have previously written about the benefits of using blockchain in elections, but let’s do a quick recap here. With it, you can have:
- a more secure verification of voter identity through a Blockchain ID;
- more transparency, making the auditing of votes much simpler;
- the impossibility of changing the result, since the information recorded on the blockchain is immutable;
- safer and faster results, since they cannot be changed and can be verified in real time;
- reduction of costs, minimizing the infrastructure mobilized by the public power;
- greater participation, especially of voters with difficulty in locomotion or who are domiciled abroad.
Even with all of these advantages, however, blockchain-based elections still faced an impossible choice: when conducted on public blockchains, they were more transparent, but their openness meant that the votes were not secret; on the other hand, when done in private chains, it was impossible to verify their result and trust would have to be placed in the central authority that held the private key.
This is precisely why we developed Hääl, putting together the best of two worlds: the transparency and auditability of public blockchains and the privacy and secrecy of private platforms. You can read the whitepaper here and see the proof-of-concept here.
That is possible because Hääl uses state-of-the-art cryptography, like the zk-snarks (which stands for “Zero-Knowledge Succinct Non-Interactive Argument of Knowledge”, in case you’re wondering), plus a modification of the Stealth Address, originally from Bitcoin and now adapted to the Ethereum blockchain, and the Paillier algorithm of Homomorphic Encryption. Got it?
I’m pretty sure you did, but in case you didn’t, don’t panic, I’ll explain. We’re using a lot of advanced tech to make sure that we can, at the same time, have a voting system that is public and verifiable, but that stills keeps the secret of who you voted for.
For that, Hääl is comprised of five distinct phases: voting setup, user validation, voting, tallying (counting) and auditing.
- In the Setup phase, the voting and smart contract administrators should set up the environment for the voting session (with tasks such as creating the encryption keypar and publishing the verification smart contract);
- In the second phase, the identity of the voter is verified to make sure that he or she meets the criteria for voting and really is who he or she claims to be. This can even be done with the help of Blockchain IDs.
- In the voting phase, the voter will follow a procedure to discover the voter wallet, cast his or her votes, fill in the ballot and sign it with his or her validated identity, encrypt it and create a proof-of-vote;
- The votes are then tallied by a smart contract that adds all ballots together and publishes the result, which will be decrypted by the voting administrator;
- In the final phase, the auditing can be conducted by voters, voting administrators and any trusted and neutral auditor, ensuring that the result is correct. It is interesting to note that the voter can verify if their ballot was properly tallied, but that it is impossible for the administrators to know who a person voted for, thus maintaining their anonymity.
The bottom line then is that administrators are still needed to run the voting, but they are no longer capable to manipulate votes or tally them in a black box. Because of that, we can have elections that are not only more convenient for voters, but also cheaper, more transparent and more secure than with other models, be them paper-based, electronic or even blockchain-based that use different protocols.
Hääl as the future of voting
A now for a fun fact: Hääl means “voice” in Estonian, a name chosen because we believe that this protocol can truly be the voice of people, empowering them through voting so that they can build a better society.
It is worth mentioning this use is not limited to public elections, though. On the contrary, blockchain-based voting can be used in companies and any other type of association. The Brazilian Association of Fintechs, for instance, used blockchain, back in September 2018, to conduct the elections of its new board of directors. This election, by the way, was done with OriginalMy’s tech and was the first of its kind in Brazil.
To give you a very concrete example, in public companies it is very common that shareholders use proxy voting to make decisions – a system that is not exactly the most reliable. Back in 2017, only four companies had to spend more than $ 140 million dollars to deal with issues with proxy voting. That’s why, by the way, the next item on our roadmap is to implement Hääl and have it being used for shareholder voting in a public company yet THIS YEAR!
This is only the beginning of a long journey, and we couldn’t be more excited about where we’re heading. Who’s coming with us?