Voter Fraud can it be Tackled with Technology?
Voter fraud is a growing problem across the world with democratic, and authoritarian governments involved in, arms race like thinking. But, with hackers and foreign powers turning to cyber-crime/warfare as a legitimate means of attack, what is the answer? In this article, we’re going to take a look at the current state of play. Including what is at stake, who is involved and what technologies are available.
Whatever country you visit, you can guarantee that regional and national election times are fraught with anxiety. No, we’re not talking about political parties, concerned for their futures. But, electoral bodies ensuring they take place as they should. Obviously, how that happens depends on how a country is governed, with a democracy it’s usually free and fair. However, inside an authoritarian state, usually the consolidation of power is paramount, backed by the apparent will of the people.
How big a deal is voter fraud?
As for what is at stake, for democracies, it’s the trust of a population, and for authoritarian rulers, control over the masses/message. So can technology help?
Right now, the problem for many countries including the UK, is that their voting systems are antiquated. Still relying on a paper vote, they are open to an old fashioned form of voter fraud. Wherein one side wishing to win, pay’s off those who count the ballots, or intimidate voters, thus ensuring victory.
However, where technology is concerned, right now, countries such as the USA, Russia, Australia, Estonia, and China are searching for a solution. Yes, many of them use machines to register votes, but these have been proven to be vulnerable to hacking. So, what are the solutions?
Open Source Code
Voting machines, often the bastion of countries who wish to count votes electronically have been proven to be vulnerable. Why? That is because, for the vast majority, rely on proprietary software and code.
What does that mean? Basically, one company builds the machines, creates the software and its code. As such, these systems are less open to scrutiny, leading to overlooked bugs, which open up gateways for hackers, or enemy states. One instance of this happened during the 2016 U.S elections, where Russia, was alleged to of hacked machines in multiple states.
More than a conspiracy theory
While the validity of those claims remains under investigation, it has spurred some law makers to call for improvements. With one such method being a move to open-source software in voting machines. In fact, to prove how easy it is to crack the security of a proprietary device, researchers did so at the DefCon hacking conference in Las Vegas.
However, what’s unusual about the U.S voting system, is its lack of a coherent approach. During the last election, different states and counties operated distinct systems, with security not top of their list. For those who have turned to open-source code as a reliable method of preventing voter fraud. It has proven to be an answer, what with no, one single company controlling the system, it is controllable and bugs discoverable.
Who is working on this?
One company which is working to make the open-source voting system a reality is the Oset Institute. Right now, it is researching and developing innovative election software for public use. Its aim, is to make this software easy to verify, accurate, secure, and transparent. Meaning that all ballots are counted, and costs lowered, and peace of mind given to the process.
Created by a concerned number of tech enthusiasts, the company has been working to develop a better system since 2006. Based in Silicon Valley, California, the fruit of its labour is ElectOS a freely available open OS. This Framework, as it is called, is ready for use in any country, and can be adapted, and deployed with ease. In fact, this is but a stepping stone in Oset’s vision for a voter fraud free future.
The problem; however, is that even open-source code can be corrupted by a strong willed group or government agency. So, some democratic, and authoritarian states are turning to another less obvious technology for answers.
With regimes like North Korea using paper with a single voter option, many authoritarian countries have considered a return to that. However, removing all forms of electronic voting is nothing but a step backwards. Although, its consideration has significantly increased, since the alleged Russian interference into U.S elections.
Now, there is serious talk/research by the likes of Russia, and Turkey into the use of Blockchain technology. Why consider a technology created for monetary transactions? The specialty lies in the ability to inherently prevent any alterations of past transactions. This is done by keeping a universal list of transactions that everyone shares. However, in order to see the next transactions, one has make complex calculations using every transactions before it. This adds mathematical certainty to the reversibility. And that means, monitoring for tampering is continuous, and its code is constantly improved.
Current efforts in this direction
A prominent U.S based company which is testing blockchain voting is Follow My Vote. Last year, it tested its solution in a mock election parallel the U.S elections.
Based on the BitShares blockchain, it allows people to cast a vote online using a valid unique ID. Along with this is a private key, plus the need to provide/display government provided ID, this provides authentication. This system makes use of the strongest end-to-end encryption, and cryptography to make voting secure. However, this also enables Authoritarian regimes, to know exactly who voted and when, and where, meaning control can be assured.
In 2016, it was reported that Russia’s NSD, was looking into using blockchain in conjunction with an e-proxy voting system. Given, the human rights abuse’s, voter intimidation, and opposition party restrictions in that country could this secure Putin’s grip on power?