Ethereum co-founder advises governments to test blockchain petitions before digital voting
Of all the potential use cases for blockchain technology, voting is perhaps the most controversial. Proponents of blockchain democracy point to the fraud-busting benefits of an immutable ledger, while critics worry that the technology is insufficiently developed and could cause more problems than it solves.
One of the sceptics is Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of Ethereum. Last week he drew attention to a tweet thread by Matt Blaze urging authorities to exercise caution before jumping into blockchain voting systems.
Noting that the problem was not so much that “blockchain is bad”, Blaze said that the introduction of such technology “introduces new vulnerabilities that didn’t exist before” and can be done “more easily, simply and securely” by other means.
The problem here isn’t that “blockchain is bad”, it’s that anything you might want to use blockchain for in civil elections:
(a) introduces new vulnerabilities that didn’t exist before; and/pr
(b) is more easily, simply and securely done with other approaches.
— matt blaze (@mattblaze) 2 June 2018
Adding that “the requirements for elections have literally evolved over centuries of democracy” he said that, “voting is not a testbed application for your too-clever-by-half startup idea.”
Buterin agreed with this position, saying that voting online “requires some very specific privacy and security properties” and simply “shoving stuff onto a public ledger can often even be actively counterproductive.”
Start with Petitions
However, Buterin does not think that public authorities should discount the blockchain option entirely. Instead he suggests that as a first step they start with petitions. Pointing out that this is a safer use case as “petitions are non-binding so security risks are much smaller,” he says that it is still possible to “take advantage of blockchains for verifiability and ZKPs for privacy.”
Governments looking to use blockchains for IDs + voting should consider starting with petitions. It’s a safer use case because petitions are non-binding so security risks are much smaller, but you can still take advantage of blockchains for verifiability and ZKPs for privacy.
— Vitalik “Not giving away ETH” Buterin (@VitalikButerin) 12 June 2018
Buterin added that on this issue he was “specifically looking at you Zug.”
The Zug experiment
The Swiss municipality of Zug, often known as “crypto-valley” due to the large number of ICOs which have made their home there, has announced its own experiment with blockchain voting.
Open to all holders of a Zug digital ID, the vote will include “two yes / no questions and one question with multiple answers to choose from” and run from June 25th to July 1st. The results are non-binding and the scheme is a first step in determining the usefulness of blockchain in public voting.
The yes/no questions are whether there should be a firework display each year at the Zug Seefest and whether the experience of digital voting is sufficiently simple. The multiple choice question asks voters to identify which potential use cases for the technology most interest them. The list includes borrowing library books, paying parking charges, submitting taxes or, most significantly, voting in referendums.
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