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EC explores potential of using blockchain tech for remote voting

This distributed collection of the information has led some to claim that this system can overcome issues of over-centralisation.

Written by Karishma Mehrotra | New Delhi | Updated: August 11, 2020 1:34:07 am
Sushil Chandra, election commission, blockchain, blockchain for voting, Umesh Sinha, K VijayRaghavanChandra expressed his concerns over geographical hurdles in voting, but stressed that alternative systems must be “transparent, live, auditable, and develop a perception of being very clear in the minds of the voters”. (File)

Election Commission (EC) officials, while brainstorming the next steps to overcome geographical barriers while to cast votes, on Monday explored the potential of using blockchain technology to enable remote voting.

Blockchain is a system in which the database of recordings (a ‘chain’) appears on multiple computers at the same time even as it is updated with any new digital information (‘a block’). This distributed collection of the information has led some to claim that this system can overcome issues of over-centralisation.

Speaking at a webinar organised by the EC and the Tamil Nadu e-Governance Agency (TNeGA), Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra said, “How can we set up special remote polling stations when suppose a person is in a different place than their voter registration? This is a departure from a conventional polling station… Can we think of a machine which can generate a dynamic ballot paper? …We can look at the distributed consensus mechanism. How transparent is this? Is my vote a secret?”

Chandra expressed his concerns over geographical hurdles in voting, but stressed that alternative systems must be “transparent, live, auditable, and develop a perception of being very clear in the minds of the voters”. He said that various industries have tested blockchain technology but there are divergent views on scalability.

Other EC officials spoke of a strong demand for remote voting mechanisms.

“Today our process is tied up to a geographical location. I am sure we can work out this (blockchain) technology. The big issue is to find a secure, safe, trustworthy system. This is a huge task but a pious task. This will facilitate easy participation for those categories of voters who are not able to come to the polling station,” EC Secretary General Umesh Sinha said.

Deputy Election Commissioner Ashish Kundra said, “The desirability of moving ahead… is something we should inspire for. The question is: what is the right technology model which will inspire trust amongst stakeholders?”

Principal Scientific Adviser to the government K VijayRaghavan, however, was optimistic about blockchain’s potential in remote voting, citing research from NorthEastern University in Boston, the US. “I don’t see major pitfalls in using this (blockchain) system in major locations. I would urge that the EC could try this out as a mock exercise in some locations on a small scale and keep having stress tests to ensure it is durable. Then we can go onto the next level of having mock elections where people can take part using EVMs for their real vote and a mock vote… There may be pitfalls but it’s possible to address those pitfalls,” he said.

IT Additional Secretary Rajendra Kumar described how the pending data protection framework could help facilitate the process, while MyGov CEO and National e-Governance Division CEO Abhishek Singh drew on experiments of blockchain in land records.

Meanwhile, Sandra Ro, CEO of Global Blockchain Business Council, said, “India is primed to lead globally on how we transition to next generation voting systems.” She drew on pilot examples from the 2018 US mid-term elections, stating that there needs to be a bridge between security concerns and technological innovation.

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