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Blockchain-based voting systems not reliable, say MIT experts

“I haven’t yet seen a blockchain system that I would trust with a county-fair jellybean count, much less a presidential election”, the researcher explained

A report from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory concluded that the use of blockchain technology for conducting elections in order to promote greater turnout may be unreliable and can increase the risk of hackers tampering with the voting process.

The report, advocating against using Internet-based and blockchain-based voting systems in the future has been released amid challenges to the integrity of the election process being posed by certain parties in the United States.

The cybersecurity team of Sunoo Park, Michael Specter, Neha Narula and Ronald L. Rivest explained that blockchain was “unsuitable for political elections for the foreseeable future” when compared with software-independent methods such as voting in person and mail-in ballots.

The potential lack of ballot secrecy, traceability of the blockchain and the lack of auditing in the event of a contested race was discussed in the report.

“While current election systems are far from perfect, blockchain would greatly increase the risk of undetectable, nation-scale election failures”, said Rivest, an MIT professor and the senior author of the report. “Any turnout increase would come at the cost of losing meaningful assurance that votes have been counted as they were cast”, the researcher explained.

The report argued that one of the main differences between the use of blockchain technology for financial transactions versus a democratic process like voting is that financial institutions have methods to compensate victims for their losses in case of fraud. While credit card companies can reimburse funds, some crypto fund exchanges have been able to freeze tokens associated with hacks in the past.

“For elections, there can be no insurance or recourse against a failure of democracy”, the report states. “There is no means to make voters whole again after a compromised election”, it added.

Further, the MIT team explained that blockchain-based voting invites opportunities for “serious failures”.   A single point of attack could potentially allow hackers to alter or remove millions of votes, whereas “destroying a mail-in ballot generally requires physical access”, the report explained.

Countries are exploring methods to integrate blockchain technology into the voting process following small-scale deployments. Russia’s blockchain-based voting system on Vladimir Putin’s term limit reportedly compromised on ballot secrecy, as users and third parties could decipher votes before the official count.

Written by Harshini Nag

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