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South Korea to Trial Blockchain-Based E-Voting System

It seems that there is no end to the use cases that the core elements of blockchain – trustlessness and transparency – lend themselves to. With that, South Korea are looking into establishing a blockchain-based e-voting system.

Korea’s National Election Commission (NEC) revealed on Wednesday that it intends to trial a blockchain based voting system through a pilot program next month. The trial implementation will be carried out in conjunction with the Ministry of Science and ICT.  Other stakeholders in the process include Seoul National University’s Blockchain Society and the Korea Internet and Security Agency (KISA).  These two organizations will provide the medium – online surveys – through which the system can be trialed.

As is becoming the normal expectation when it comes to blockchain technology, the NEC suggested that it foresees the trialed system to achieve improved security and transparency.  Given the immutable nature of blockchain, it is believed that there would be more credibility in such a voting system with stakeholders such as candidates and election observers having access to the raw voting data.

Voting throughout the world is often associated with corruption and fraud.  There have been efforts in the past to introduce electronic voting systems with limited success.  Those efforts extend back to 1964 with the use of the Norden-Coleman optical scan voting system in Orange County, California.  For the most part, these systems have been plagued with issues with reports of compromised votes, denial of service attacks and technical failures.

In testament to that, the NEC already has an online voting system in use.  Known as K-Voting, the system has been around since 2013.  However, there is little confidence in it as it has been implicated in possible voting fraud and hacking.

In the document that confirmed the pilot scheme, it specifies:

“Voting will be conducted via mobile and personal computers.  Data will be saved on a distributed network and all voters will be able to view voting results as they progress.”

A decision on whether to implement the technology will be made following the trial.  The NEC also refer to the use of artificial intelligence (AI), big data and internet of things (IoT) as having potential for integration in the process in the future.

There has been some speculation on social media that a South Korean blockchain network will be utilized as part of the pilot program.  The team behind the ICON blockchain network has collaborated with governmental organizations in South Korea on a number of projects recently.  ICON have close ties with KISA and the Seoul National University and recently demonstrated a voting implementation on their network.  However, their involvement has yet to be confirmed.

Thailand utilized a blockchain based voting system in elections held earlier this month.  Voters could cast their ballot using a blockchain based mobile app that required the voter to submit their photo ID.  Those identification documents and the voting tallies were stored and encrypted on a decentralized and distributed file system – Inter-Planetary File System (IPFS).  The IPFS hashed files were then stored on the Zcoin blockchain, providing an immutable and auditable database.

Within the past few weeks, West Virginia also trialed a similar implementation with a mobile voting app developed by blockchain startup, Voatz in the federal elections.  Zug – Switzerland’s crypto-valley also trialed blockchain technology in their local voting process earlier this year.  Using an app from uPort, voters were issued with a digital identity before being enabled to vote.

A number of countries have expressed an interest or fixed firm plans to implement blockchain based voting systems.  In May, a member of Ukraine’s Electoral Commission suggested that it was working on a voting system based on the NEM blockchain protocol and network.

Reports emerged last week that the Spanish region of Catalonia were considering utilization of a blockchain based voting system.  The head of their Citizens Participation Council said that they were looking at such an implementation.

The Brookings Institution, a Washington D.C. based non-profit public policy organization, has formed the view that utilization of blockchain technology in voting systems should extend beyond experiments and be actively applied.  Whilst the technology itself is nascent, the fundamentals of blockchain lend themselves to support fully verifiable and untampered elections.  So long as care is taken in the implementation and system design, this is yet another area where blockchain technology can level the playing field for society.