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VIRTUAL VOTE

An Indian state is testing online voting based on blockchain technology

An image of a member of election duty staff arranging an EVM inside a strong room
REUTERS/Amit Dave
  • Mimansa Verma
By Mimansa Verma

Reporter, Finance and Economy

Published

A small segment of the world’s largest democracy is set to test a whole new way of exercising its electoral franchise: through a smartphone app.

On Oct. 20, nearly 113,000 voters of Khammam, a district in India’s newest state, will take part in a dry run for the country’s first smartphone-based e-voting exercise organised by the Telangana State Election Commission (TSEC). The polling body is using artificial intelligence and blockchain ledger technology for its experiment.

The registration for voting in the dry run will remain open on Oct. 8-18, TSEC said in an Oct. 6 (Wednesday) press release.

Last year, Telangana had piloted the use of facial recognition software in the municipal elections to evade the possibility of impersonation by fake voters.

In a completely different project, the election commission of India had, in April, teamed up with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras and the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing to develop a secure e-voting system.

A few other Indian states have up warmed up to the idea of using blockchain technology in other areas of governance, too. For instance, in 2019, Tamil Nadu proposed a state-wide blockchain backbone for use by various government departments and public sector enterprises.

While such initiatives are often accompanied by criticism in India, experts say Telangana’s eVote app will make the voting process more fair and transparent.

Plugging election loopholes

The voting system in India has often faced the heat, be it over bogus voting or manipulation of the voting apparatuses.

Polling here depends on easy-to-use, low-cost machines that register the votes. However, some suspect they can be hacked into and interfered with. For instance, in 2019, several videos emerged showing the electronic voting machines (EVMs) being transported without appropriate security.

A blockchain network, on the other hand, is constantly reviewed by a network of users, making it difficult to hack.

“No one can challenge the authenticity or the tamper-proof nature of blockchains,” said Sharat Chandra, a Bengaluru-based blockchain and emerging tech evangelist.

An individual can register on the blockchain network and use the blockchain identity number to vote. The technology’s zero-knowledge proof encryption scheme prevents duplication of votes and also ensures secrecy over who one has voted for, according to Kamlesh Nagware, chief technology officer of Snapper Future Technologies, a Pune-based blockchain development company.

Zero-knowledge proof ensures that one party can prove the authenticity of a specific piece of information to another party without revealing anything else.

“There are three aspects: identity, anonymity, and trust that an eligible voter has voted,” said Nagware. “If something is recorded on the blockchain node of the election commission, they can see it real-time. Currently, we can only count the number of votes…all the voters are pre-registered on the system, so no ineligible voters can come in.”

Deploying the technology at scale, say in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, may result in a lot of glitches, according to Chandra. Although it will depend on the kind of protocol being used, he said.

“To my mind, they might be creating their own proprietary blockchain protocol…From a technical standpoint, scalability will not be a challenge. There are Hedera Hashgraph and Algorand that support thousands of transactions per second,” said Chandra.

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