A deal with Silicon Valley start-up Swarm Fund is a big win for an Australian firm working to revolutionise the democratic process using blockchain. Yet, despite the technology’s promise, it could be years before it’s adopted by an electronic voting industry that has struggled to build and maintain public trust.
Billed as a “scalable, reliable, and customisable decentralised governance solution”, Sydney-based SecureVoteembraced blockchain to develop an online participatory democracy in which political party members could be polled – and vote on party positions – in real time from their smartphones. This was a core principle of the Flux Party, a registered Australian political party with more than 6,800 paid members that has established itself in NSW, Queensland, WA and ACT in preparation for a Parliamentary run in the 2018/19 federal election. Blockchain – the highly scalable, unmodifiable
ledger technology that powers Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies – builds and maintains an anonymous platform for accepting and recording data such as voting records. Because the technology’s architecture means the contents of a blockchain cannot be modified later, CEO Nathan Spataro says, it was a clear step forward for electronic voting platforms that have struggled to assert their non-repudiability amidst the spectre of voting machine hacks such as the 90-minute compromise of a US voting machine at last year’s DEFCON event. “Often the costs around [voting] can be very high, and trust is really low,” Spataro explains. By leveraging blockchain to build SecureVote’s proprietary Blockchain Agnostic Scalability Layer (BASL), “we discovered that we could conduct a completely decentralised, scalable election that was also anonymous. A trustful system built on blockchain is something everyone can get behind, because any user can verify the entries without having to call mediators.” Blockchain-based electronic voting, with its potential to create an incontrovertible and auditable record of every vote cast in an election, would seem to be a no-brainer – but even Spataro admits there is “still a lot of scepticism”. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) “runs federal electoral events according to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 which provides for a manual, paper-based voting system in quite prescriptive detail,” a spokesperson told Information Age. “The AEC will continue to implement a paper-based voting system until such time as Parliament changes the legislation.”
That’s unlikely before the next federal election, but electronic voting has slowly gained ground thanks to firms like ACT-based software development house F1 Solutions, whose Electronic Polling Place Management System (EPPMS) has already managed polling in the ACT and, more recently, the Northern Territory. EPPMS doesn’t manage the votes itself, which are still recorded on paper ballots. But the system does track the rest of the process, using a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model to administer a single central voting registry that, among other things, links polling places to prevent citizens from voting more than once. F1’s platform offers a system-wide audit log that tracks any updates, deletions, or additions that take place on the system. The technology “is able to handle sophisticated governance structures and a whole range of voting types,” he explains. “We needed this to be scalable because our original intention was to underpin this mass democratic future.” “It’s one thing to have 800 million people voting in an Indian election, for example – but if you have a vision of democracy that looks like that many people voting every week, you need a system that can handle really large volumes – and that is non-trivial.” By DAVID BRAUE