Employ blockchain technology to electronic voting | By Dr Kanwar M Javed Iqbal


Employ blockchain technology to electronic voting

CONTROVERSIES in national elections always remain in limelight. It is not only commonly observed in Pakistan’s general elections but also a worldwide phenomenon, primarily linked with the aspects of trustworthiness, transparency, fairness, efficiency and accountability of the electoral system of a country. All aspects of controversies have a very strong interplay due to interlocking among them.

Although efforts were made historically to always bring improvement in Pakistan’s electoral system, challenges still exist due to bottlenecks particularly in the voting procedure.

Both the homeland and overseas voting procedures have always remained under debate and are still under discussion, waiting for the consensus over the right solution.

It is pertinent that the stakeholders and public at large have high hope to overcome the outstanding issues of electoral mechanism through the application of electronic voting system in Pakistan in upcoming general election.

However, there are several challenges in order to materialize the electronic voting system in Pakistan since it has reported failure in many countries which were also highlighted in a recent series of newspaper articles written by former Federal Secretary, Election Commission of Pakistan Kunwar M Dilshad.

Dr Basit Shahzad, in his newspaper article published in Pakistan Observer on 7 July 2021, rightly emphasized on stakeholders’ concerns pertaining to literacy level, digital divide and trust on developed EVMs vis-a-vis effective use of technology in far-flung areas.

In addition, there is also a major question about cost effectiveness and other operational issues including the server speed on Election Day. Due to these concerns, many leading countries still rely on paper based voting system.

There is a need to first understand the conceptual aspects of the electronic voting system and the procedure to effectively deploy it in Pakistan by improving the shortcomings based on lessons learnt from countries where it has already been used and the trials done so far in Pakistan.

According to Britannica, ‘electronic voting is a form of computer-mediated voting in which voters make their selections with the aid of a computer’. So, it uses electronic means to either aid or take care of casting and counting votes.

Depending on the particular implementation mode, the electronic voting system is conceptually classified into two sub-categories i.e.

one is termed ‘E-voting’ which may use standalone electronic voting machines (also called EVMs) and the second category has computers connected to the Internet which is termed as internet voting or I-Voting.

Considerations for the application of I-Voting are linked with a population size of 9 million overseas, including 7 million eligible voters as per election law of Pakistan.

Whereas, EVMs are envisaged for homeland solution. Both categories are more efficient and attractive, but have different dynamics.

Concerns of stakeholders are pertinent for the genuineness, transparency, rigging and security of the primary data/information source, which need to be rectified if we want a successful system.

In the context, critical aspects highlighted by K M Dilshad are significant and require due consideration in devising a more reliable and widely acceptable system.

Considering the overall scenario, I had a detailed conversation with K M Dilshad regarding transparency and security of information in electronic voting system for both categories.

For widely acceptable solution, there are three major points i.e. (1) application of a secure electronic voting system in which primary data/or information source cannot be changed by any person once the vote is cast, (2) ensure genuineness of information that is free of rigging and (3) application of a decentralized electronic voting system by giving access to participating political parties and independent candidates along with other relevant stakeholders for transparent process.

So, there is a need to put in place such a legitimate, secure and decentralized electronic voting system which is acceptable to the relevant actors.

Now, the question arises: can we achieve this? It is learnt that the top leadership of present federal government is very much inclined to put in place electronic voting system, which is a positive sign and can be instrumental in devising a secured decentralized voting system.

Although establishment of fully functional electronic way of voting system is a gradual process, it is expected that ECP can make necessary arrangements to provide a secure electronic voting mechanism for upcoming general election if there is a consensus of relevant stakeholders, and the present government wants to proceed with a legitimate decentralized technological solution.

For a decentralized secure and transparent system for both E-Voting and I-Voting procedures, the right solution is the application of blockchain technology clubbed with mandatory biometric verification duly linked with NICOP and E-Passport for overseas and CNIC for homeland.

Nowadays, technological advancement has provided biometrics solution on mobile devices and voters can easily utilize this modern solution for I-Voting option.

Blockchain technology records the provenance of digital asset/information in a way that it is unable to be modified.

It stores information/or records in blocks by employing cryptographic technique for establishing and maintaining secure system of communication in the presence of malicious entities/adversaries. Its inherent design feature does not allow any modification in originally generated data blocks.

Since it also offers decentralized ledger distribution and tracking, the stored information can be shared with multiple users simultaneously in a secured and unchangeable mode.

Virtually anything of value can be recorded, tracked and traded on a blockchain network, reducing risk and cutting costs for all involved.

In business sphere, a blockchain network can track orders, payments, accounts, production and much more by providing a level of greater confidence.

However, the application of blockchain technology goes far beyond virtual money and it is equally beneficial for a decentralized electronic voting system, which has immense importance in the case of Pakistan.

Although the mechanics of blockchain are extremely complex, the most significant aspect relevant to electronic voting system is the basic idea that simply decentralizes the storage of data so that such data cannot be owned, controlled or manipulated by a central actor.

Through this feature of blockchain technology, all record of voting day can be stored and shared with all participating actors in order to ensure transparent, fair and accountable system.

It is time to wrap-up the prevailing, non-ending debate regarding transparency and security of the electronic voting system in Pakistan by employing blockchain technology with decentralized distribution system mechanism.

For the purpose, Federal Government, in consultation with ECP needs to devise and publicize a clear roadmap and legitimate standard operating procedure and access mechanism for the relevant actors through meaningful stakeholders’ consultation process.

For the purpose of both EVMs and I-Voting, frequent trials can be done with the help of universities by engaging their students so that errors may be rectified.

Regarding the low cost technological solution, ECP may engage universities for engineering solution on a fast track basis.

I am optimistic that Pakistani students and professors have the ability to come up with right solution in a shortest period.

The federal government also needs to raise awareness and take confidence building measures about the application of blockchain technology with a decentralized approach.

—The writer who is affiliated with National Institute of Maritime Affairs and National Democratic Foundation.

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