E-voting is becoming increasingly popular both in Switzerland and further afield. The town of Zug, for instance, is currently testing an online questionnaire – a first step towards e-voting. But doubts about whether centralized systems are secure prevent online voting from being adopted more widely. EPFL, through the Center for Digital Trust (C4DT), has created and tested an e-voting system based on blockchain technology. It is the first such system to guarantee both cryptographic anonymity and decentralized verification.
EPFL’s Decentralized and Distributed Systems Laboratory (DEDIS), developed the e-voting system, which, when put to the test during EPFL’s internal elections, passed with flying colors. The system, underpinned by the blockchain principle of distributed trust, decentralizes the voting and counting processes. These processes are run by several separately managed machines rather than by one central service alone. Data is kept anonymous, and the election outcome is transparent, readily verifiable and guaranteed to be valid. Professor Bryan Ford, who runs DEDIS, is proud of the contribution made by his lab: “We were able to harness our expertise in decentralization technology in order to increase the appeal of e-voting and meet the legitimate needs of voters and electoral authorities.”
Looking ahead, this system could prove extremely useful in sensitive elections where suspicions of wrongdoing are rife. Using a distributed system means that the opposing sides, which may not trust each other, can be sure that the results are valid and can get actively involved in making the voting process secure. According to Olivier Crochat, C4DT’s executive director, this technology is a great example of the possibilities that digital trust has to offer: “At the moment, the only thing competing sides or the international community can do in contested elections is to send in observers. Yet with this decentralized approach to e-voting, anyone can verify the data and prove that the election was not rigged. What’s more, the technology developed at EPFL does not require much infrastructure and is very easy to put in place, so it can be applied in a wide range of elections.”
An open-source environment
The e-voting system will be one of the first modules made available on the C4DT’s Digital-Trust Open Platform (DTOP), which brings together open-source software in the aim of building digital trust through technology – one of the central objectives of the new center.
The C4DT, which was unveiled by EPFL in December 2017, is a partnership between research institutions, industry, the public sector and civil society. It seeks to develop digital systems based on data-protection, encryption, machine learning and blockchain technologies in order to facilitate interactions with policymakers and social institutions and offer digital protection and security in fields ranging from finance and health to democracy and humanitarian assistance.