This summer, tensions rose as weeks of protests led to increased police action. The local election on September 8th was for many, a chance to implement change and shift attitudes ahead of the 2021 parliamentary elections. Activist Alexei Navalny turned to blockchain smart voting to encourage a fair election.
Electoral Fraud in Russia
Electoral fraud and voting results has been a significant problem in Russia. Fortunately, the new ethereum blockchain “smart voting” system can help. Through this new system, citizens vote online. Voters first download a software titled Active Citizen. Then, each voter becomes a node of the network and maintains a copy of the distributed ledger. This allows for increased security during elections. In addition, online voting provides access to those who are unable to access voting polls easily.
A month before the system’s debut, a French researcher broke the encryption system. It took Pierrick Gaudry, just 20 minutes to break the encryption using a standard computer.
At the end of July, Russian officials posted some source code on Github for public testing. Gaudry was able to compute private keys from public keys. Then, anyone could use these keys to decrypt any encrypted data. It is unclear how easily this insecurity would allow access to ballot correspondence. The main issue with the system is the size of the keys. They are only 256 bits. Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem. Gaudry recommends officials increase the key size to at least 2048 bits. After they discovered the issue, officials stated their intent to increase the key size to 1024 bits.
Election Day Issues
The system experienced three separate crashes during election day. Unfortunately, some citizens who signed up for the program were unable to cast votes. Still, 90.8 percent of the 10,200 registered users voted with the blockchain system.
Unfortunately, officials failed to deliver the transparency promised to citizens. The developers designed the system to allow voters to verify that their vote was accurately recorded. Additionally, the Mayor’s office promised to publish a vote decryption key. This key would allow the public to count anonymized votes. These transparency features were not available after the September 8th election.
Effectively, the Mayor’s office could publish fraudulent results since officials did not implement the transparency features. However, officials could be compelled to release the vote decryption key and full source code through a lawsuit.
On September 8th, 2019, President Putin’s party, United Russia, lost 13 seats in the city council. Opposition candidates won 20 seats. Importantly, not all these candidates are true opposers of United Russia. Some are loyal to president Putin and function as “systemic opposition” to create the illusion of democracy. Additionally, many opposition figures, including smart voting advocate Alexei Navalny, were disqualified from running entirely.
The Future of Voting Blockchain
Although there were many issues with this system’s debut, it brings democratic hope to Russia. Correct implementation of a blockchain voting system could prevent election fraud. Unfortunately, there are some scalability issues with the ethereum blockchain which was used in the Moscow elections. The current system is only able to process 15 transactions per second. To utilize blockchain for large voting events, researchers will need to solve this problem.