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Is This Blockchain Voting System by NYU Devs the Solution to Russia Election Meddling?
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Is This Blockchain Voting System by NYU Devs the Solution to Russia Election Meddling?

by Justin OConnellDecember 12, 2016

With lingering concerns over ways in which the 2016 election could have been underhandedly swayed in the favor of President-elect Donald J. Trump after Barack Obama requested a report on the matter, a team of blockchain-minded New York University devs have developed a potential answer after winning first prize in a development challenge.

Cybersecurity has been a major issue in elections ever since electronic voting machines were deployed in the early 1990s.

Voting had never been less expensive and easier for the electorate. The rise of cybersecurity, on the other hand, has become a major issue for the underpinnings of Democracy.

Donald Trump

It has been alleged that Russian state hackers interfered in this year’s US presidential elections.

President Barack Obama recently ordered a report on how Russia might have possibly meddled in the US election in the favor of Donald J. Trump.

The world-renowned computer protection firm Kaspersky Lab, along with popular financial magazine The Economist challenged development teams from universities globally to create a system for digital voting to solve problems around cybersecurity in the voting booth, as well as counting the votes themselves.

New York University students Kevin Kirby, Anthony Masi, and Fernando Maymi won first place in the contest with Votebook, a “secure, scalable and consistent with current voter behavior and expectations of privacy.”

“As per the rules of the challenge, Votebook is based on blockchain technology, which creates a distributed, irreversible, incontrovertible public ledger that has been described as double-entry accounting for the digital age,” according to a press release about the hackathons results.

Votebook’s “permissioned blockchain” enables a “central authority” to admit voting machines to a network before an election begins, according to the release issued by NYU Tandon School of Engineering.

“The voting machines act autonomously to build a public, distributed ledger of votes,” according to the press release. “Voters would still register and show up to the polls just as they do in our current system, ensuring minimal disruption of voter expectations.” The ledger data for all voting machines would be released to the public at the election’s conclusion for auditing.

“Each voter could then check to see his or her vote was counted by entering a set of unique values (voter identification, individual ballot identification) that only the voter would know – the values, when cryptographically hashed, match the entry on the ledger that represents that individual’s vote;  no one else would be able to decipher those hashes,” the press release states.

The NYU team was awarded $10,000 for Votebook. All three participants work in an NYU program to produce cybersecurity specialists called ASPIRE. The program is based out of the NYU Center for Cybersecurity (CCS).

“Concerns about ballot stuffing, fraud, and cyber attacks have rattled voter confidence,” Maymi said. “It’s time that the voting system became more transparent, and we have shown that we should and can harness the power of blockchain technology to serve democracy.”

“We are exceedingly proud that our ASPIRE scholars triumphed in this important challenge,” said NYU Tandon Professor of Electrical and Computer Science Ramesh Karri, who co-founded CCS, is “excedingly proud of the program’s scholars.

“Their win is proof that interdisciplinary teams can create exceptionally secure information systems based on a deep understanding of social, behavioral, and public policy implications,” she says. “With digital data becoming more and more essential in every facet of our lives – including the way in which we elect our leaders – their expertise is invaluable.”

The NYU dev team’s win is also proof that distributed ledgers can form the basis of many important business and political operations in the future.

Images from Shutterstock.


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