Kenyans held national elections on Tuesday, August 9, 2022, and the voting system closely mirrored Bitcoin
The comparison between the Bitcoin blockchain and the Kenyan voting system used in September 2022 is impressive. To begin with, all polling stations were divided into 46,229 units, and the votes cast at any polling station were counted, signed and accepted as a permanent record. This compares to the Bitcoin network, which has around 14,951 decentralized nodes spread across the globe, according to Bitcoin analytics firm Bitnodes.
The system combines manual and electronic transmission systems to ensure safety. The Kenya Integrated Election Management System (KIE
The IEBC would then act as a third party, collecting and analyzing data from these polling stations. This includes manually collecting all signed ballot forms, verifying them with the returning officer and electronic copy, and counting them within seven days of the election to announce the official winners. At the time of writing this report, the IEBC had received and verified 46,193 of the 46,229 presidential election forms and was awaiting the remaining 36 forms so that the election results could be announced.
This compares to the ease with which blockchain analysis companies like Chainalysis are able to query Bitcoin blockchain data and publish insights.
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The consensus mechanism is different from that of Bitcoin. Political party representatives would monitor the entire voting process at a polling station immediately after the voting window closes, count each vote, and sign the record in the electoral system. This copy, once signed, would be a permanent record. IEBC representatives would then send an electronic copy of the signed form to IEBC headquarters, followed by the physical form at the same location. To ensure transparency, party representatives would also send a copy to their party headquarters.
If this copied Bitcoin, a signed copy of the form would be sent to other nodes to update all copies.
Each polling station has a maximum of 700 registered voters. The number of voters in the polling station would either be the number of people who voted or the number of people who voted before the voting window closed. This means that each record contains 700 entries. By comparison, Bitcoin’s block size is one megabyte per block.
To successfully vote, a voter had to bring an original copy of their national ID card, go to their registered polling station and log in using an IEBC biometric scanner. To sign a Bitcoin transaction, one must have a public address (similar to an ID card) and a private key (compared to fingerprints on the biometric scanner).
When IEBC Headquarters receives and verifies a form from a polling station, the form is posted on its website as an official copy. Voters, party officials, media and aspirants can download and compare this data to their own copy of the polling station. They can also count votes to determine election winners before the IEBC releases the official results.
This compares to the public nature of the Bitcoin ledger, where anyone can query any Bitcoin transaction and see its address.
Once a voter logs into a polling place using biometrics, the device sends an electronic signature to IEBC servers, notifying them that the citizen has voted. Although this solves the problem of double voting, the Bitcoin blockchain solves the problem of double spending.
The votes are stored on the IEBC database in the voting system, and the user only has to sign them. That is to say, the information of each registered voter is recorded and he only goes to the polling station on the day of the election to sign that such is his preferred candidate. Bitcoins are stored in the Bitcoin Network ledger and you only use your private keys to sign that your bitcoins are moved to a specific public address.
To win the Kenyan presidential elections, it is necessary to obtain 50% of the votes cast plus one. This means that if someone wanted to steal the election, they would have to manipulate data from 50% of the polls plus one. This would require a significant investment in terms of resources, but it would ensure the security of the electoral system.
If one or more people wanted to hack the Bitcoin network, they would need to control 50% of the nodes plus one. This would require a massive gathering of resources, firmly establishing Bitcoin as the most secure monetary network in the world.
If a region goes offline or the voting process is interrupted, the other regions will still vote transparently and the missing data will be added after the bottleneck is addressed. In Bitcoin, if some miners or users are offline, their coins are still on-chain and their transactions are added to the blockchain once they are online.
IEBC designed the system to minimize trust and allow voters to verify all records, while Bitcoin’s infrastructure is designed to eliminate trust and allow users to verify. In Bitcoin, the collective nodes are the single point of failure, just like the collective polling stations are the single point of failure of the IEBC voting system.
On the Bitcoin network, once a transaction is signed, it is final, verifiable, and cannot be changed or reversed. Similarly, once the votes cast have been recorded and signed, they are final, verifiable (you can go and count the contents of the ballot box), and cannot be modified.
The difference between the two is that senior IEBC officials can change voter registration details and transfer voters. There is no single admin in Bitcoin who can move Bitcoin around or modify transactions.
Additionally, polling place biometric devices have the full register but can only authorize registered voters for that specific location. In Bitcoin, a transaction can be signed by any node on the network. This is probably an IEBC feature designed to make sure you don’t vote somewhere you don’t live.
Voting records are not kept in the voter registration register. The KIEMS device stores the voter register and scans the signed ballots while the votes remain in their respective boxes. The Bitcoin ledger, on the other hand, stores both addresses and Bitcoins.
Although it is debatable whether the designer of the system was directly inspired by the Bitcoin network, the similar characteristics are convincing to conclude that they were inspired by the Bitcoin blockchain. If you wanted a foolproof system with no single point of failure, where else would you look?
Disclosure: I own bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies.