Russia recently conducted a trial of their electronic voting system and declared that the results were satisfactory. The testing took place for 12 hours on May 14 and was available to citizens who had previously applied to participate through their State Services portal.
Residents of Karachay-Cherkess Republic, the Republic of Kalmykia, , Belgorod, Pskov and Tula regions, formed the largest group for the voting exercise. More than 2.3 million citizens applied to take part in the trials of the electronic testing and around 1.2 million citizens voted as a result of the testing of the remote electronic voting system.
The new system was supposed to encourage higher voter turnout but introducing the new system would be gradual and require a strong network and computing infrastructure. This is to ensure it can handle the server workload imposed by the number of citizens and also mitigate the risks stemming from potential hacking attacks.
Russia’s neighbour Estonia has been operating online voting since 2005. The Estonian experience with online voting is the world’s most comprehensive and Estonia remains the only country to hold all of its elections (local, European and national) with the option to vote online for all citizens. The original goal of the introduction of online voting in Estonia was also to stimulate turnout numbers as well as to lower the costs of hosting elections.
The digital identity is integral to casting the online ballot in Estonia. For the user’s identity to be authenticated, the user must possess their ID card (which contains a chip) and the 2 PIN codes for that card. The card must be inserted into a card reader in order to generate the private key needed to cast a ballot.
The Estonians’ confidence has grown in their system because of the utilisation of blockchain to guarantee the anonymity of the ballot.
Until recently, blockchains were seen as an hacker-proof technology but recent reporting seem to indicate that it is no longer the case. Hackers have gotten away with nearly USD$2 billion worth of cryptocurrency since 2017 by attacking the unique vulnerabilities of blockchains.
Apart from this, additional challenges to online voting are to achieve a balance among the issues of security, verification, and anonymity. One of the largest complications is that an anonymous vote makes it very difficult to verify whether the result is accurate or if there has been a security compromise.
One of the easiest way to verify whether an election was tampered with, would be to keep a database of everyone’s votes so that they can look up their names and determine if their vote was recorded accurately.
Unfortunately, such a system would not be anonymous and could lead to coercion. The challenge of verifying the vote while also maintaining anonymity is one of the key balancing act that is involved in electronic voting.
Russians who took part in the recent voting exercise, would be able to share their opinions, as well as leave feedback and suggestions by 24 May 2021.
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