Kenyans held national elections on Tuesday, August 9, 2022, and the voting system closely mirrored the Bitcoin
In spite of the similarities, which we will get into, the IEBC’s top officials can change voter registration details and transfer voters. There is no single administrator in Bitcoin who can move Bitcoin or change transactions.
Furthermore, the polling station biometric devices have the full register but can only allow in voters registered for that specific location. In Bitcoin, one’s transaction can be signed by any node on the network. This is probably an IEBC feature designed to ensure one doesn’t vote in a location they don’t live in.
While it is debatable whether the system designer was directly inspired by the Bitcoin network, the similar features are compelling 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?
The comparison between the Bitcoin blockchain and the Kenyan voting system used in August 2022 is impressive. To begin with, all polling stations were distributed into 46,229 units, and votes cast in any one polling station were counted, signed, and accepted as a permanent record. This compares to the Bitcoin network, which has an estimated 14,951 decentralized nodes spread across the globe, according to Bitcoin analytics firm Bitnodes.
The system combines both manual and electronic transmission systems to ensure security. The Kenya Integrated Elections 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 voting forms, verifying them with the returning officer and the electronic copy, and tallying them within seven days of the election to announce the official winners. At the time of writing, the IEBC had received and verified 46,193 of the 46,229 presidential election forms and was awaiting the 36 remaining forms so that the election results could be announced.
This compares with the ease with which blockchain analytics firms like Chainalysis are able to query data from the Bitcoin blockchain and publish insights.
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The consensus mechanism is different from that of Bitcoin. Political party representatives would watch the entire ballot casting process within a polling station immediately after the voting window closed, count each vote and sign the record in the electoral system. This copy, once signed, would be a permanent record. The IEBC representatives would then send an electronic copy of the signed form to the IEBC headquarters, followed by the physical form to 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 be either 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. In comparison, Bitcoin’s block size is one megabyte per block.
To vote successfully, a voter needed to bring an original copy of their national ID card, go to their registered polling station, and sign in using an IEBC biometric scanner. To sign a transaction in Bitcoin, one must have a public address (similar to an ID card) and a private key (compares to fingerprints on the biometric scanner).
When the IEBC headquarters receives and verifies a form from a polling station, the form is published on its website as an official copy. Voters, party representatives, the media, and aspirants can download and compare this data to their own copy from the polling station. They can also count votes to determine election winners before the IEBC releases the official results.
This compares with the public nature of the Bitcoin ledger, where anyone can query any Bitcoin transaction and view its address.
Once a voter signs in to a polling station using biometrics, the device sends an electronic signature to the IEBC servers, notifying them that the citizen has voted. While this solves the double voting problem, Bitcoin’s blockchain solves the double spending problem.
Votes are stored on the IEBC database in the voting system, and the user only needs to sign them. That is, every registered voter’s information is recorded, and they only visit the polling station on election day to sign that so and so are their preferred candidates. Bitcoins are stored on the ledger on the Bitcoin network, and you only use your private keys to sign that your bitcoins be moved to a specific public address.
To win the Kenyan presidential elections, one must receive 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 polling places plus one. This would require a significant investment in terms of resources, but it would ensure the security of the voting 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 necessitate a massive collection of resources, firmly establishing Bitcoin as the world’s most secure monetary network.
If one region went offline or the voting process was disrupted, other regions would still vote seamlessly, and the missing data would be appended once the bottleneck was handled. In Bitcoin, if some miners or users are offline, their coins are still on the chain and their transactions are appended to the blockchain once they get online.
IEBC designed the system to minimize trust and allow voters to verify all records, whereas Bitcoin’s infrastructure is designed to eliminate trust and allow users to verify. In Bitcoin, collective nodes are the single point of failure, just as collective polling stations are the single point of failure in the IEBC voting system.
On the Bitcoin network, once a transaction is signed, it is final, verifiable and cannot be amended or reversed. Similarly, once the votes cast are recorded and signed, they are final, verifiable (you can go and count the contents of the ballot box), and cannot be amended.
The vote records are not kept in the voter registration ledger. The KIEMS device stores the voter ledger and scans signed ballot forms while the votes remain in their respective ballot boxes. The Bitcoin ledger, on the other hand, stores both the addresses and the Bitcoins.
Disclosure: I own bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.