Thoughts on the design of Digital Elections

Posted on December 18, 2017 by Alex Mason  Comments


I have been thinking for quite some time about how a digital election system should work and the properties that one should hold. Now seemed like as good a time as any to write down these ideas and to see if others can fill in the gaps. A lot of the design I’ve been considering revolves around cryptography, for building both the identification infrastructure and for the ability to independently verify the results. If the properties below can be built with high confidence, then we could come to expect the same level of integrity in our elections that we expect from our banks

I have been working on the assumption that the properties we expect from modern cryptography are similar to those we’d expect from a voting system, though there are further properties we’d also need to insure:

  1. The design must be open to all and open to scrutiny
  2. privacy should be guaranteed, only in the event that someone’s private key is compromised should it be possible to tell how someone voted (I can’t think of any way around this one, but it might be possible to provide electors with private keys they have no access to)
  3. it should be possible for any elector to verify that their vote was submitted as they intended
  4. it should be possible for any elector to verify that their vote was counted, and was counted how they expected
  5. it should be possible for any elector to verify that the number of votes is equal to the number of votes submitted

I’m a fan of the idea of Liquid Democracy, so some other properties I would like to see may also be built on top of this base, but that’s probably for another post. The short version of what it means (at least to me) is all citizens can vote on all subjects, but may delegate this power at any time to another person for a particular subject, and may revoke that delegation at any time, creating a large incentive for people who choose to be representitives to vote the way they have promised to.

Open Protocols

Any advocate of cryptography will tell you that you shouldn’t trust any crypto which is protected by the fact its implementation is secret. Good crypto must stand up to the harsh light of public disclosure and scrutiny by experts. The same should be true for electronic voting; the protocol must be robust enough that any person can build their own client for casting a vote, and even be able to submit a valid vote created using their own implementation, without any fear that the particular implementation is up to no good. The same is true of the implementation of the server, anyone should be able to take the publicly released information for the authority running the election, and be able to reproduce the the result exactly.