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IBM Is Experimenting With A Cryptocurrency, Which It Says Is More Stable

The proposition that new solutions are necessary for our strange new world is hard to argue against. The problem lies in proving that something as complex as Democracy.Earth fixes more than it breaks. Consider the most fundamental piece of Sovereign’s infrastructure, the blockchain.

The case for the application of the blockchain to voting systems is that blockchains are supposed to be perfectly transparent scorekeepers that can’t be hacked by Russian bots or bought off by Super PAC fund-raising or corrupt Argentine politicos. The immutability of a “distributed ledger” shared on multiple computers is an article of faith in the crypto community. Using Sovereign, Siri says, voters will be able to track their votes on the blockchain; they will know without any doubt that their vote was cast and counted as intended.

Herb Stephens, a veteran Silicon Valley entrepreneur who serves as Democracy.Earth’s treasurer, says the goal is a system in which “everyone has a copy and everyone can monitor the things that matter to the public in general.”

Or, as the white paper puts it, “with a blockchain-based democracy votes become censorship-resistant and every single voter can audit an election without requiring any kind of access rights to infrastructure.”

Experts in secure voting systems disagree.

“It is a terrible mismatch for the voting and election space,” says Josh Benaloh, a senior cryptographer at Microsoft Research who has spent 30 years researching secure voting systems. “It seems attractive, until you scratch under the surface. There are so many ways in which blockchains don’t solve the real problems, they just make everything worse.”

Dan Wallach, a professor specializing in computer security at Rice University, believes that the crypto-infatuated generation is far too optimistic about what their new toys can achieve.

“Blockchain people haven’t really been paying attention to the threat models inherent in voting, particularly bribery and coercion,” Wallach says. “They tend to make naive assumptions about voters’ ability to control the cryptographic keys and software used to express their votes. None of these systems are suitable for use in real-world municipal elections.”

Wallach and Benaloh both reiterated the classic “garbage in, garbage out” problem that has long afflicted computer programming. Certainly, once things are recorded on the blockchain it is very hard to change them. (As Harper Reed, Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign chief technology officer, told me, “the blockchain is great for knowing whether people are messing with your stuff.”)

But Benaloh is worried about vulnerabilities that occur before data is encoded in the blockchain. There could be malware on your smartphone that alters your vote as soon as you try to spend your token. Even worse, there could be an agent of a repressive state with a gun to your head dictating exactly how you vote.

Or, your vote could just get bought—something that some researchers think will be even easier on the blockchain than at the old-school ballot box.

Although Democracy.Earth intends for Sovereign to ultimately be “blockchain-agnostic”—that is, it should be compatible with a multitude of different public and private blockchains—right now it is being designed to take advantage of the “smart contract” capabilities built into the Ethereum blockchain.

These contracts automatically execute transactions on the blockchain when certain conditions written into the blockchain’s code are met. Sovereign’s vote tokens, therefore, can automatically trigger smart contracts. For example, an organization debating whether to spend funds on a particular project holds a vote; if a majority spends their tokens voting yes, the funds are instantly released.

But in a system where the decisionmaking entity—the vote token—is itself something bearing a financial value, the potential for smart-contract mayhem is enormous, says Ari Juels, a Cornell Tech computer scientist who studies blockchains and smart contracts. In early July, Juels coauthored a blog post pointing out that smart contracts could be equally as effective at “buying elections” as they would be properly executing the results of an election.

“The Democracy.Earth scheme offers a clear and simple illustration of the type of attack we’re concerned about,” Juels writes in an email. “Very simply, someone can anonymously launch a smart contract that buys people’s votes by purchasing their Democracy.Earth voting tokens.

The broader point is that the very transparency of blockchains can be a liability in elections, as it exposes the choices of voters. Smart contracts can automate vote buying, guarantee payment, and otherwise undermine election integrity. The white paper suggests that the connection between identities and cast votes might be broken using new techniques. But breaking this connection when a voter wants it in place in order to sell her vote is hard.”

“I hold the same opinion as the rest of the international experts in crypto and elections,” says Kiniri of Free & Fair.1 “There are nearly only ‘cons’ to using blockchain technology in the voting process.”

Source : https://www.wired.com/story/santiago-siri-radical-plan-for-blockchain-voting/

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