In Thailand this past month, the Thai Democrat Party (“TDP”) arguably made history by becoming the first major political party to conduct a primary election using blockchain technology. The election, which utilized the Zcoin blockchain, was heralded “a resounding success” as nearly 130,000 people were able to “securely”  cast their ballots. In previous TDP primary elections, party officials would internally determine their next leader in an opaque manner. With this cryptocurrency blockchain at their disposal, the members of the TDP believe they had a secure and transparent way to involve the public in their Party’s electoral process (the extent to which that belief is defensible is a well-discussed topic in many media including elsewhere on our own blogs here and here). Nevertheless, between November 1st and 9th the election was conducted using this technology, which enabled fresh transparency regarding the vote count, with the results updated in real time. In addition, this method allegedly bolstered trust, as it eliminated the need for any centralized counting.
Some argue this could address a large problem in the US as local governments administer elections. We remain dubious. Local governments are responsible for ballot creation and counting, determining who can register to vote, and ensuring ballot anonymity. It has been long alleged that this broad range of duties can sometimes be exploited in an effort to manipulate the outcome of a race. By contrast, the TDP essentially outsourced all of this to the blockchain — an election innovation that presents many hurdles to its potential viability in the US as it would likely fail to comply with US election law.
Following the success of the TDP’s primary election, other governments are taking steps to explore the benefits of blockchain technology for elections. In November, South Korea also announced it would develop its own blockchain platform, initially for private elections. After trial runs, it will be determined whether or not the system can be used for public elections vis-à-vis online voting. South Korea’s significant undertaking to construct a system internally will have no applicability to US elections. However, it would be wise and more responsible for South Koreans to explore applications of immutable ledgers to mission-critical government IT applications— something the OSET Institute does support and will have more to say about in the coming weeks.
Japan has also experimented with blockchain voting. In September 2018, the Japanese introduced its first blockchain-based voting system in Tsukuba, a city north of Tokyo with a population of about 230,000 people.
Aside from US applicability, success of blockchain-based elections in Asia could benefit democratic governments and political organizations around the world. Even if certain governments are unable or unwilling to experiment, Asian blockchain elections will serve as a highly visible trial run for any governmental entity looking to implement the technology. We know, however, that technical challenges, let alone current election administration processes and states’ regulations governing them, will make it some time before such experiments (outside of pilot- programs focused on overseas and military voters such as in West Virginia this year) can be conducted for US public elections stateside.
Nevertheless, as a point of update on global innovation initiatives, the Asian pursuit of blockchain is one to keep an eye on.
For Further Reading
 There are clearly many issues to resolve before the OSET Institute is willing to suggest any iVoting solution, blockchain-enabled or not, is “secure.” But as reported, the claim is the ballot casting in Thailand was “secure.”
About the Author
Abraham “Abe” Friedman joined the OSET Institute in November as a Senior Election Security Policy Analyst. He will be producing a weekly update and commentary on global election administration related news and developments with a view toward critical democracy infrastructure as a matter of national security. Abe holds his Masters degree from Tel Aviv University in International Security. He most recently was a research analyst for the prominent Israeli national security think tank, the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. Before that he was a legislative advisor in the office of US Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO).