Electoral Data Analysis

Blockchain academics define a new future for democracy in Scotland

Written by Nicholas Russell

The Scottish Government Elections Team has delivered a pioneering vision for future world democracy using blockchain. 

A few weeks ago, I attended an event at the University of Edinburgh’s Informatics Forum discussing ‘Scotland’s Democratic Future, Exploring Electronic Voting’.

What is blockchain vote technology? 

Online e-voting technology design allows you to securely vote using the internet. By so, there is no requirement for any desktop e-voting machines, or polling stations. Combining this with blockchain technology enables the opportunity to use e-voting for elections.

With blockchain voting, each citizen is assigned an electronic ID number (Digital Passport Entitlement Card), which creates an online ‘sovereign identity’, which in turn allows you to place your vote electronically on the blockchain. Blockchain technology is considered secure, and can open up numerous advantages to Scotland, read more about these here.

Summary of the event

Joe Fitzpatrick MSP, Minister for Parliamentary Business, opened the event by saying ‘There has never been a better time to change electoral processes’.

Anne Moises, Scottish Government Chief Information Officer, Directorate for Digital, then took to the stage saying ‘We need to challenge old ways of thinking’, and highlighted that Derek Mackay, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Constitution, ‘wants us to be more digitally competitive’. The audience then heard that 84% of Scotland’s households already have internet access and that ‘more and more young people want to vote online’.

Presentations were made by the University of Edinburgh’s Blockchain Technology Laboratory, and companies including Idox and Smartmatic, which currently supply digital voting equipment such as desktop e-voting machines and paper slip scanners to many countries including Scotland.

Smartmatic’s Chairman is Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, and as a company they are interested in ‘progressing into blockchain’. Whilst both of these companies have their headquarters outside of Scotland, they are interested in configuring blockchain voting in Scotland.

Online e-voting technology can change the way people vote in the future

The academics working on voting technology related topics at the University of Edinburgh, whose names are Prof Ailsa Henderson, Prof Aggelos Kiayias, Dr Thomas Zacharias and Prof Burkhard Schafer delivered a compelling narrative, set against a humble realisation of the enormity of the subject matter – the development of digital democracy.

There are now many worldwide voting organisations who are progressing their blockchain systems through the processes of compliance, regulation, and legal capability. It is considered by many that e-voting systems will have capability to lead to improvements for democracy. For instance, Prof Ailsa Henderson from the University of Edinburgh stated at the event that ‘by digitalising alone, this can increase voting participation by 3% – 12%’.

At the event, the academics set out how e-voting can resolve in Scotland. Prof Kiayias, the director of the Blockchain Technology Laboratory at the University of Edinburgh, stated that ‘there is a way forward, modern cryptography provides a thorough methodology for designing and formally establishing the security of voting systems’. 

Dr Zacharias illustrated how secure e-voting can be, by saying that ‘the voter’s selection is cryptographically sealed’. This means that the academics have created a secure and private digital envelope for each digital vote.

Archaic postal vote envelopes, will now be replaced with a befitting modern era digitalised alternative. This process takes an ingenious and unprecedented approach to now successfully achieve a previously unachieved feat.

Prof Schafer spoke about blockchain’s ability to change voting and stated, ‘the technology can replicate what institutions do’. We will, for example, no longer require institutions to arrange polling stations, or physical counting of votes by hand. Prof Schafer then turned to postal voting, and talked of ’replacing postal voting on demand, to make it available only where a reason for requiring it is shown’, whilst highlighting that blockchain voting must be available to all of the population.

When will e-voting be enabled in Scotland? 

There is considerable progress with e-voting technology at Edinburgh University. Nevertheless, before the technology is used for mass-scale voting, Dr Zacharias and Prof Schafer believe that introductory trials should pave the way rather than rushing to finalise the technology in Scotland.

Prof Kiayias said, ‘we need a principled approach, which reflects how much we value democracy … elections should be run by the people, for the people, and the technology should respect that.’

Prof Kiayias summarised the event by stating that in terms of e-voting technology, ‘Scotland can do this, and it can be exemplary’.

The event was organised by The Scottish Government Elections Team, the University of Edinburgh School of Informatics and the H2020 Consortium Panoramix.

Article via Nicholas Russell, twitter: https://twitter.com/YesDayScotland

With thanks to Professor Aggelos Kiayias, and colleagues within Edinburgh University’s Blockchain Technology Laboratory.

Do you wish to see Scotland enabled with blockchain democracy and future e-voting? Provide your input: The Scottish Government Public Consultation Paper on electoral reform: https://beta.gov.scot/publications/consultation-electoral-reform
Further reading:

Presentation slides from the event


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About the author

Nicholas Russell

Nicholas Russell is one of Scotland’s leading advocates of blockchain democracy.


  • A couple of issues I have with online voting which are the same as postal votes.
    1) You can vote before the campaign is finished thereby voting before knowing all campaign material. You can’t change you mind on polling day.
    2) As with postal voting indirect coercion can still happen.

    • FYI with Blockchain voting you can change your mind multiple times on election day all you need is the secure log in and its the 10pm vote that counts.

  • Think Snowden, think Meltdown. NO NO NO.

    I spent years researching this subject as an academic and advised governments so lets nail it down.

    Trust the network?
    Trust the ISP/Mobile provider?
    Trust the OS on the PC/Tablet phone?
    Trust the App/Software on the PC/Tablet/phone?
    Trust DNS?
    Trust server OS/Software/security?
    Trust the neighbour or canvasser to not ‘help the person with their phone/vote’?

    So imagine you cannot control ANY of the above. You are looking only at the ‘App/Software’ end of this. It would have to be a public open source project – visible and audit-able, a github repo of distributed control. But it would still run on ‘Bob’s OS’ on ‘Daves ISP’ via GCHQ … think!

    Blockchain is good for one thing, a distributed record of ordered votes that everyone gets, where the ‘block’ vote process (as for ‘coins’) confirms the legitimacy. A solo actor or small group of actors trying to subvert it would struggle to overcome a far larger group of ‘voters’ with the legitimate block (a block for the whole of Scotlands voters is not big)

    It needs a paper component as an alternative record, one that can be compared to legitimize, and statistically not all the paper votes are needed to do this

    This article is WRONG in so many ways.

  • Secure votes, greater participation – yeah OK, I’m sort of listening but I’m not exactly biting your hand off in excitement.

    What would really get me interested is if you started talking about questioning the legitimacy and problems of elections themselves – events the Ancient Athenians dismissed as bound to produce aristocracies or oligarchies rather than democracy.

    Scotland is in a fantastic position to recall the spirit and energy of its Enlightenment by exploring something as radically transformational as questioning elections themselves. Let’s face it – our politics, in Scotland, the UK and elsewhere, sorely need something to lift them from their people and planet-threatening zombie status.

    You can get a greater sense of what I mean in this Common Space article on the journalism work I’m doing on random selection and deliberation – (https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/12150/how-democracy-could-be-better-without-elections-and-why-scotland-might-be-well-placed).

    I’m also looking for partners for the global series of short films – to fund it, to be media supporters and to publicise, screen and share the episodes and eventual documentary.

    This is the proof-of-concept episode, focused on how Ireland used a randomly selected deliberative jury to tackle its de facto abortion ban (https://vimeo.com/246689508).

    Scotland could do the same to flesh out a people-led constitution – just for starters.

    More via @PatrickChalmers.

  • No, No, No, No, No.
    1. Paper doesn’t crash.
    2. Paper can’t be hacked.
    3. Paper can’t be rigged.
    4. Human beings NEED to be in the same room interacting and working out their governments.
    5. The biggest problem overall today is people hiding behind closed doors, making decisions.

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