The St Petersburg University’s Distributed Ledger Technologies Centre has developed a blockchain-based solution for remote voting — ‘CryptoVeche’. The election results cannot be faked or altered. The application is for both the business and public sector.

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The application development began at the end of 2019 and continued over the summer in 2020. The project involved nine people, including IT specialists and interface designers. The application came just in time. Many companies needed a reliable platform for remote voting that would ensure the legitimacy of election results. The pandemic has made the situation even more pressing. Today, it concerns both business and, say, education. Educational institutions often hold elections as part of competitions or electoral procedures. ‘Even before the pandemic started, there was a great demand for online voting systems in business as online voting solutions ensured more efficiency, convenience and safety. Having to move online and work remotely due to the pandemic made our solution even more in demand. CryptoVeche can be used in all spheres where we need to ensure a trusting and secure environment for electronic voting schemes,’ said Timofei Utnasin, Project Manager of the Distributed Ledger Technologies Centre at St Petersburg University.

So many benefits

What ensures this security? The answer is distributed ledger technologies, i.e. blockchain technologies (read more in the interview ‘We should look ahead at the windscreen instead of the rear view mirror’ on pp. 10–19) and cryptographic algorithms. The blockchain technology is a new way to store information and data, while the cryptographic algorithm converts information and data into a code to prevent unauthorised access. This solution for remote voting has a number of advantages. First, no person can interfere with the election procedure as to constitute electoral fraud or ballot-shifting. Second, you can vote only if you have installed the application on your mobile phone or personal computer. ‘The system prevents unauthorised access. The application is integrated into the Single System of Identification and Authentication, i.e. a so-called digital passport. No one can interfere with the election procedure or vote twice. The system can spot those who have already voted or have no access,’ said Timofei Utnasin. Additionally, CryptoVeche guarantees anonymity in voting. The information about what you have voted for is not available to other users. ‘Confidentiality and security throughout the election process are ensured by cryptographic algorithms with a blind signature scheme and a zero-knowledge proof protocol,’ said the head of the project.

Yet there is one more advantage. There is no human control in processing and counting votes. ‘The application processes votes by using smart contacts,’ said Timofei Utnasin. In other words, the application uses mathematical algorithms for processing and counting, and these algorithms are intended to make the whole process automated.

Conforming to the law

Moreover, the election results are absolutely legitimate. This is what underpins the technology that is at the core of the application, said Timofei Utnasin. Electoral fraud is simply impossible. The data is secured from deleting or altering in the blockchain database. Any changes are reflected in ledgers.

‘The legitimacy and secrecy of voting are ensured by the obligations taken by the right holder of the software on non-disclosure and confidentiality of personal data, including the information about voting,’ said Timofei Utnasin. ‘Our agreement features a whole block on confidentiality. The data on voting can only be disclosed in the cases envisioned by the federal laws: for example, upon the request of the law enforcement bodies or according to the court decisions.’

Up to 10,000 users can vote per day. In 2020, the application CryptoVeche was successfully used to hold remote elections of the delegates for the final conference of the St Petersburg University’s Alumni Association. Over 7,500 users voted by using the application. The application has a potential to significantly increase the number of voters. The software developers are continuing to advance the system. Therefore, the application has the potential to be used in a wider scope. Large transnational companies with thousands of employees will be able to use the application to hold elections.

The application is also of interest to institutions of higher education, with over 20 universities already using the system. In April 2020, CryptoVeche was used to hold elections of the president of Siberian Federal University.

Wider scope and more convenience

Potentially, the application can be used in an incredibly wider range of spheres. It can be used in banking, industry, construction and development, and the public sector. Public hearings, for example, can be held by using various solutions developed by the Distributed Ledger Technologies Centre at St Petersburg University. This will ensure transparency of the results. Additionally, citizens will not have to attend hearings in person. The first elections for initiative budgeting by using CryptoVeche is scheduled for April in Lodeynopolsky District of the Leningrad Region, said Timofei Utnasin.

The application ensures that remote voting is quick and convenient. It guarantees transparency of the results and prevents data leakage. This is what large business corporations are particularly concerned about when signing contracts and making transactions.

The solution has, no doubt, evident advantages. Yet the software developers are eager to make the solution even more advanced by adapting it to what the customers may need. ‘Software development is a constant process. We are planning our work in a way to accommodate feedback and suggestions we have received from our clients,’ said Timofei Utnasin. ‘Now we are planning to: make the interface more advanced; incorporate a video-conferencing module; add multifactor authentication of voters; and integrate encoding algorithms that are certificated according to the GOST standards and technical specifications.’