Between 25th June to 30th June, Russians shall vote online using blockchain voting upon a landmark constitutional amendment which would determine the faith of President Vladimir Putin. The residents of Novgorod and Moscow are to participate in this voting. The amendment will remove the limitation of a maximum of two terms for the presidential office. Russian government introduced an online voting mechanism based on blockchain to conduct voting. Earlier, their Supreme Court had already used blockchain voting though at a much smaller scale.
Constitutional amendment for maximum presidential term
The Constitutional amendments will alter the maximum limit to hold the presidential office. It will have direct implications for Vladimir Putin, allowing him to hold office for two more terms. Putin could theoretically hold office until 2036, with him first being elected way back in 2000.
He has held two four-year-old terms from 2000-2008 when he had to step down due to the constitutional limit of maximum two consecutive terms. Putin was then chosen as the Prime Minister from 2008-2012 until he was re-elected as the president. The term was also revised from four to six years. Putin has been positive about cryptocurrencies and blockchain in the past and pushed his cabinet to formulate frameworks and standards to regulate its usage.
The amendment has some latent implications as well, it is only applicable to the president currently holding office. Hence, if approved, it is exclusively applicable to Vladimir Putin alone.
Blockchain voting mechanism
The blockchain-based voting system turned into a fiasco on the very first day of moving to production mode, according to initial media reports from Russian agencies. The system, based on Ethereum blockchain, has been developed by Bitfury, a Netherlands based company. Bitfury has been involved in cryptocurrency mining earlier and used to generate a sizeable chunk of its revenue from it.
Democracy and Freedom Watch (DFW) had also reported Bitfury being accorded tax-free status by the government of Georgia for its mining plant. It was not liable to pay Value added tax, income or property taxes. These rebates are typical of many governments and don’t necessarily mean any wrongdoing.
The concept of immutability and security is being leveraged to use it for online voting. Records within a blockchain cannot be modified and are encrypted through a cryptographic hash. The election commission states that smart contracts are being used to count the number of votes. The algorithm being used is ‘proof of authority‘ and the system is not prone to manipulation. The voters can choose to vote either offline or online. The website wherein voting was supposed to take place went offline a few hours post being live, as per reports from RIA, a local news agency.
Blockchain Voting System Goes Offline
The Russian Central Election Commission released an official statement attributing the website being down to “peak demand”. These claims are contradicted by another local news agency which reported that only about ~500 voters were registered in the first hour, which clearly isn’t ‘peak’ demand.
There are also claims of rigging in the voting process, backed by data which shows more number of registered voters than the number of residents in a particular region. Meduza reports that more than 7000 residents registered online for voting in an area within the Troitsky Administrative area, while there are only 2,358 residents found in the list of eligible voters. The commission states it was a technical glitch that resulted in this discrepancy.
Russian journalist, Pavel Lobkov, tried to check claims of immutability within blockchain voting and successfully manipulated the system by being able to vote twice, offline and then registering through the online system. The election commission disregarded it as an attempt at provocation. They claim the voting system is based on blockchain and it cannot be manipulated and the only security issue could be hackers tapping into the communication channel. They have deployed securely closed communication channels to mitigate this risk.
Bitfury is yet to release an official statement about the inefficiencies that have arrived in the system.