Can Cryptography Help Secure Electronic Voting Systems?

by Dan Goodin
16 Jan 2024

"Proxy & VPN Virtuoso. With a decade in the trenches of online privacy, Dan is your go-to guru for all things proxy and VPN. His sharp insights and candid reviews cut through the digital fog, guiding you to secure, anonymous browsing."

Tablet with Voter Registration Page
Cryptography can largely enhance online voting security.

You know how we do almost everything online these days. Shopping, banking, watching movies. And when it comes to voting, it’s like stepping back in time. Why? It all boils down to one word: security. But it won’t always be like that — cryptography might be the key to taking voting into the digital age.

Key Challenges with Electronic Voting

Sure, voting online sounds great — it’s convenient, quick, and you can do it from your couch. But here’s the catch: keeping votes secure and anonymous online is tougher than it sounds. Let’s review the key challenges involved.

  • Security: The primary concern. We need a system that’s airtight against cyber threats. From lone hackers to organized cyber attacks, the defenses need to be ironclad.
  • Anonymity: Just as crucial as security. In the voting booth, no one knows who you vote for. Online? It’s harder to ensure that. We need a system where your vote is your secret, and no digital trail leads back to you.
  • Integrity: Ensuring the vote cast is the vote counted. In a world where a single line of code can alter data, we need a way to verify that each vote remains unchanged.
  • Accessibility vs. Security Trade-off: Making the system user-friendly while keeping it secure is just another issue. Too complex, and it’s inaccessible. Too simple, and it might not be secure enough.
  • Risk of Election Fraud: This isn’t just about external hacking. There’s also the internal threat — ensuring the system itself, or those who operate it, can’t manipulate results.

What Is Cryptography?

Before discussing how cryptography secures online voting, let’s understand what it actually is. In a nutshell, it protects information by transforming it into an unreadable format. Only those with a secret key can decrypt this information and read it in its original form. 

In effect, you’re using cryptography more often than you might think!

  • Secure Websites

Ever notice the “https” and a padlock in your browser’s address bar? That’s cryptography at work, ensuring that the data you send to and receive from the website is encrypted.

What other methods secure your online presence? Find out!

  • Online Banking

When you check your bank account or make a transaction, cryptography keeps your financial details secure from hackers.

  • Messaging Apps

Many messaging services use end-to-end encryption. This means the messages are encrypted on your device and only decrypted on the recipient’s device.

  • Password Storage

When you create an account on a website, your password is often encrypted, which means even the site itself can’t see it.

How Does Cryptography Secure Voting?

Cryptography sounds complex, but it’s just about your vote into a secret code. Here’s a closer look at how it all works.

Step #1: Encryption at Source

Imagine you’re voting online. You select your candidate and hit “submit.” At this very moment, your vote gets encrypted. It becomes a string of unintelligible characters — a code that hides the actual choice you made.

Step #2: Secure Transit

Now, your encrypted vote starts its journey through the internet to reach the election server. It travels through an invisible tunnel where no one can peek inside. This tunnel protects your vote from any attempts to intercept and read your vote.

Step #3: Decryption by Authorized Parties

Once your vote reaches its destination — the election server — it needs to be counted. But first, it must be converted back to its original form. The election officials have a unique key, which they use to decrypt your vote. Because it’s one possible vulnerability, this key must be highly guarded and unique to each election.

Step #4: Anonymity Preserved

Throughout this process, your identity is kept separate from your vote. While the system verifies that you’re an eligible voter, it doesn’t attach your identity to your vote.

So after decryption, your vote is counted, and a record is made that you’ve voted. However, this record doesn’t show who or what you voted for, just that you participated.

Possible Vulnerabilities of Cryptography In Voting

No system’s perfect, and cryptography in electronic voting is no exception. While it significantly ramps up security, there are a few vulnerabilities we need to consider.

Key Management

As you might have already guessed, this is the biggest issue. If the encryption and decryption keys fall into the wrong hands, the whole system could be compromised.

Complexity and Errors

Cryptography is complex. With complexity comes the risk of errors in implementation. A tiny flaw in the system could be exploited by those looking to manipulate the vote.

Insider Threats

Even the most secure systems can be threatened from the inside. If someone who manages the voting system decides to act maliciously, they could potentially alter votes or decrypt data.

Advanced Cyber Attacks

As cybersecurity evolves, so do hacking techniques. Quantum computing, for example, poses a future threat to current encryption methods. It could potentially break codes that are considered unbreakable today.

Learn about both the challenges and opportunities that quantum computing brings to the table.

Voter Verification Challenges

Verifying voter identity in an anonymous system is tricky. The system must ensure that the vote is cast by an eligible voter. Yet, it mustn’t link the vote to the voter’s identity.

Public Trust

Technological complexities might lead to skepticism among the public. For people to trust and accept electronic voting, they need to understand and believe in the security measures.

The Role of Blockchain in Vote Security

One way to address the challenges described above is by adding blockchain to the mix. Each vote becomes a “block” on the ledger. Once added, it’s set in stone. Changing even a single vote would require altering all subsequent blocks and the copies of the ledger distributed across the network.

As you see, with blockchain, tampering with votes becomes a near-impossible task. Combining it with cryptography, you’ve got a system where votes are both secure and traceable.

In Conclusion

So, can cryptography secure electronic voting? It sure looks promising. With advanced encryption and blockchain, online voting could become more accessible and secure. The road ahead isn’t without challenges but the potential is huge.

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