As the Election Commission of India discussed the possibility of blockchain-based remote voting in a series of webinars on Monday, Telangana’s IT Secretary suggested that facial recognition was a good way to authenticate the identity of a voter, and that the device on which the recognition will take place can be “pre-registered”. “Say if I’m using my phone to do the voting, let it be pre-registered so that the phone number and the IMEI number can also get tagged to the voter ID. We can also make sure that one phone can be used only by two voters so that we don’t run into the problem of proxy voting,” Ranjan said.

Ranjan also spoke about a facial recognition service which is used by pensioners in the state, and said that this could be a model that the Election Commission could consider emulating. “We have created a solution which uses AI to recognise liveness, deep learning to do image comparison, and big data to do demographic matching. So the pensioner doesn’t need to go anywhere, and using a mobile app, he has to load a picture of himself — a real picture, a selfie,” he said.

“AI is used to detect whether it is a live selfie or not, and if someone is just sending the image of a picture. Then that selfie is matched with an image which is already available, and we have trained this machine learning. Now we are getting 98% accuracy. 35,000 pensioners have started using this application, which we call Pensioner Live Certificate through Selfie (PLCS), since last year,” Jayesh added. He did not specify how the database of facial images of these pensioners was created. He also said that a similar face recognition system was being used in the state to renew driving licenses.

“I see no reason why this authentication and identification of the voter can’t be done using the same liveness detection and matching the photo with the Voter ID card, and of course deep learning tools for image comparison,” Jayesh remarked. Telangana had piloted a face recognition voter authentication mechanism during civic polls in the state earlier this year, and it was later found that the accuracy rate of these systems was just 78%.

Speaking about the adoption of blockchain based remote voting, Ranjan said that it will only take off when there’s enough demand for it. “How do you make this demand driven? How do you make sure that all the stakeholders clearly endorse this technology, which is manifold superior compared to the business as usual,” he asked.

Talking about how the state has operationalised the use of blockchain, and how that can be used in an election, Ranjan said: “In Telangana we have introduced a blockchain based solution where every chit transactions now has to be stored on a ledger. If you look at the voting scenario, it’s like saying every vote will be stored on a ledger, and of course you write a smart contract, which must have the timestamp of the time at which the vote is cast. Then you have a hash algorithm which gives you the present hash, the previous hash, and everything is stored on a ledger, so even if someone wants to hack, he will only be able to hack that particular block”.

“Let us work in parallel tracks; one track could be to perfect the technologies. Let’s find the best encryption tools, the best machine learning tools. Let’s make accuracy rates of facial recognition as close to 100%…I’m absolutely willing to join forces with Santosh [commissioner of Tamil Nadu e-Governance agency], maybe pool in a few other state governments, get the blessings of the Election Commission to embark on this,” he added.

Read: EC will create a platform for Aadhaar-Voter ID linkage: Senior Election Commission official

‘Let us start small’

Ranjan also suggested that India can perhaps experiment with blockchain based voting in non-statutory elections. “Let us start small. There are a lot of non-statutory elections also, such as in small societies, neighbourhoods, sports associations, cultural associations, where we can easily use our authority, our position, our influence to make them try this solution. Even if they don’t have faith on it, let them use this as an alternate just to see whether it works well for them or not. Once we have enough use case, then governments can try it out in smaller statutory elections, and then hopefully one day we can scale it up to national elections as well,” Ranjan suggested.

Similarly, India’s principal scientific advisor, K. Vijay Raghavan, said suggested that the Election Commission could try holding mock voting on blockchain based systems, parallel to voting by EVMs in order to “stress test” the system. “you can have a dual system where people take part in EVM votes, but also take part on mock buttons for blockchain voting to make sure that the voting can be done in a secured manner for stress testing. I see no inherent problem [in blockchain based voting]. Financial transactions of much more sensitive nature in terms of volume are bing done on the same technology. The most vulnerable are the initial steps to make sure that a voter is alone while voting, and that they are not under any pressure. Otherwise, it can work very well,” he said.

Also read: As Election Commission discusses blockchain-based remote voting, experts raise concerns over voter privacy