Russia’s New Blockchain Elections Remain Centralized

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Russian communications giant Rostelecom has finally published details about its blockchain-based voting system that will be deployed for by-elections in September.

There will be two blockchain voting pilots in different regions of the country next month. One will be run by Rostelecom, the state-owned major telecom provider, and the other by the Department of Information Technologies, a branch of the Moscow city hall that ran the previous blockchain voting pilots.

The platform by Rostelecom will be used for remote voting on Sept. 13 in two Russian regions, Kurskaya and Yaroslavskaya areas, where the residents will vote to fill the vacant seats at the Russian national parliament, the State Duma.

The system will be based on the Waves blockchain. According to the press release circulated Wednesday by Rostelecom and Waves, the system will allow for “control by all authorized participants of the elections, including independent observers.”

However, the nodes of the blockchain will be located on Rostelecom servers exclusively, and for security reasons there won’t be a way for independent observers to run their own nodes, Rostelecom’s press person Natalia Bakrenko told CoinDesk.

Waves CEO Sasha Ivanov said observers will still be able to watch what’s going on: “All information from the enterprise voting chain will be published on a special portal that can be accessed by anybody. Cryptographic instruments guarantee that the data cannot be tampered with.”

Despite the rough experience of previous blockchain-based voting in Russia, it remains a good business for Waves, Ivanov told CoinDesk:

“Voting has always been one of the most low-hanging fruit for blockchain technology implementation. It is extremely important for us to participate in launching one of the first large scale projects implementing blockchain beyond monetary applications,” Ivanov said.

The system was built on Bitfury’s open-source Exonum blockchain with the help of Kaspersky Lab, according to CoinDesk’s sources, although the anti-virus company did not confirm that.

The first blockchain voting experiment in Russia took place in the fall 2019 during local elections in Moscow. Residents could vote electronically using an Ethereum-based system, which was criticized for weak security.

Blockchain voting has been under the purview of Moscow city’s Department for Information Technology (DIT). Now, there will be two parallel pilots, one by DIT and one by Rostelecom.

DIT is not backing away from the blockchain voting project, the press person told CoinDesk. In November, it will provide the blockchain-based system for the municipal elections in two Moscow districts.

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