A video demonstration of DRE-ip

We have made available a video demonstration of the DRE-ip voting system on YouTube. The video was made by Ehsan Toreini.

DRE-ip (Direct Recording Electronic with Integrity and Privacy) is an end-to-end verifiable e-voting system without tallying authorities, designed by Siamak Shahandashti and myself in 2016. The DRE-ip paper was presented in ESORCIS’16 and is freely available at: https://eprint.iacr.org/2016/670.pdf.

First campus trial of the DRE-ip voting system

Today, we ran the first campus trial of a new e-voting system called DRE-ip. The DRE-ip system was initially published at ESORICS’16 (paper here), and since then we have been busy developing a prototype. In our current implementation, the front end of the prototype consists of a touch-screen tablet (Google Pixel C), linked via Bluetooth to a thermal printer (EPSON TM-P80). The backend is a web server hosted in the campus of Newcastle University.

The e-voting trial was conducted in front of the Students Union from 11:00 am to 2 pm. We managed to get nearly 60 people to try our prototype and fill in a questionnaire. All users provided us useful and constructive feedback (which will take us a while to analyze in full detail). The general reception of our prototype has been very positive. The prototype worked robustly during the 3-4 hours trial. Apart from the occasional slight delay in printing a receipt from the thermal printer, the system worked reliably without any problem. This is the first time that we put our theoretical design of an e-voting system into the practical test, and we are glad that it worked well to our expectation on the first trial.

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During the trial, we asked the user to choose a candidate from the following choices: Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon, Tim Farron, None of above . The tallying results are a bit surprising: Jeremy Corbyn won the most popular votes! However, the voting question we used in our trial was meant to be a lighthearted choice. Our main aim was to test the reliability and usability of the prototype and to identify areas for improvements. Many users understood that. resultsToday’s trial was greatly helped by the nice weather, which is not that usual in Newcastle. Everyone from the project team tried their best. It was a great teamwork, and it was great fun. When we finished the trial, it was already past 2:00 pm. A relaxed lunch with beer and celebration drinks in our favorite Red Mezze restaurant is well deserved (which I should foresee no problem in justifying to the ERC project sponsor).


We plan to analyze and publish today’s trial results in the near future. Keep tuned.


DRE-ip: A Verifiable E-Voting Scheme without Tallying Authorities

Next week in ESORICS 2016, I will be presenting our paper (co-authored with Feng Hao) on a new e-voting system which we call DRE-ip. The system is designed for e-voting in supervised environments, that is, in polling stations, but alternative implementations of the underlying idea can also be used for remote e-voting (sometimes called i-voting for internet voting).

DRE-ip is an end-to-end verifiable e-voting system that guarantees vote secrecy. These properties are similar to those provided by state-of-the-art verifiable systems like VoteBox, STAR-Vote, and vVote designed to be used in elections in the US and Australia. However, crucially DRE-ip achieves these properties without requiring trusted tallying authorities. These are entities holding the decryption keys to encrypted ballots.

In almost all systems with tallying authorities, the votes are encrypted to provide vote secrecy. These encrypted ballots are posted on a publicly accessible bulletin board to enable vote verification. In some systems, the votes are shuffled (using mix-nets) before the tallying authorities decrypt them individually. In some other systems, they are aggregated (using homomorphic encryption) before decryption and the tallying authorities only decrypt the tally. These two techniques are used to protect vote secrecy from tallying authorities. However, there is nothing to prevent tallying authorities to get together and decrypt ballots on the bulletin board, and even worse, there is no way to detect if this happens. So at the end of the day, we are trusting the tallying authorities for vote secrecy.

DRE-ip works based on a simple observation: if a message is encrypted using randomness r, the ciphertext can be decrypted using the secret key or the randomness r. Now, imagine a situation where multiple messages are encrypted and say, we are interested in finding the sum of these messages. One way would be to decrypt the ciphertexts individually and then find the sum. Another way, if we use a homomorphic encryption, would be to aggregate the ciphertexts first and then decrypt the encrypted sum. These two ways are what other systems are doing. But our observation above tells us that there is a third way: whoever is encrypting the messages can keep an aggregation of all randomness used in encryption and release it at some point, which would enable decrypting the sum of the messages. DRE-ip is built on top of this observation.

In DRE-ip the direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machine that captures the votes and encrypts them, keeps an aggregation of randomness used in the encryptions as well and at the end of the election releases this value to the bulletin board along with announcing the tally. This enables the public to verify the tally. No secret keys are involved in the process of verifying the tallying integrity, and hence no tallying authorities are required. In fact, the system is set up in a way that no one knows the secret key of the encryption scheme. This means that no one is able to decrypt individual ballots. The election tally is the only information that can be verified given the encrypted ballots and this computation is public.

Having the idea is perhaps the easy part, but the main work is to design a system carefully such that it provides full end-to-end verifiability and at the same time one can argue rigorously about it guaranteeing ballot secrecy. In the paper we give proofs of why using encryption is such a way is secure.

DRE-ip achieves levels of security comparable to those of state-of-the-art systems, but crucially with one less group of trusted authorities. To argue the significance of this, it would be sufficient to just quote Ross Anderson‘s definition of a trusted third party: 

A Trusted Third Party is a third party that can break your security policy.