Blockchain technology is changing the way that we do things. Whilst the concept of peer to peer apps for sharing files, music, and more, has been commonplace, the idea that the same networks can provide their own security has only been a thing since around 2008.
Over the last decade, since blockchain was invented, its success has mainly been tied to Bitcoin but recently it has started to become recognised as a standalone technology. As the popularity of cryptocurrencies continues to increase, interest in the mysterious and disruptive technology that powers it has grown as well.
Those that have recognised the value of the blockchain, are racing to find positive new use cases and put their plans into motion.
Blockchain voting is just one of these proposed uses. In a world where many third-world countries are struggling to implement democracy, and where many first world countries are suffering from a loss of trust in government and authority, this technology could help smooth out a multitude of issues.
A Short History of Election Manipulation
Election manipulation, electoral fraud, or vote rigging is defined as the illegal tampering with the process of an election. This can be done in many ways such as increasing or decreasing the amount of vote share given to any candidate or candidates that are taking part.
The result of such practices can result in a coup d’etat, a corruption of democracy, or extremely adverse results for the population of a country. In an election where the difference between two candidates is minimal, even the smallest bit of electoral fraud is enough to change the outcome.
Over the years, pretty much every country in the world has come under criticism for the transparency of its electoral system, or issues pertaining to the reliability of the outcome of a vote.
Countries such as the US and UK have been accused of vote rigging and issues with counting, as well as less developed countries coming under the microscope.
There are many ways in which an election can be fraudulently managed and these include the use of fake ID’s, multiple votes being cast, votes being lost, votes being miscounted, and votes being misappropriated to parties or candidates that they were not intended for.
Even in 2018, the concerns around this type of fraud are very valid and widespread, and of course, digital solution that doesn’t allow tampering would be greatly welcomed.
How Can Blockchain Technology Help?
There is no doubt that blockchain technology has the potential to improve old systems that are not only out of date, but that are inefficient and prone to abuse.
The fact that blockchain technology can provide a more secure and transparent way of recording data, transaction, and actions means that it could have huge implications on the way we vote.
In its most basic form, the blockchain is a digital ledger which draws its energy from the nodes of its network to allow it to process, verify, and record any transactions that are made on its system.
This ledger is not stored in the traditional sense of the word and instead, it is distributed across the chain that is supported by millions of nodes at the same time. Using encryption and decentralisation, the blockchain database of transactions is unable to be tampered with or edited without the explicit agreement and consensus of the network majority.
Furthermore, as the network does not exist in one specific place, it is not possible for it to be taken offline or influenced by any person(s) or party, meaning that it is virtually impossible to doctor results.
It is not just financial transactions that are suited to the blockchain, but rather, the transmission of any kind of data. This type of system lends itself to voting extremely well if we consider that the vote is a small piece of high-value data.
There is no argument that our current voting systems are truly stuck in the last century and the fact that for most, voting means having to leave one’s house and submit a piece of paper with a mark on it to a local authority, is completely out of touch. There is no reason why this process should not be brought online.
Whilst there have been attempts to roll out online voting in the past, none of these included the use of blockchain. Previous attempts resulted in glaring security and verification issues, but these are things that the blockchain system can circumvent.
For example, a blockchain-based voting platform doesn’t have to worry about being hacked or infiltrated by nefarious third parties, because even if a hacker does gain access to the terminal, they are unable to make any changes across any of the other nodes.
A voter can essentially submit a vote without ever revealing their personal data, or their political preferences to members of the public. Officials can then tally votes with certainty, safe in the knowledge that each ID can be attributed to a single vote and that there is no risk of duplication or fakes.
Furthermore, there is no possibility that anything can be tampered with and there is full and absolute transparency around the final figures.
But using blockchain technology in elections can also help with another serious issue- voter apathy. Many elections, be they local, or national report a dwindling number of voters. This is due to many different issues, but there is no doubt that lack of convenience is one of the main drivers.
If voters can cast their vote from their smartphone or laptop, then surely we will see the numbers of active voters increasing. Another point worth noting is that not only does using the blockchain for voting make it much easier for the voters, but it is also significantly cheaper for the governments.
At the moment, a single vote can cost between $7 and $25, but a blockchain-based vote would cost around $0.50.
Secure Online Voting Platforms
Whilst the technology behind blockchain-based voting is still being developed, there are various secure online voting platforms such as FollowMyVote that are making waves in the sector.
Follow My Vote is a voting software platform that not only offers a low-cost solution to voting but also allows the election to be observed in real-time. Those that vote can log in with their totally unique voter ID and then they can cast their vote electronically.
Once this has been done they are able to open the ballot box at any given time, find their vote, and make sure that it was marked and cast as they intended. But it also goes that one step further as the voter is able to change their vote at any time before the close of the election.
This bit of revolutionary software could completely change the way that elections happen. It can cut costs, increase the turnout of voters, make the process of voting more accessible, and ensure that elections are completely honest.
It would put an end to re-counts and bad integrity and it would provide the people with real-time results from start to finish. It would also help to make people feel like their voice is really being heard and listened to by the authorities and the fact that the software is open source, means that the code can be independently audited.
The idea behind this software is to completely turn the electoral voting world on its head and to get rid of corruption through the creation of a digital paper trail.
Sierra Leone Case
Whilst the act of using the blockchain to manage the voting process is still in the early stages of development, there has already been one success story of its use.
In March of this year, Sierra Leone held its general elections. An African country with a troubled past, issues surrounding transparency and electoral fraud were big concerns. Unbeknownst to voters, in the nations most populous Western District, amidst a heated campaign between a whopping 16 candidates, a company called Agora was getting to work.
Agora is a blockchain voting startup and they were a part of keeping track of all the votes as they came in for this particular district. Through its proprietary distributed ledger, they were able to offer an unprecedented level of insight into the process.
Using a private, permissioned blockchain, the results were inputted manually by a team of vetted individuals, and then the results were relayed in real time to individuals were entrusted to verify and oversee the troubled nations democratic process.
This instance is seen as a big step forward in the field and it could see Agora develop its own, more decentralised version of the technology. Agora has also stated that it is in discussions with several other nations to provide its services for their next elections.
The Sierra Leone election has become a landmark event– as it was so hotly contested it could provide a working template for other elections such as the US presidential elections that are often shrouded in debate and susceptibility to fraud.
Whilst the Agora system is not completely reliable, it is a step in the right direction. At the moment the votes still have to be inputted manually onto the blockchain which means that the capacity for human error, or fraud is still present as the utmost trust must be bestowed upon those that are inputting the data.
It is hoped that Agora will develop ways for the actual votes to be cast on the system, thus eliminating any risk of tampering or mistakes when inputting data.
If all goes to plan, it could be that blockchain technology is laying the foundations for a true, direct democracy where individual voters can shape the course of policy themselves rather than relying on an elected representative to do this or them.
Whilst this would require significant changes to the rules of a political election, and even democracy, it is completely possible. Blockchain tech can also be applied to lower level democratic processes such as guiding general meetings, making business decisions, polling, censuses and more.
The many uses of blockchain technology are as broad as they are diverse but its potential for use with voting is particularly exciting. Blockchain has the potential to both manage and engages a constituency and it is a crucial and fundamental part of the future of our society.
We also need to focus more on producing a transparent outcome and encouraging people to participate in their communities and the decisions that will affect their lives.
At the moment the technology is still fledgeling at best, but as it continues to mature along with the youthful voters that it will one day help, we are sure that it will be an integral part of the world’s future.
Whilst the blockchain is unable to fight fake news, propaganda, and Cambridge Analytica, it does seem to be able to increase trust and surety in the democratic process.
As adoption and faith in blockchain technology continue to increase on a global scale, we hope to see the widespread rollout of blockchain based voting solutions to help countries, and their citizens to gain solid and reliable results from their election processes.
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