This piece has been retracted, as it was based on a misunderstanding of the information available. The update is here.
Sierra Leone has become the first country to use the blockchain to capture votes during a presidential election.
In 2016, Philip Boucher, a writer for the European Parliament Research Service Blog, questioned whether the blockchain could revolutionize voting. In a Scientific Foresight: What if…? blog post, he wrote:
Despite the digitalisation of several important aspects
of modern life, elections are still largely conducted
offline, on paper.
Yet, while he thinks there are some issues that need to be overcome first, he believes that blockchain-enabled voting (BEV) proposes an alternative voting process ‘with a different set of values and political basis,’ adding:
Traditionally, the authorities manage elections and the process is black-boxed, centralised and top-down. BEV is the opposite. The process is managed by the people and it is transparent, decentralised and bottom-up. While participation in traditional elections reinforces the authority of the state, participation in BEV asserts the primacy of the people.
Now, it seems as though the technology is reinforcing the primacy of the people in Sierra Leone, according to a report from Quartz. Via blockchain startup Agora, a Swiss-based foundation providing digital voting solutions, up to 400,000 votes were manually recorded into Agora’s platform.
According to Leonardo Gammar, CEO of Agora, he says Sierra Leone’s election commission (NEC), was ‘open-minded’ about the use of the technology for its elections. Final results from the West Districts can be found here.
I also thought that if we can do it in Sierra Leone, we can do it everywhere else, he added.
The end goal for Agora is to automate the election process with voters using biometric data and cryptographic keys that enable votes to become validated on the blockchain. Gammer is hoping to continue the work Agora is doing, but on a larger scale. However, he notes that it’s important to understand the problems each country is facing first.
In Sierra Leone, for instance, electoral difficulties include poor network connectivity, violence at elections, and low literacy levels. Despite this, though, Gammar is adamant that the team will be able to figure out ways around problems they may face, adding:
If phones are not available, you can go borrow. If you are blind, we can make your phone speak to you. If you don’t read, we can put up pictures. There is no big technical issue. Everything else requires being imaginative.
Featured image from Shutterstock.