Can Blockchains Save Democracy?
Blockchain is best known as the technology behind the digital currency Bitcoin, however it may also hold the key to fair and transparent elections for faltering democracies across the globe
A fair electoral process is one of the key factors to an effective democracy. In order to have a true democracy, citizens must trust that their vote is equally counted, so that elections accurately represents the views of the public. Unfortunately, this is not the truth in many countries.
Elections are often marred with voter suppression, ballot stuffing, false tallying and hacked voting systems, in efforts to “rig” elections towards a specific outcome. While these challenges are more commonly seen in developing countries, even more established systems have drawn widespread accusation of irregularities. Such was the case in the most recent US presidential election
Blockchain technology may be able to provide the solution to eradicate these unwelcome interventions in the democratic process. To understand how, first we need to break down how blockchains work.
In the cryptocurrency world, blockchains are used to record transactions in a transparent, decentralized manner. With blockchains, the record of transactions is kept on a peer-to-peer distributed ledger, which means that all of the transaction records are visible to anyone within the network. If a transaction was made, you, or anyone else, could look it up. That means once a vote is made, it could be viewed and verified by anyone, at anytime.
Blockchains also maintain anonymity of the users. All of your transactions are made from your unique number code, which everyone can see, however no one is privy to which human being the number code belongs. This means that while all transactions can be verified for accuracy, they cannot be traced back to any one specific user
This would be essential in avoiding voter suppression through intimidation or fear, a huge problem in many developing democracies. Voters would be able to publicly verify that their votes were properly recorded, without compromising their identity in sensitive situations.
Most importantly, the blockchain, or public ledger, is unchangeable once sealed. This is due to the fact that the blockchain is a distributed record. This means that records are held in multiple locations, on multiple servers, distributed across the globe. The server location doesn’t need to be revealed, nor would it even need to be within the country of record, keeping the ledgers safe from tampering.
Each transaction on a blockchain is individually verified on each individual server, through a complex consensus mechanism. The servers talk to each other to ensure that the verification is universally true, and then the transaction, or vote, is recorded. Each transaction’s verification depends on the transaction before it, creating the proverbial chain. Once all of the locations are in agreement and the record has been made, any alterations in a single location would be immediately recognized as false, as they would not match up with the records on every other server, or with the information on the chain.
Thanks to its decentralized nature, Blockchain has no single weak point. Should any single server become compromised, the rest of the network would would simply identify and drop the falsified transactions, leaving the true records intact.
In terms of voting, blockchain technology could make a huge impact on the transparency and ultimately the success of the democratic system. So why isn’t it being implemented?
Brian Bartholomew, Senior Security Researcher at the Kaspery Lab explained one of the main reasons in an
interview with GovTech.com
“One of the biggest issues with voting will be refusal to adopt the new technology. This is something people don’t want to change.
The technology might even face resistance from the people in power, who are interested in keeping a flawed system, and who, unfortunately, are the ones needed to implement a new one.
Grassroots startups such as Follow My Vote hope that change can come from the ground up. The Virginia-based company has created an open-source, highly secure blockchain platform for use within government sponsored election. Their aim is to deploy the platform and make elections, and thus the democratic process, more transparent.
On their website, Follow My Vote also note that their platform could be used in the private sector, streamlining voting in popular culture shows like The Voice or The People’s Choice Awards.