Is Blockchain What Democracy Needs or What?
How elections work on the blockchain.
In the immediate days following the 2020 US elections, ex-President Donald Trump didn’t believe he could lose the elections to the current and 46th US President, Joe Biden. And so, he did what anyone who’s ever lost on an iMessage game would do: file several lawsuits to contest the results.
Grim banter aside, if one of the most democratic countries in the world (arguably so) can challenge its electoral process, then where-oh-where lies hope? Because regardless of where you live in the world, “election szn” is serious business.
As the awareness of electoral atrocities grows (take the alleged Russiagate, for example), the basis of democracy begins to get questioned.
Does blockchain technology offer a better alternative for democracy? And how would that even work?
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How Blockchain Voting Works
Estonia, a small country in northern Europe, made history in 2014 with its first e-resident card.
Although this card doesn’t confer a legal residency status on its bearer, it’s a form of supranational digital identity given by the government. This means its holder has a digital signature valid anywhere in the European Union (which Estonia is currently a part of).
But what makes this country, with a population of about 1.3 million people—about ten times less than the entire state of Lagos—unique isn’t just advanced digital authentication methods. Nor the fact that wife-carrying is an actual sport done by weightlifters.
It’s how deeply embracing yet wisely cautious of technology they are.
Such that they’ve welcomed blockchain technology. For instance, if you needed to fill multiple forms with the same information to access public services, you’d need to input your data on the blockchain, which syncs across the board.
More pertinent is their system of voting. With blockchain technology, citizens can vote online, regardless of their geolocation.
FUN FACT: Diaspora voting in Nigeria is not currently possible because it’s limited by the Constitution, in section 77(2), which says, “every citizen of Nigeria, who has attained the age of eighteen years residing in Nigeria at the time of the registration of voters for purposes of election to a legislative house, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter for that election.”
But there are also other countries reported to have explored this approach: Denmark, Brazil, and even South Korea.
Your guess is as good as mine if you’re wondering why any sovereignty would do this.
If vote tallies can be viewed in real-time, it may discourage voter apathy. Blockchain voting enhances transparency and reduces fraud and rigging incidences as trust in electoral processes recedes.
As the world gets more immersed in digitalisation, it’s a matter of time before voting follows suit. Blockchain voting one-ups regular digital voting because of its unique value proposition: secure cryptographic proof. Traditional digital voting is problematic because it’s challenging to verify as valid. We’re already overrun with scams and bots as it is.
So what does voting on the blockchain look like?
It’s not that different from our current methods, at least not in the core process. To cast a vote, a citizen must register to prove their citizenship, vote via ballot boxes on the specified days and wait for the results to get counted.
With blockchain, a voter uses their “voting” token—with a timeframe limit for when the elections are over, wherein it becomes useless via a smart contract. Each electoral candidate has their specified wallet address where each voter can send their token as a count: this represents a casted vote. The vote then gets registered on the blockchain, which acts as a publicly distributed ledger. And then, the votes are counted, even in real-time.
If this sounds too easy, then you know that’s because it’s probably not.
Is Blockchain Voting Safe?
In theory, this process sounds straightforward.
But the logistics is another matter entirely. For one, a voter must be verified as the one who actually voted. Except voters come to a physical blockchain polling booth, leaving people to tap on their phones at home is fraught with many issues: a lot of people have (and can get) multiple phones, but besides, who knows if you’re being held at knife-point?
Two, there’s verification via nodes, which is how blockchain technology operates. These nodes could be manipulated for political sabotage if they are concentrated in specific enemy nations.
Beyond this, the voter’s anonymity must be preserved as a rule of thumb. But this process heavily depends on centralised entities to verify voters’ citizenship. Although various encryption methods exist, such as zero-knowledge proof, total anonymity (not pseudonymity) remains a daunting task.
2023 is a huge year in elections as Nigerians gear up for a most-defining election.
But not for Nigeria alone; other countries in Africa with an upcoming election include Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Some experts believe that blockchain is an appealing alternative to our current traditional way of voting. But if it’s to gain adoption, much more must be done. How many countries can boast of widespread penetration of the internet, access to smartphones and sufficient election funding?
According to this research, blockchain works well for a small number of users—probably not the presidential election scale. Maybe local governments and smaller provinces first.
“For a sustainable blockchain-based electronic voting system, the security of remote participation must be viable, and for scalability, transaction speed must be addressed. “
We’re probably not ready for this, but it’s a compelling concept.
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