With the recently concluded General Elections back home similar hue & cry emerged by the losing parties of rigging. Although foreign observers gave a clean chit to the Election Commission on conducting a transparent & free and fair elections, doubts nevertheless remain. The usual suspects of manipulated results, low voter turn out & security concerns continue to mire the whole electoral process in countries like Pakistan where the age-old paper based voting is still used. The newly introduced RTS (Results Transmission System) collapsed at the middle of the night after the elections, halting the whole process & brewing conspiracy theories about staged results. One thing that has personally bothered me despite living in the West is that you still can’t vote online. I mean you can do online banking, renew your passport/photo ID online, grocery shop, file your taxes & just about everything you can think of online, but voting in elections online somehow escapes the realm. Blockchain technology is about to change all this pretty soon.
Just like many other innovative use-cases of blockchain technology that have penetrated the Global Eco system of the world, voting based platforms have been gaining a lot of traction & popularity lately. The first trial of one such voting platform was conducted by Nasdaq in collaboration with the Tallinn Exchange in Estonia in 2017 with their local technology partner Chain. This was however a simple example of shareholders voting.
The first time we heard about the alleged use of blockchain technology to conduct elections in any jurisdiction was in Sierra Leone in March, 2018 where a Swiss startup Agora seemed to have facilitated this democratic process. This was later refuted by the government officials saying no such initiative was taken. As it turned out, Agora was asked to be an international observer at the 280 of the 11,200 polling stations, where they counted the votes as they normally would and posted them on their blockchain thus showing how the technology can be utilized. Needless to say that the hype around this was a little overblown, but does show the effective use of the technology & how it can be employed efficiently for this process.
The more high-profile & well documented cases of blockchain being utilized in voting pilots came a little more recently. The first one being the Crypto safe heaven & aiming to become the blockchain capital of the world – city of Zug in Switzerland. Not only does the City allow bitcoin payments for municipal services but an actual voting pilot was successfully tested in the End of June. The e-voting system enabled the citizens of the city to vote using their smartphones & the new electronic ID (eID) system launched back in 2017. The project was developed by a local software company Luxoft in collaboration with the Department of Computer Science at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences.
Another major voting pilot is lined up for the upcoming midterm elections in U.S. The state of West Virginia is going to let the military personnel stationed abroad vote from the their mobile devices in all 55 counties of the state. The mobile is developed by a Boston-based startup Voatz. So far the test runs & audits of its Cloud & Blockchain infrastructure have revealed no problems as the green signal has been given for the deployment of the app for the November elections. The company claims that the data would be encrypted and tucked away safely on a decentralized network. Of course, there is a bunch of naysayers & skeptics who think it would be a horrific idea, but then again when is everyone ever comfortable with a new technology. We will find out soon enough how it goes.
Finally according to a news piece yesterday Ukraine’s Central Election Commission is in the process of testing a blockchain based pilot for the next elections in collaboration with the country’s NEM foundation. A testnet with 28 nodes using NEM tokens was setup last month to see the feasibility of the project. Voting is still open and anyone can take part in it. The State register of the CEC stated that the calculated cost of each node installed in a Police station comes out to be $1227 which in hindsight is not a huge price to pay for a transparent, secure & an irrefutable election exercise. To wrap it all up here are links to some of the other promising specialized blockchain voting platforms that I came across – with their tag lines.
Polys – Secure online voting system
SecureVote – The world’s most secure, scalable, and reliable blockchain voting platform
FollowMyVote – Introducing a secure and transparent online voting solution for the modern age
BallotChain – Ballotchain allows for an online process with the same guarantees of a public election
These are just a few and countless others who are in the development phase. Blockchain based voting is still in an infancy stage and the above mentioned pilots & trial runs would go a long way in determining the viability and implementation of such projects on a mass scale. However, the key features of decentralization, security & transparency can bring the credibility, immutability & large-scale inclusion of the public to the election process around the world. I mean who wouldn’t want to vote if they can do it securely with a few clicks – just imagine what it would do to the voter turnout – Now that’s what I call a real democracy. There will be challenges like training Public officials on the use of this technology, gathering feedback from the users to improve on the deficiencies & securing the system from external threats all of which can be addressed with early adoption, investment, due diligence & streamlining the current processes.
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