Rukia, a fashion designer living in a developing country has become frustrated due to the rising costs of goods and services. She discusses these problems with her friend Eren, who believes that voting for a new candidate in the upcoming general election is the way out.
However, Rukia is not convinced and believes that her votes do not count and the general election process is rigged. She cites previous elections that were marred by vote-buying, ballot snatching and voter intimidation activities.
Eren agrees with her and knows that there are many loopholes in the centralized voting process. However, he proposes that blockchain can provide a solution and deliver a transparent voting system. He also explains that with blockchain technology, all votes will be accounted for and there will be lower chances of manipulation.
Rukia feels this new development is interesting but has no knowledge of how blockchain voting works. Eren recommends today’s newsletter as a guide to help her understand how blockchain technology can reduce election fraud. We recommend you read along.
First things first: what is election fraud?
Election fraud, also known as vote-rigging, is the illegal interference with the process of an election. This could involve increasing the votes of a favoured candidate, reducing the vote of a rival candidate or both.
Vote rigging is the biggest problem in elections in several countries globally. It is common in developing regions like Africa, Asia and South America. Vote-rigging includes practices like vote-buying, voter intimidation, and destruction of ballot boxes.
In countries like Nigeria and Argentina, vote buying — a process of paying money to voters for votes — is rampant. It is not unusual to see candidates spending huge sums of money in lobbying or coercing voters into voting for them.
Misrecording of votes is another form of election fraud — this is a situation where votes are changed to reflect a different result from the original one. In 2020, the Malawian general election was nullified by the court because many results were misrecorded through the use of correction fluid.
Even electronic voting which is seen as an upgrade to the paper ballot system has been the subject of tampering accusations. During the 2020 U.S. presidential elections, incumbent President Donald Trump made several accusations of electoral fraud against his opponent Joe Biden.
Therefore, voter fraud is a longstanding problem that is unlikely to go away with existing systems. Thankfully, the blockchain provides a solution.
What is a blockchain?
A blockchain is an advanced database similar to a spreadsheet that keeps records of transactions and activities in digital form. It is powered by a network of computers — called nodes — which have the same history of transactions.
Whenever a transaction occurs, it is confirmed by all the nodes and stored in the history of transactions on that network. So instead of one company or database holding all the information, it is spread across the whole network.
Therefore, blockchain users can make transactions without the approval of a central authority (banks, government, financial institutions). This provides a decentralized system that is safe and transparent — since all transactions can be monitored and tracked.
Blockchain can be deployed in the electoral voting process to great effect.
Here’s how it works
The ideal blockchain voting system will be based on a public ledger, similar to what is used for Bitcoin and Ethereum. Voters will be required to create a voting wallet with their credentials and receive a unique and tamper-proof personal ID. The ID will be issued by an automated system that assigns a unique signature to each voter.
A general voting token will be created and sent to all voters on the blockchain. This is easy to do as the electoral body will know the number of voters’ wallets on the blockchain. During the voting period, you can vote by simply transferring the token to the candidate’s election wallet.
At the end of the election, the electoral body can track and count the votes quickly and accurately. This information can also be verified by anybody thereby promoting transparency and reducing manipulation.
Benefits of blockchain voting
What makes blockchain voting unique is that you do not need to be at any specific location or polling centre. All that is required is an internet-enabled device (mobile phone, laptop tablet) to vote.
Other benefits include:
- Increased participation: Young people who are new to the electoral process could be encouraged to vote because they would not have to queue up for long hours or experience manual technical issues before casting their votes.
- Highly decentralised: The blockchain protects the integrity of the election because the advanced ledger holds separate copies in several locations and therefore has no single point of failure or vulnerability for hacking or attack.
- Less Interference: Blockchain provides distributed control over who can add a new transaction to the ledger. Therefore, if voters meet the right conditions, they can easily cast their votes without the interference of a third party.
- Reduces election spending: Countries already spend a lot of money conducting a centralised election. Instead, the funds used for printing ballot papers and other sensitive materials can be used to develop a blockchain system that is much more efficient and transparent.
- Transparency: Unlike Rukia, you can now see how your votes are counted, so you are unlikely to doubt the result.
Cons of blockchain voting
While blockchain voting could be the future of a free and fair election, it is still imperfect and at risk of manipulation without proper implementation. Here are reasons why blockchain voting still has a long way to go:
- Total security is not guaranteed: Software applications, including the blockchain, still have loopholes that hackers can manipulate to hijack information or records. Furthermore, if the blockchain is not secure, the system may suffer glitches which could dent the whole voting process.
- Poor Education: Old and elderly voters are least likely to vote on the blockchain because they may not understand how the process works. In addition, unlike centralized direct voting, blockchain voting requires a more sophisticated approach to casting your votes. Therefore, blockchain voting can only be successful if the electoral body educates voters on how to cast their votes on the blockchain.
- Access to smartphones and the Internet: An environment without the internet cannot support blockchain voting. If many voters do not have access to internet-enabled devices, blockchain voting cannot work. As a result, poor people will automatically be excluded from the election exercise.
Countries that have utilised blockchain voting
There is a steady increase in the adoption of Blockchain voting as many countries have started experimenting with it in their electoral process. However, some countries are already ahead and have taken the initiative.
Sierra Leone became the first country in the world to integrate its general elections on the blockchain in 2018. The West African country partnered with Agora, a Switzerland-based blockchain company that counted the votes from 280 polling units across the western region of Sierra Leone.
The blockchain company acted as an international observer, and the voting system was used as a backup system to validate the result. However, it was not the primary voting system.
Tsukuba City became the first Japanese City to use blockchain digital voting in 2022. With the help of LayerX, a Japanese blockchain startup, the Asian country integrated blockchain into the voting system as part of Tsukuba’s smart city initiative.
While the process had many challenges, like voters forgetting their passwords when logging into the application, the overall outcome was commendable.
Blockchain voting is here to stay and will eventually be adopted by countries in future. The benefits mean that the voting process can be free and fair for all parties involved.
What are your views on blockchain voting? Do you think it can work in your country? Reply to this email and let us know your thoughts.
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