Watching ballots: blockchain’s potential to revolutionize democracy
By Matheus Darós Pagani
CEO of 4CADIA Foundation
The way elections are organized in Brazil has been a constant subject of public debate. Since the paper ballot has been left behind, a recurring criticism on the level of accountability of the current process by electronic voting machines that do not allow the vote to be checked on a individual basis.
You can talk a lot about the level of security involved and the whole apparatus mobilized for that. However, for many ordinary people, not knowing whether what was accounted for at the end of the calculation was effectively what was typed in each urn is cause for dissatisfaction and mistrust.
Dealing with the matter with arguments of authority and deliberate ignorance about the limitations of the equipment used does not seem sufficient to dispel doubts about the whole process. However, the solution of turning to a mixed model, with the impression of votes with a new model of electronic voting machines, does not solve all the problems.
Blockchain technology has been used in the most varied fields of society to ensure transparency, completeness, traceability and anonymity of digital transactions of all kinds. Specially designed applications can change the way we organize electoral processes, moving from a matrix of hierarchical control and command systems to a more horizontal type of governance, where citizens become proper watchmen of the democratic process.
This is possible as that technology allows the creation of an unchanging trail through encryption that can be traced, decentralizing the mechanisms of checks and balances, without exposing citizens’ privacy. This is the case of Agora, a Swiss company responsible for the electoral process in Sierra Leone, and of Active Citizen in Russia.
The implementation of innovations in this direction is a reality in electoral processes in Switzerland, Japan, Sierra Leone, Russia and South Korea. This includes tools for strengthening the electoral process, the inclusion of expatriates in the decision-making process and also including tools focused on collective decision-making processes in community intervention projects.
Unfortunately, the cases still present obstacles that need to be overcome, such as the potential risk of a single actor dominating the whole system, which is the case of permissionary blockchains, where it is necessary to have centralized control of the users’ entry. This can be possible, for example, by means of a targeted attack that allows the use of the network’s consensus mechanism.
The use of a public network, in turn, presents difficulties that are inherent to the technology, directly related to the blockchain trilemma, since no application can at the same time be totally decentralized, scalable and safe. The existing cases show that, from a technical point of view, blockchain is not enough mature yet to fully meet the demands of an electoral process involving a very large number of people.
Hence more pilot projects need to be tested so that we may create a suitable model. This will be possible only if we are all able to establish more spaces for debate and controversy to clarify enough citizens about the potential of this technology. Only in this way funds with public participation will be created to finance the development of high-investment applications.