In an ideal world, elections are the epitome of fairness with each person having an equal opportunity to have a voice in the choice of their government leaders. It should be a system where the elected official that the majority of the people choose, ends up leading, and where people trust that the outcome was not marred by fraud, overseas hacking, or suppression.
If we can think of this ideal electoral fairness as a work in progress, it is an inspiring time now as there is a lot of motivation worldwide. For example, in the US, more women and young people have been running for office than ever before and very recently there has been higher voter turnout for the primaries and small elections.
However, the voting process remains very old-fashioned with many holes and risks of failure. Is blockchain the solution to bringing the system up to date?
Sierra Leone was the first place in the world to hold an election using blockchain, and so far they are the only country to hold a presidential election using blockchain which occured in March 2018. According to Futurism, “Sierra Leone has a history of violence surrounding elections, with several incidents reported in the days prior to 2018’s presidential election. The nation’s government is also more corrupt than most, so the small West African country served as an appropriate testing ground for a technology designed to increase fairness in the election process.”
Then this past May, West Virginia became the first US state to utilize blockchain for voting via the internet in the primary elections. While a very small percentage of voters took advantage of this opportunity, it was a chance to pilot and test this usage of blockchain. With low voter turn out in the US, the option to simplify the procedure by allowing voters to vote from their phone by verifying user identity with a thumbprint scan will hopefully increase turnout. As the younger generations grow up and we move towards a time where even the elderly will all die from digital native generations, it is important to start on updating the process now.
Startup Agora, are working to disrupt the entire voting system by “bringing the voting system into the digital age” through the use of Blockchain technology. If this vision spreads to the world election process, this could revolutionize the entire system and seems to be able to solve the majority of issues concerning voting today.
Another company looking to use blockchain to digitize the voting process is Horizon State. According to Investopedia “Horizon’s secure digital ballot box represents a cost-effective and smart solution to the problems inherent in today’s voting procedures. Participants will use decision tokens (HST) to cast their votes from a mobile phone or PC, which are then logged into an immutable blockchain and used to reliably verify the outcome of the election. There can be no manipulation, recording errors, or tampering. More than voting, however, this system will be useful simply for making decisions in an environment where resources, and authority, is shared. It will also encourage participation.”
What problems can the disruption of blockchain to the election process solve?
1 — Voter Turnout
Currently the process of voting is very inconvenient and outdated. As the population ages and the digital natives become middle age and eventually older adults, the system becomes more and more outdated. You have to show up in person to fill out a paper ballot. With Blockchain technology identity can be verified using your thumbprint and you can vote on your phone while a record of your vote is then recorded onto the Blockchain ledger. Of course, we should all be motivated enough to take the time to do so, but that does not mean we all are, especially in smaller elections. In the US, even in the recent presidential election, voter turnout was at an all time low with only 45% of the US eligible population showing up to vote. Drastically easing the process and making it fit into today’s norms would most likely have a large increase in participation.
2 — Voter Suppression and Intimidation
While many of that 45% of non-voters, and other non-voters in other countries, can be attributed to lack of interest or expression of disappointment with choice of candidates, political system etc , that is far from always the case. Some are elderly or disabled and have a hard time getting to the poles, some who are barely making ends meet cannot get off of work which can be made harder with long lines. There can be voter intimidation at the polls, and in some countries actual violence.
3 — Saving of Time and Money
As of now votes are counted and tallied manually. That is a lot of time, money and manpower allocated to the process, all of which is unnecessary in this technological age. When results are close a recount is often demanded, which again uses more time and significant amounts of money.
4 — Higher Accuracy
If all votes are collected electronically, stored onto an anonymous but traceable ledger, the results, even if very close will be counted accurately. Humans make mistakes. Counting ballots by paper can easily result in error, especially in exceptionally close elections. This will ensure all votes are counted and counted accurately.
5 — Eliminate Voter Fraud
When there is a backed up on a ledger trail and your thumbprint is required that would make voter fraud very difficult. Obviously different countries and locations have varying controls against fraud, but this would be a universal system that would make fraud next to impossible. Ways fraud can be committed are voting multiple times or voting under false identities. It would also be an efficient way to eliminate fraud as opposed to current suggestions such as required forms of ID that can make it harder for lower income or elderly people to vote.
6 — Election Fraud
The automatic counting and recording of votes onto the ledger would eliminate fraud and cheating on the government end too. Votes could not be thrown out. The results could not be tampered with.
7 — Voting Abroad
This would assure that voting abroad was as simple and timely as voting locally and ballots could not get lost in the mail.
8 — Trust
Regardless of whether there was fraud or not, the public perception of a fair election process is essential to a functioning democracy. If people think their vote is useless or jsut a facade they will be much less likely to vote, participate in politics in general, and believe in their elected officials.
9 — Overseas Hacking and Interference
With requirements such as a thumbprint to vote and a digital ledger of every vote, overseas and hacker interference would be essentially eliminated. Even if hacking was suspected, it would be much simpler to investigate.
Overall, Blockchain seems to be the technology that finally makes us capable of updating the voting system to the technological world. This will be a huge step in moving the reality of the election system closer to the democratic ideal, where everyone has a voice and the candidate that the majority of the citizens want to lead and govern will be in that position.