OBSERVATIONS: The General Elections in Sierra Leone

Ballot Counting at Milton Margai College, Freetown, Sierra Leone— 7 March 2018 — Photo credit: Kaitlin Argeaux

Recently I had the privilege to attend the General Elections as an official observer in Sierra Leone. It was a peaceful, eye opening experience that taught me a lot. This event was essential to understanding their electoral process, and I could see many ways in which DID, and our blockchain technology, could potentially be of use.

Firstly, the act of attending the polling station itself. There are no postal ballots or absentee ballots so if you physically cannot attend -whether you are out of the country at that time, elderly or infirm, or are fearful of venturing out due to intimidation tactics — that means you DO NOT vote.

Secondly, once you do arrive at the polling station, they must check your identity against their list of registered voters using your voter registration card. This registration card has been procured months earlier using physical evidence to verify your identity. Although having done this part earlier does speed the process somewhat, it still takes time.

Thirdly, the voting itself; your finger is dipped in ink and used to mark which candidate you are voting for. The ink is semi-permanent, and therefore extraordinarily difficult to wash off; the ink stain usually lasts several days. This is to ensure that each person can only vote once. Whilst somewhat effective, there are ways to remove the stain(using petrol for example) rendering this method less than perfect.

Lastly, the actual counting of the votes is arduous. Whilst every effort is made to ensure there is no falsifying numbers, there is always room for human error. Not to mention, the process is extremely time consuming as each ballot is counted and checked against the total number of ballots issued. Ballot boxes must be unlocked, serial numbers read out, then emptied and shown to be empty. Ballots are then sorted into piles according to the eligibility and the political party, and then at last begins the counting of each ballot aloud and holding each one up to ensure observers like me can verify the vote. Once every ballot is counted, the numbers are then entered into a finalised document that is signed by all present. Needless to say, it is a long, tedious process that must be completed in full to ensure no miscounts or inappropriate behaviour. All told, this part of the election took over 5 hours. Once the ballots from this particular polling station have been counted, they are sent to the NEC offices to be counted with all the other votes in the country.

And then, of course, there is the lengthy process of counting each vote from EVERY polling station in the country, meaning an accurate result will not be announced for days, or even weeks in some instances.

How can DID help? Let’s go back and envision the process using our technology.

Firstly — there is no need to physically attend the polling station. Once your voter registration is entered onto the blockchain, you can vote from anywhere you have internet access. This ensures EVERYONE can vote. Whether you are out of town, elderly, or injured there is no need to worry about not being able to vote — OR — your postal or absentee ballot not making it on time. This also eliminates any intimidation tactics, which have been employed previously and include anything from kidnap to even rape, violence, and bribery. With DID software, citizens can vote by simply scanning a QR code from the comfort of their homes. This will undoubtedly increase the number of voters, allowing for a more thorough representation of the population.

This method could also render the polling station obsolete. Imagine no more queuing for hours to gain entrance and then queuing again to check your voter card against the registration list, and queuing one final time to cast your actual vote. The entire process is made extremely efficient by eliminating the paper ballot. The blockchain ensures that the “one man, one vote” ethos is firmly upheld due to its immutable nature. In addition, since the process is now digitalized, there is no need to ink your finger or manually count the votes and risk human error or interference. Votes are uploaded instantly to tamper proof smart contracts on the blockchain (authenticated with our BOCA technology) and this eliminates any opportunity for human error, protects against fraud, bribery, corruption, and the software can report the results on the same day.

In a country with a history of voter fraud (see 2012 elections: allegations of ballot-stuffing)a blockchain based voting system would resolve the many issues I enumerated above, and Sierra Leone is not the only country to endure voter fraud. America also experienced interference during the 2016 election, and many other countries are similarly affected. By employing our software, we can ensure that democracy is being exercised in a fair and transparent way. Everyone’s voice is being heard, everyone’s vote is being counted, and the results would have guaranteed accuracy.

The pilot study I engaged in on the ground in Sierra Leone is just the beginning; we had a positive response from polling station managers to students to voting citizens themselves. We are already in talks with our contacts to bring blockchain powered voting to other African countries, as well as in Europe. It is an extremely exciting time, and there are high hopes for the future of democracy all over the world.

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