How Blockchain Voting is Altering the Global Election Landscape
What might Cleisthenes, the father of Athenian democracy, have thought about blockchain-based voting? Given the famous reformer’s opposition to factionalism and his penchant for disrupting clan affiliations, it’s likely he would have been a fan – just like a number of open-minded, forward-looking governments of today.
The use of blockchain for election voting has already been explored in several curious countries including the United States, Australia, Brazil, Japan, Switzerland and South Korea, and it remains one of the most intriguing and potentially groundbreaking use cases for distributed ledger technology.
What makes blockchain suitable for elections?
Given the fundamentals of blockchain – its immutability, integrity, and transparency – it’s easy to see why certain nations are pursuing the idea so eagerly. Digitizing democracy by letting citizens cast their vote on an incorruptible public ledger, rather than a piece of paper folded into an old wooden box at the polling station, has a clear value proposition. Not only does it uphold voters’ privacy but, thanks to blockchain’s auditability, it eliminates the risk of rigged elections – or the need for a central authority. Votes can be recorded instantly on the public ledger, thereby making exit polls redundant. Theoretically, the winner could be declared shortly after a voting window closes.
Given the technological advances we have made in recent decades, it is peculiar that democratic elections still follow such an outdated procedure: a day spent trudging to the nearest polling station, queueing up to cast your vote, then a painstaking hand-count through the night before the victors are declared. As a system, it is both inefficient and costly. What’s more, the turnout can depend on the weather, the number of distracting sports events taking place on the day, and the relative scarcity of various voting stations, leading to a pitiably low turnout in many countries. Might the ease of using a verified blockchain voting system, for example via a unique ‘vote token’ spent on a smartphone, lead to greater participation?
While not so much a problem in the developed West, voter intimidation, corrupt electoral officials, coercion and dishonest dealings make a mockery of so-called democratic elections in other parts of the world. Blockchain could solve that by assuring voter safety and creating a clear, incontrovertible audit trail.
How successful has blockchain voting been thus far?
We can do more than speculate about the possibilities of blockchain voting, thanks to developments in recent years. For example, remote blockchain voting was employed in the US state of West Virginia during the 2018 midterm elections. While it was on a very small scale – a blockchain-based mobile platform called Voatz facilitated the votes of 144 military personnel stationed overseas – the project was dubbed a success. Despite that, the deputy chief of staff for Secretary of State Mac Warner later said that his boss “has never and will never advocate that this is a solution for mainstream voting.” One has to ask: why? Blockchain-based voting solutions are already favored by some of the largest funds in the US to conduct proxy voting at boardroom level, with millions of shareholders involved.
Shamsh Hadi, CEO of digital transaction management platform ZorroSign, recently made an impassioned case for blockchain voting implementation, telling a Congressional Committee that it would “protect the fabric of our democracy and maintain confidence in the integrity of our elections.” His views are supported by Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang, who has vowed to implement blockchain-based voting if he wins the White House.
In Estonia, blockchain technology undergirds an entire suite of digital identity services including ID cards, which citizens can use to cast their votes online. Forthcoming elections in Uruguay will use open-source blockchain technology to optimize the participation process and even increase the transparency of political decision-making. Unlike West Virginia, the Latin American country is decidedly pro-blockchain – or the Uruguay Digital Party is, at any rate.
The future of voting is on-chain
It’s true that, in the short term, governments must be open-minded enough to give alternative voting systems the green light. Unfortunately, many politicians are inflexible, incurious and prone to clinging stubbornly to old traditions and obsolete tech (door-to-door electioneering vs Facebook ads). Moreover, democratic politicians don’t tend to care much about what the populace wants; they focus instead on convincing us that what we want is what they’re selling. The tide of technological progress is relentless, however, and people aren’t dumb. As blockchain technology matures and is battle-tested at scale, it is surely only a matter of time until a nation state conducts a full electoral vote on-chain.
Contributed by Anonymous Panda