Blockchain: the future of e-voting
Digital elections cost less and could allow more citizens to make their views known. A goal that should be a priority for every democratic country.
- Saturday, 01 September 2018
While the term Blockchain is a self-explanatory and simple description of the concept of this technology, much harder to define are the limits of its future applicationandthe wide-ranging possibilities it offers. Blockchain is a technique for managing transactions between two individuals on the same network; the heart of the system is represented by an open ledger that archivesall of the encrypted information sent between users (nodes). The data is certified and memorized both within the cryptographic blocks, which are connected together in a hierarchy and are unalterable, contributing towards the creation of an infinite chain. One of the main peculiarities of blockchain is the certification of the transactions, but perhaps the most relevant features are the high level of security ensured and the anonymity of the users. When it comes to the inviolability of the data, blockchain provides the best guarantees: within each block we can find a cryptographic hash connected to the previous block and a timestamp that certifies the data and the hour at which the transaction took place. These features guarantee the immutability and the unambiguityof the data contained in the single blocks: an attempt to modify the block would provoke the alteration of all of the successive blocks. Seeing as every cryptographic hash is created based on the data present in the previous block, this would alter the data of tens of millions of users. In 2008 the system was utilizedby a certain Satoshi Nakamoto, a pseudonymused by the unknown person or people that created Bitcoin, in order to develop and enable trade in the world’s first decentralised cryptocurrency.
In just a few years the virtual currency has shaken the world of financial transactions to its very core, especially because the system of verifying transactions does not require clearance from the banks. Bitcoin has revolutionised the world of banking and credit institutions all over the planet, to the extent that the European Banking Association has admitted the importance of the cryptocurrency. This acknowledgement of the potential of blockchain has been confirmed by the decision made by more than 25 banks to join the R3 Consortium, for the creation of blockchain systems to manage banking circuits. Aside from the context of banking, blockchain can be used when needed for a secure and reserved transaction. The adoption of the blockchain system could, for example, guarantee a public administration direct communication with its users in order to issue and receive certifications, administrative and accounting documents as well asenabling the secure exchange of information.There is also significant potentialconcerning personal and national security (countering criminality and terrorism). The secrecy, speed and traceability of content make blockchain a formidable instrument that could also be used for electronic voting, a development that could mean a revolution in the concept of the polling station because each transaction would be monitored and guaranteed by a network of nodes. In the 2017 report “Embracing Innovation in Government”, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) cited the case study of the 2016 “Columbian Peace Plebiscite”, an activity conducted by thetech non-profit Democracy Earth Foundation to allow Columbian expats unable to vote under the official process to participate in a series of plebiscites concerning some of the country’s social problems.
Charlotte van Ooijen, political analyst at the OECD, has claimed that, “in the current climate in whichthe integrity of electoral processes is in question, blockchain technology could radically change the traditional system of voting. Governments need to understand that the security and integrity of electoral processes is not only a question of state control but also an area that can be managed by the collective.” On 7 March, the citizens of Sierra Leone went to the polls to elect a new government, but indifference to previous elections, in addition to the traditional system of voting based on paper ballots, blockchain technology was used concurrently in a trial demonstration. The government of Freetown, through Sierra Leone’s National Election Committee (NEC) the authority responsible for managing elections, agreed to conduct an activity of parallel analysis of votes expressed to create a climate of trust in a country that has always been dominated by a tense and controversial political climate. For the first time in the world, and in a country that is certainly not considered technologically advanced, blockchain technology was trialled to evaluate its effectiveness in a popular vote. These events indicate that the planet is reaching a tipping point and that the time has come to consider the use of digital technologies capable of guaranteeing theevaluation of popular consent.