A look at this technology beyond Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies.
With a new round of political elections approaching this year, technology has become a focus of attention: its role in how citizens learn about candidates and vote, how secure our voting systems are and how technology can help secure them.
Blockchain — mostly known for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies — is certainly one of the most talked-about technologies right now.
“While blockchain technology is relatively new, it’s also a continuation of a very human story,” Bettina Warburg explained in her 2016 TED talk, now the most watched TED talk about blockchain.
“As our societies grew more complex and our trade routes grew more distant, we built up more formal institutions, institutions like banks for currency, governments, corporations,” she said mentioning Nobel prize economist Douglass North.
“These institutions helped us manage our trade as the uncertainty and the complexity grew, and our personal control was much lower. Eventually with the internet, we put these same institutions online.”
Warburg believes “we are now entering a further and radical evolution of how we interact and trade, because for the first time, we can lower uncertainty not just with political and economic institutions, like our banks, our corporations, our governments, but we can do it with technology alone.”
Indeed, blockchain can be that technology that can help us lower our uncertainties about identity and what we mean about transparency in long distances and complex trades, like in election systems for instance.
“We hear a lot of talk about blockchain being used in areas such as finance and currency as referenced with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies,” he says. “We also hear a lot about it being used in health care, smart contracts and personal identification, among other areas.”
One additional, cutting-edge space where blockchain is being considered is elections.
He added: “Using blockchain technology, we can make sure that those who are voting are who they say they are and are legally allowed to vote. Plus, by using blockchain technology, anyone who knows how to use a cell phone can understand the technology required for voting.”
Tech Radar identified voting as one of the “10 sectors that blockchain will disrupt forever.” Not only they cited how current election systems “little sense in our mobile, connected society,” but they highlight how “the application of blockchain technology could eliminate voter fraud, providing a clear record of the votes cast, and preventing any chance of a rigged election.”
The idea to use blockchain for voting has already being put into practice.
“In order to give Colombian expatriates a voice in the 2016 Peace plebiscite and test the potential of Blockchain technology in electoral processes, the tech non-profit Democracy Earth Foundation set up a digital process that allowed Colombian expats, who were unable to vote through the official process, an opportunity to participate in a plebiscite on whether to approve a peace treaty,” writes OECD policy analyst Charlotte van Ooijen. “This process has raised interesting questions for governments about the future use of blockchain in electoral processes, and in the public sector more broadly, and could potentially lead to new ways to ensure the integrity and inclusiveness of the election process.”
In Colombia, Democracy Earth launched the digital, bloackchain-powered voting platform Plebiscito Digital (Digital Plebiscite) and worked with several civil society organizations to allow Colombians abroad to cast symbolic votes through the platform.
Van Ooijen explains that “in the current climate of questioning the integrity of election processes, the potential of blockchain technology to radically change traditional voting systems is enormous.”
“As such, governments may come to realize that the security and integrity of electoral processes is not just a matter for state control, but also an area that can be guaranteed collectively, supported by blockchain,” she points out. “Such developments would also have consequences for the accountability mechanisms concerning voting procedures and results.”
Citing blockchain applications in the voting space, Jennifer Brody explains in a blog post here on Medium how “in an age of heightened alarm over electoral fraud, blockchain is especially promising in this field.”
Brody, formerly with mobile election voting platform Voatz, says that blockchain allows each vote to become “immutable after it is recorded” on the blockchain ledger, “unlike penetrable electronic voting systems currently in use.”
She also warns that “despite the benefits, some government officials remain hesitant to support blockchain technology for a number of reasons: namely, its decentralized structure and technological complexity, coupled with policymakers’ tendency toward risk aversion.”
Voatz is only one of the many startups interested in developing platforms for voting systems.
“An organization called Follow My Vote is attempting to use it for an electronic voting system that’s more secure than modern versions,” recently wrote Jon Martindale in Digital Trends.
According to Follow My Vote, “by casting votes as [blockchain] transactions, we can create a blockchain which keeps track of the tallies of the votes.”
“This way, everyone can agree on the final count because they can count the votes themselves, and because of the blockchain audit trail, they can verify that no votes were changed or removed, and no illegitimate votes were added,” they explain on their website.