Blockchain is not just for cryptocurrency. Sierra Leone has played host to an exciting new use for the technology: the world’s first presidential election verified by blockchain.
The elections of unstable African nations are often a bloody affair.
In the run-up to Sierra Leone’s 2018 elections, the SLPP opposition party leader came under attack in Kamalo, riots broke out at a rally in the country’s capital, and the votes of entire communities were bought out with free female genital mutilation procedures.
Agora, the company behind blockchain voting, saw the instabilities of Sierra Leone as the perfect testing ground for their “digital democracy” technology.
Blockchain for good
Working with Sierra Leone’s National Electoral Commission, Agora registered votes on an “unforgeable” blockchain ledger, and made the verified results available to the public two hours before the official count announcement.
This is certainly a show of force for blockchain developers – demonstrating the efficiency and security of the system in one of the world’s most unstable nations.
A blockchain is a digital record of assets that are continuously counted by separate systems involved in the ‘chain’ of transactions. It is most commonly used as the foundation for cryptocurrencies, but can be used to keep a record of any kind of data – be it coins or votes.
This avoids the need for centralized verification from the likes of governments or banks, which is especially valuable when those organisations cannot be trusted.
“A country like Sierra Leone can ultimately minimize a lot of the fall-out of a highly contentious election by using software like this,” says Jaron Lukasiewicz: chief operating officer, Agora.
Although digital platforms have been used in elections before, typically in the form of “black box” recorders, Agora claim that “none of these systems have provided a secure and transparent platform for recording votes”.
Not acting alone
U.S foreign aid agency, MCC, report Sierra Leone as having one of the most corrupt governments in the world.
As blockchain is defined by its incorruptibility and decentralization, it seems to be the perfect tool to counter such entrenched political corruption. By design, blockchain ledgers are impossible to manipulate, and verified by multiple, independent bodies simultaneously.
Blockchain succeeds where institutions fail. It is no coincidence that the rise of cryptocurrencies followed the banker-built financial crisis. The potential of the technology still remains largely untapped, but it has the potential to revolutionize the way that all data is stored.
Financial and political institutions have been the cornerstones of civilization throughout human history.
If blockchain can replace these archaic and corruptible systems, the possibilities could be revolutionary.