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Sierra Leone Just Ran the First Blockchain-Based Election

Source: TechCrunch.com

John Biggs:

…While this is little more than a proof of concept – it is not a complete voting record but instead captured a seemingly acceptable plurality of votes – it’s fascinating to see the technology be implemented in Sierra Leone, a country of about 7.4 million people. The goal ultimately is to reduce voting costs by cutting out paper ballots as well as reducing corruption in the voting process.

As I’ve said before: I don’t think cryptocurrency is the most interesting application of blockchain technology. Verifiable voting records, on the other hand, seem like an excellent use case.

I’m not totally clear on is how this can be both anonymous and verifiable. It seems the key factor is that every voter has the capability to examine the blockchain and verify their own vote, as per Agora’s whitepaper about the system:

…Agora enables each voter to verify that his or her vote was accurately recorded and that it remained unaltered. In this way voters play a key role in ensuring a fair election and can place their trust in the electoral procedures. Election results are also publicly available to all stakeholders on our blockchain along with cryptographic proofs of their validity.

But then surely if you can verify your vote someone else can learn how you voted… if they get hold of your keys?

The biggest surprise (for me, at least) of the whitepaper is that fact that one of the technologies involved is actually the bitcoin blockchain:

Agora uses the Bitcoin blockchain as a part of its broader architecture to store certain data that our system requires to be fully decentralized. The Bitcoin network is currently one of the the largest decentralized networks of computers in the world, and its blockchain is consequently considered to be highly secure and offer high immutability of data. Cotena periodically stores a hash of the most recent Skipblock in a Bitcoin transaction OP_RETURN opcode, which enables anyone to verify that the Cotena log and Bulletin Board remain unaltered.

Clever.

I can see a couple of other potential issues1, but on the whole: anything which makes democracy more efficient is a good thing, in my book.

  1. It also adds more complication to the voting system, which might make it harder to understand, and therefore (ironically) less trusted.