Blockchain technology has found plenty of advocates in the world of finance, banking and trade. But, it's in the unlikely field of democracy where it may soon be making its presence felt most acutely.
Indeed, governments around the world have been keen to implement e-governance systems for many years now – to reduce costs, boost efficiency and bring their operations up to date.
However, many high-profile attempts to bring the democratic process into the 21st century have found themselves beset with problems. In Australia last year, PM Malcolm Turnbull asked IBM to fork out some US$23 million for its part in the so-called CensusFail affair. Critics have dubbed the Australian government’s latest attempt at introducing online voting “CensusFail 2.0.”
And while other industries long ago went fully digital, government operations still find themselves mired down in mountains of paperwork. This is particularly noticeable when referendums and general elections come around. Here printed ballots are still the norm, and the laborious task of hand-counting votes has proven both inefficient and time-consuming.
Through blockchain technology, though, it seems that experts may well have come up with a way to finally ditch the documentation and harness the power of immutable digital ledgers. If they succeed, the way we vote – and are governed – could be about to change forever.
The Baltic nation of Estonia is often heralded as a shining example of forward-thinking blockchain development, particularly in the sphere of government. Indeed, earlier this year, Nasdaq heralded Estonia’s blockchain-powered e-voting pilot of 2016 as “a success.”
Estonians taking part in the pilot said the e-voting GUI was “very clean and intuitive,” and called the platform a “quick and simple way to vote.”
Indeed, the tiny European nation claims to be “probably the only country in the world where 99 percent of public services are available online 24/7.” The Estonian government uses blockchain technology to store and share healthcare data and medical records, allowing doctors across the country to access and contribute to a decentralized and “secure” patient platform.
Other countries are just as keen to get onboard the blockchain train. These include the United Arab Emirates, whose government spokespeople earlier this year said they expected Dubai to be running on blockchain-powered e-governance platforms “by 2020.”
South Korea, another country whose government has shown keenness to develop public blockchain platforms, has also been very active on this front. Gyeonggi Province, the country’s most densely populated area, used blockchain-powered platforms for a pilot voting scheme earlier this year. The venture sought the opinions of province residents on the allocation of funds to over 500 community projects. Other provinces in the nation are now actively pursuing similar pilots with domestic blockchain startups, and with central government backing.
Brazil has also been particularly active on the e-governance front, and many blockchain evangelists have been keen to introduce the technology as a means of boosting participation in the democratic process. The new platform will be used to collect voters’ digital signatures and link these directly to their ID numbers – for safer, fraud-free ballots.
Governments are even looking at blockchain technology as an immediate and far-reaching solution that could even help ease the plight of refugees, with initiatives from the UN and Finland already looking like they will provide potentially far-reaching assistance.
Some thinkers are already using blockchain technology to envisage a borderless, IT-powered future. The BITNATION initiative offers a whole new approach to online citizenship, with a blockchain-based platform for “hackers and crypto aficionados around the world,” and a framework of embassies and consuls.
The venture, which has already caught the eye of the global media, hopes to have a million citizens by 2021. As well as dispute resolution and insurance, BITNATION also offers a notary service, where users can notarize and log documents like wedding certificates and land registry papers onto immutable blocks.
Developments are now coming thick and fast. Governments are keen to find new ways to boost efficiency, and seem particularly keen on the secure nature of blockchain technology. And pollsters are also coming around to the idea of using blockchain platforms to gauge public opinion ahead of elections.
Boise, Idaho, has in recent weeks become “one of the first city governments to bring blockchain, and its many benefits to practice,” in the words of its CIO. The city has teamed up with a blockchain specialist to “improve data integrity and continuity, streamline process and deliver a first-in-class experience” to its citizens.
And a group of New York University students claim that blockchain technology could have prevented alleged election meddling by Russia in the 2016 US Presidential Elections. It is then somewhat ironic, perhaps, that Russian authorities last year tested a tamper-proof, blockchain-powered e-proxy voting system for securities. Some say this system “could one day be used in wider contexts, including political elections.”
Rocking the vote?
E-government is still in its infancy, and blockchain technology still has some way to go before it becomes an integral part of the way the democratic world votes at elections.
But politicians and administrators at both local and national level are now starting to come around to the idea of a tech-rich future for the democratic process. Blockchain and e-government are starting to become almost synonymous, and a whole range of exciting new developments are starting to come to light, including Swiss company Procivis’ new “tamper-proof” mobile phone e-voting app, powered by blockchain technology.
Whisper it quietly, but the advent of blockchain technology could soon sound the death knell for our outdated, paper-based democracies.