Revitalizing democracy with blockchain

Scrutiny of election processes and the extent to which they are manipulated has increased dramatically since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, to the point now where citizens no longer believe in a fair and honest electoral process. Using blockchain technology to facilitate transparent and trustworthy elections could encourage more participation and belief amongst citizens, so why are governments so slow to adopt it?

Representation and legitimacy are concepts that these days are presented in the same sentence as the word crisis. Multiple governments’ poor handling of the Covid-19 pandemic around the world have only made the problem more acute. Trust in democracy is at an all time low. 

The alternatives offered by governments trying to preserve people’s attention are more of the same. Offering election after election without real change of procedure is failing to engage the distrustful citizen. A recent poll in the UK found that half of citizens believe that the 2019 election was interfered with by foreign governments

The turning point is where a proven technology can help transform a broken process. It’s the Cinderella of our times: Blockchain.

Every new technology faces resistance from those who do not know about it. It’s hard to explain what a blockchain is to non-technical people. Without concrete examples, barring cryptocurrencies, this technology still sounds abstract. While its use is not infinite – NOTHING works for EVERYTHING – one brilliant application could be the transformation of the electoral process.

The plural deafness of democracy

Between 60 and 70 electoral processes of national magnitude occur worldwide every year. From August to December 2020, elections are expected to be held in 28 countries. New presidents, parliaments, constitutional referendums and even processes for legalizing cannabis or euthanasia, such as in New Zealand are all taking place. Renewing our representatives from time to time and assimilating new practices to society through legal means revitalizes democracies. Yet at no time in history has engagement in the electoral process been so low, as evidenced by the proportion of voters that actually go to the polls. We’re going to get this shortly.

Democracy’s greatest commitment, in the most archaic sense, is to consider the opinion of every member of society that is part of it. Every time a part of society feels underrepresented, disillusion with democratic institutions rise and they start to lose credibility. Alternative ideologies, often extreme, seek to exploit that weakness. Just witness the worsening scenario like the one that the world lives with in Covid-19 which allows extremist groups to gain prominence.

Electoral abstentionism is another symptom. On a global scale, it is easy to estimate that one in three voters, sometimes 1 in 2, often will not participate in a voting process. The defrauded citizen does not vote, and the most active minorities decide for all. Now, going back to the starting point, can a blockhain, specifically Symbol from NEM, help citizens regain confidence in the consultation system that is the basis of democracy?

Among blockchains, Symbol is one of the most complete that exists in the market. Being as secure as it is scalable and adaptable, Symbol would allow the existing infrastructure of any electoral apparatus to be used and even complement it with more inclusive platforms that are able to verify the identity of the voter, the voting process, and count their votes and thwart the intention to manipulate the voting process, from within and without. 

Economy, elections and blockchain

Certain countries are using, or exploring the use of, blockchain as an alternative to issuing a national currency. The same principle that works to prevent the same funds from being mis-used, double spent or embezzled, is the same one that could safely work in an election process.

A Central Electoral Authority could do a trial using NEM’s NIS1 network, for example, akin to what the Ukrainian election authority did in December 2019.  

In Ukraine, a group of citizens were instructed to use NEM’s NanoWallet app, which would be their method of accessing the query. The question was asked, an answer time was established, and all participants were able to remotely exercise, at their own convenience and available time, their right to vote. The project was not expensive, as it was a digitized information campaign that required neither more personnel nor printing nor physical documents. The results were auditable in real time, were not questioned, and are still there for evaluation.

If other government institutions or national parliaments followed the Ukrainian example, citizens would be able to trust the integrity of the electoral process and it would restore their faith in democracy. More importantly, it would be a public testing ground to demonstrate what a blockchain like Symbol can do, such as validating queries or ensuring transparency, actions that will help restore institutional legitimacy.

Symbol from NEM: a democratic metaphor

Both democracy and blockchain depend on a consensus. That’s why there’s so much talk about the democratic possibilities of this technology, and it is worth saying that Symbol is well suited through Its consensus algorithm, POS+, which makes it very difficult to attack the blockchain and manipulate the data. This not only validates but also encourages the participation of everyone involved in a transaction process.

Elections and technology depend on similar principles of  transparency, security, and speed.  The time for relevant debate about the potential of blockchain for elections is now. Isn’t it time for us to move towards better, more efficient democracies? It is the public who must push for this change. We need to demand greater transparency from our representatives in electoral management that only blockchain can provide.  

Why are governments so slow in picking up a ready-made solution to such a fundamental problem? Firstly, there is clearly a lack of awareness and understanding of the potential of blockchain among governments and blockchain projects and businesses need to do a better job of explaining the applications. Blockchain companies so far have not made it easy for established organisations to deploy blockchain solutions and there is of course a natural resistance to risk and change in such well established institutions such as government. Lastly, and perhaps most worrying of all, there is even a reluctance amongst some in power to be held accountable through an electoral process that is both transparent and impossible to manipulate.     

Symbol blockchain proposal is a reality and is easy to use to safeguard Democracy and improve other institutional processes. A National Constitution, or using a technology like Symbol, are not a guarantee of democracy by themselves, but both are necessary as tools for citizens to be heard and respected. Both are needed to put trust back at the heart of a key component of society.  

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