The Japanese, Swiss and American Experience

Free and fair elections are one of the pillars of healthy democracies. From the United States to Sierra Leone, advocates of blockchain believe that the technology can bring a new level of transparency, fairness and efficiency to the electoral process. In spite of the enthusiasm of the blockchain community — and tentative support from political bodies — attempts to implement the technology have enjoyed mixed success and have faced impassioned criticism.

Japan’s scientific hub trials blockchain

In late August, the Japanese city of Tsukuba trialed the use of blockchain technology in its  voting system. Tsukuba is a city already closely associated with scientific research, and the recent blockchain trial is the city’s latest move to explore new ways to innovate.

Voters were able to participate by using their My Number Card — a 12-digit ID number issued to all citizens of Japan, which was introduced in 2015.

A release published on the city’s official website stated that the voters were able to cast ballots for the implementation of different social programs. Participants were able to choose which of the 13 initiatives they felt were most worthy of financial support, varying from the development of equipment to improve cancer diagnosis to a program for sound navigation in cities and new equipment for outdoor activities.

As cited by Cointelegraph, the trial was conducted to establish whether blockchain’s democratic and transparent properties would lend themselves well to the minimization of foul play in the voting process.

Although initially skeptical about the potential of blockchain, Tsukuba’s mayor Tatsuo Ugarashi said:

“I had thought [blockchain] would involve more complicated procedures, but I found that it’s minimal and easy.”

Although Japan’s most recent trial with blockchain appears to have gone smoothly, not all government efforts to capitalize on the technology’s potential have enjoyed the same reception.

Sierra Leone: The blockchain election that wasn’t

On March 7, 2018, it was reported that Sierra Leone had become the first nation to implement blockchain technology in the electoral process.

Agora Technologies, a Swiss company, published a series of tweets stating that it had overseen Sierra Leone’s first blockchain-based election:

The reality turned out to be a little different. In fact, Agora had actually been observing the voting process and running an entirely separate blockchain trial alongside the election to illustrate how future elections could be carried out using the technology.

The National Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (NEC) sprang into action and published its own statement via twitter, denying that there had been any use of blockchain technology during the election:

Agora CEO, Leo Gammar, was forced to rectify Agora’s seemingly misleadingly statements. The fact that the group were accredited to trial their own blockchain system alongside the election indicates that, in spite of the media frenzy, governmental bodies are opening the door to new ways of of making the electoral process more efficient — and blockchain is one of them.

In spite of the seemingly rosy relations with Sierra Leone’s NEC, reception of the company’s involvement in the election has been mixed. Morris Marah, founder of the Freetown-based Sensi Tech Hub, expressed his concerns to RFI:

“What these guys [Agora] are saying is great. But they haven’t really tested it because they basically took a paper card of the results and put it on their system. That’s what everybody else is doing, that’s not new.”

Switzerland’s ‘Crypto Valley’ trials blockchain voting

In recent years, the Swiss town of Zug has become famous less for its mountain views and quaint Swiss architecture, but more for its association with low tax rates and cryptocurrency. The recent influx of crypto groups establishing bases in the central canton has led to it being dubbed “Crypto Valley.”

Keen to establish itself as a blockchain capital, the municipality allows payment in Bitcoin for services and recently completed a successful trial of blockchain voting.

The small-scale vote involved only 72 out of the 240 citizens with access to the online voting system, who participated in the non-binding trial vote between June 25 and July 1. The test questionnaire asked citizens to vote on both minor municipal matters as well as if they think a blockchain-based eID system should be used for referendum votes in the future. The Swiss News Agency writes that three people indicated that it was not easy to vote digitally, 22 responded that they would use blockchain for tax returns or surveys, 19 responded they would pay parking fees with…

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