Blockchain and Elections: 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