CEO of Swiss Company Explains Prospects of Using Blockchain in Elections

© AFP 2023 / Petras MalukasGiant letters, reading the word "blockchain" are displayed at the blockchain centre, which aims at boosting start-ups, on February 7, 2018 in Lithuania's capital Vilnius
Giant letters, reading the word blockchain are displayed at the blockchain centre, which aims at boosting start-ups, on February 7, 2018 in Lithuania's capital Vilnius - Sputnik International
The world's first blockchain powered elections took place in Sierra Leone. Sixteen candidates were competing for the presidency of the African country, which has been the first in the world to test blockchain technology for a presidential election.

Sputnik discussed the test blockchain technology for a presidential election with Leonardo Gammar, CEO of the Swiss blockchain company Agora.

Sputnik: Could you tell us more about this Sierra Leone experience with the use of blockchain technology in the elections?

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Leonardo Gammar: We decided to go to Sierra Leone because myself as an entrepreneur I really wanted to know if I would like to be the CEO of this project for the next 10-15 years, and for me, I needed a very challenging new place which is the case with Sierra Leone from many perspectives because more than 50% of people can't read, the network is poor in some areas, also violence and corruption can be part of the election process, so for me it was very interesting to leave Switzerland and to go to a difficult area and to see if blockchain and decentralization could be a solution to some problems that these countries can face. Honestly I was very lucky to meet the people of the NEC, the National Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone, who did not know much about blockchain and were very open-minded to understand how a distributed ledger works, they understood very quickly the difference between voting machines, the centralizing voting frameworks and decentralization, how decentralization, distribution can bring both a layer of security and a layer of trust, so it took us some time to discuss what would be the best thing to do together.

What you have to understand that what we did in Sierra Leone is not a full implementation of the digital voting system, from A to Z people are supposed to register themselves, show their ID to the small device or to the webcam showing the reflection of their ID and receiving a private key, speaking, saying random things and to be sure it is not recorded and it's live, and after it's done you receive an encrypted key and you vote on your phone, which is not necessarily your phone, because you only need the key, one phone can allow the whole village to vote, if you don't have a phone you can borrow someone else's phone or you can go to a public internet cafe and even polling stations where the government can provide iPads or computers. It's only the last vote that counts meaning that if someone comes up to you and says, hey, I give you ten quid and you vote for this guy, as long as the event is open you can change your vote and you can show that person that you actually voted for his candidate and when he leaves you can change your vote as long as the event is open.

Of course, every vote is anonymized and encrypted every one-fifth is shuffled every one-fiftieth of a second one over five zero and sent to the blockchain. You can challenge your vote, you can see that your vote went on the blockchain, you can see it going on the blockchain, and, of course, no other information is available for someone else than you, and we have these nodes of our blockchain that will verify, audit the election, our blockchain is a bit different from proof of work of the first type of blockchains because it is very difficult to update the blocks on a small device when the ledger is super heavy, with Ethereum and Bitcoin you have to download the whole ledger, and it's super heavy on a small device so with our blockchains it's proof of sign and maybe this is a bit technical, but you only have to download the logarithmic parts of the block so it makes it less heavy to run, this incentivizes people to vote on small devices, of course, they can vote on computers is they want to.

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Sputnik: In your view what are the prospects of blockchain when it comes to electoral process? What are its main advantages?

Leonardo Gammar: Two main advantages, it's not black-boxed and it's not a centralized black-box, meaning the information and the block is shared by the whole network, so no one can change the result, everything is written and it's written forever.

This is something very important, it's written on the blockchain and it's written forever and nobody can change it if you want to try and change it you have to have all the network at the same time which is very difficult. So I would say compared to electronic voting machines or compared to the centralized voting system it's much safer, there's less skepticism.

I can give you another example and we don't need to go to Africa, we can take the example of Spain and Catalonia. In this case put yourself at the place of the executive power in Madrid, the pro-independence party for the autonomy of Catalonia want to run a non-constitutional referendum in your country, so what you want to do is you want to avoid your citizens go to the referendum, not to give it legitimacy, so you do your best so the people in the country don't go there and don't vote, and it was quite a success because most people that went to vote were people from the independence side, the one who organized the vote, and the people who counted the vote are from the independence side.

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The European Union, since Spain is a member of the EU, didn't really approve that referendum and didn't provide any observation of what happened, didn't even go there, I think, so didn't approve that referendum, so I understand the skepticism of Madrid when the independence party comes out and says 80%, 90% voted for independence. But try to also put yourself at the place of the independence party and the people that voted, no one came to register their vote, check their vote, observe their vote and they really wanted to prove to the international community, to the European Union that didn't come to Madrid, to the other members of the European Union, to Scotland, to the world, that these votes were real people, these numbers were real people and in both cases a solution where blockchain is implemented you have less skepticism and you have less questionable results. So if I had to say, and, of course, cost savings are very important, I would say faster, trustable, easier, because when you vote remotely it's much easier for you, you don't have to queue for 8 hours.

The views and opinions expressed by Leonardo Gammar are those of the expert and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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