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How Bitcoin and Blockchain Technology Can Change the Way We Vote

Adam Norrie
2 June 2017

On Thursday 8th June, UK citizens will be heading to the polling stations (find yours here) to cast their vote in the General Election. Regardless of personal political views, the outcome of this vote is likely to have an impact on the stance our government will take on Brexit, and as such is a significant event on the British calendar.

Politics in the Digital Age

As social media has become ubiquitous in our lives, the upcoming election has had an immense digital presence, with both major parties leveraging technology to spread their messages. This has resulted in a surge of young people registering to vote - quite likely for the first time. It is reported that some 90,000 18-24 year olds signed up in just 24 hours following Jeremy Corbyn’s delivery of his student-friendly manifesto. An unexpectedly positive reception considering some of the negative comments made towards the Labour leader.

Their impressive digital campaign is arguably driving the latest prediction polls that suggest the Conservative Party could fall short of an overall majority vote by around 16 seats, and further highlights the possibility of the Labour Party winning back around 30 seats. This infers we could be looking at another hung-parliament, which would require a coalition to be formed. A dramatically different one.

The Scottish National Party (SNP), led by Nicola Sturgeon, is estimated to win around 50 seats. This would mean they would be the only party with enough seats to prop up the Conservatives in government, but due to Ms. Sturgeon’s strong anti-Tory stance, and the parties opposing views, it is unlikely to happen. On the other hand, should Labour gain enough seats, there is a good chance we could see a Labour and SNP coalition; a unification that Ms. Sturgeon has already expressed willingness to consider describing such as a ‘progressive alliance’.

Naturally this is all prediction poll talk and should be viewed as such, but there is definitely a different feel around this surprise election and one thing that we can be certain of is that if you do not vote, you do not have a say!

Technology for Elections

While political parties are increasingly leveraging technology for campaigning, the heavily manual and human-dependant electoral procedures are comparatively in the ‘dark ages’. The current approach of a paper-based vote, making our selection with an X, and then placing trust in the people physically counting votes to ensure that the results are fair and legitimate, leaves the outcome open to speculation. Fortunately in the UK, as a progressed nation, with democracy at the heart of our beliefs, false election results are unlikely to ever happen. We simply take for granted that our vote is being correctly allocated to the party of our choice.

That said, there have been several shock results and close wins in global elections and referendums, including the likes of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. These situations have led to a call for a closer evaluation of the current voting process subject to human error, and implementation of technology that eradicates the need to rely on individual integrity.

And this is where Bitcoin comes in.

The blockchain, the technology underpinning Bitcoin, is transparent, trustless, secure and immutable. Anyone, at anytime, can view each and every transaction stored in the public ledger. This provides indisputable evidence, which can serve well in the case of election results. In fact, in 2014, a Danish political party, the Liberal Alliance, became the first major political party to utilise a blockchain for voting purposes.

From a technical perspective, this is made possible by the fact that Bitcoin allows for micro-transactions to take place. This means a tiny amount of bitcoin is sent from one address to another. For every transaction that takes place, you are able to include data, or information, which can be seen by anyone. This process was used in 2014 when David and Joyce Mondrus became the first couple to be married via the Bitcoin blockchain.

This can be replicated to enable a trust-less voting system, where your vote is essentially included within a Bitcoin micro-transaction. There is no way for your vote to be misplaced or miscounted. In developing countries around the world, and in particular Africa, the outcomes of ‘free and fair democratic elections’ are notoriously suspicious and often rigged. Using Bitcoin blockchain technology in the electoral process can benefit us all, and most notably give citizens of developing countries the self-determination they severely lack.

In the digital age where censoring is becoming increasingly more difficult and it is incredibly easy for a political movement to put their message across, it makes sense to transition into a digital ecosystem surrounding politics and progress  increase transparency and the legitimacy of elections.

The realisation of widely adopted and accepted blockchain-based voting may still be some time away, but if we consider the advantages it offers and the growing number of Bitcoin startups making various use cases for Bitcoin a reality, we may just find ourselves casting our votes digitally next time around.

Until then, I will see you at the polls!

Photo credit: pjohnkeane

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