Maximising blockchain technology for electoral integrity
By Inyene Ibanga
TECHDIGEST – Democratic authority is considered the best form of government because it gives citizens the right to exercise their power to choose their rulers during elections.
The electoral process has to be free, fair, and credible to enhance the credibility of the elected authority or government, entrench political stability and provide better chances for sustainable development.
However, the painful reality is that the lack of credibility in the electoral process remains a serious concern for many democratic countries.
The process of collating, counting, and tabulating votes remains a herculean task for these democracies.
Advanced and developing democracies are racing in the direction of the one technology with the unique ability to improve old systems: Blockchain.
This latest addition to the list of technologies is not only revolutionary, but it is also spreading rapidly across industries and it’s churning out real-world use cases.
They include banking and financial services; healthcare; media and entertainment; government and public records; manufacturing; security; law enforcement; public transportation; energy management; education and sports management among many others.
Blockchain is a system of recording information in a way that makes it difficult or impossible to change, hack, or cheat the system. Each block in the chain contains several transactions, and every time a new transaction occurs on the blockchain, a record of that transaction is added to every participant’s ledger.
In essence, it is a decentralised, secured, transparent, traceable, public network that allows people, companies, and government to store and securely transfer information and records.
The technology offers a wide range of benefits like enhanced security, greater transparency, increased efficiency, improved traceability and speed, and reduced costs.
Blockchain put together with the Internet of Things (IoT), will ensure trust between parties, reduce the risk of manipulating or tampering with records, and remove human intermediaries from the system.
Increasingly, businesses and governments are maximizing the power of this technology that provides a platform for creating a highly secure, decentralized, and auditable chain of record.
But beyond its current use in banking and cryptocurrency, blockchain could also be used for casting, tracking, counting, and transmitting votes to prevent many types of election fraud.
With blockchain capturing votes as transactions, the electoral umpire and voters would have a verifiable audit trail that ensures no votes are changed or removed and no illegitimate votes can be added to the ballot cast.
Through the power of blockchain technology, democracy aims to further deliver increasing benefits to the most number of people. The imperative of technology becomes inevitable in democratic governments.
According to btcmanager.com, 90 per cent of government organizations plan to invest in blockchain technology, even as international research and advisory company, Gartner, reports that blockchain was one of the most disruptive technologies for 2020.
Estonia, Belgium, Brazil, India, The United States, Australia, Venezuela, Namibia, Nigeria, Ghana, and The Philippines are among the countries that have introduced aspects of electronic voting into their electoral process.
The uses of electronic voting systems are in the area of voter verification, votes counting, real-time collation of votes, transmission, and publishing of results from all polling centres.
In 2015, Nigeria ventured into electronic voting following the deployment of the smart card readers for verification of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and biometric authentication of the person presenting the card as the legitimate holder owner.
According to the INEC Commissioner for Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, Commission has concluded an arrangement to use the more advanced Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) in place of smart card readers during this weekend Anambra governorship election.
The INEC spokesman explained that the multi-functional integrated technology will enable the electoral body to conduct voter enrolment (registration), voter accreditation, and near real-time transmission of results to its viewing portal.
As a result of encryption and decentralisation, blockchain’s database of transactions is incorruptible and each record is easily verifiable, so the network cannot be compromised or influenced by a single party because it does not exist in one place.
Blockchain technology creates a tamper-free electronic record that can easily be checked to ensure votes are tracked and accurately recorded thereby enhancing the security and transparency of the electoral process.
Given the reliable and resilient security solutions that blockchain brings to the electoral management bodies, INEC must work with the country’s IT sector regulator, the National Information Technology Development Agency, (NITDA) to ensure validity and legitimacy of elections.
NITDA would assist the electoral body to ensure transparency and a competitive procurement process. The preferred supplier(s) from the bidding Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) of the new technology must show evidence of competence and trustworthiness to deliver according to specification.
Continuous public education efforts must begin immediately before the implementation of this new technology. The public has to understand how the new system will work and trust that it will not compromise election results.
INEC must consult with relevant stakeholders to define the pros and cons posed by this new technology. Political parties, civil society organisations, community, and faith-based organisations, leaders, and members of communities, including marginalised segments of the society such as women, youths, and people with disabilities.
In the final analysis, blockchain technology would play a pivotal role in the digital transformation of Nigeria’s electoral process, strengthen accountability between citizens and government, and build people’s trust in public institutions.
Inyene Ibanga is Managing Editor TechDigest writes from Wuye District, Abuja.