Blockchain helps in bringing transparency to Sierra Leone’s presidential election:
The recently concluded presidential election in Sierra Leone was notable for the effort to make it transparent. The National Election Committee (NEC) of Sierra Leone has engaged Agora, a Swiss blockchain start-up, for processing and tallying of the results using blockchain technology.
Paper-based ballots have been at the route of complaints regarding electoral malpractices in several countries including Sierra Leone. Paper-based ballots can be tampered or completely destroyed to manipulate election results. A technology solution that can provide immutable records with complete audit-trail in a system that can’t be hacked or destroyed can put an end to these malpractices by eliminating dependence on paper-based ballots.
Agora has a blockchain-powered solution to this. Blockchain technology encourages decentralization by design, and it’s a distributed database, where computers on the network, called ‘nodes’, maintain a shared version of truth. Anyone can join a permission-less blockchain, whereas a permissioned blockchain allows only participants whose identity is validated by the organization that’s implementing the said blockchain. Every node has the same, and latest complete information on blockchain, hence it can’t destroyed by taking out any central server. Block records, called ‘blocks’, are linked in a predetermined protocol, and no existing block can be deleted or modified. Only way to update a blockchain is to add a new block. In case of permission-less blockchain any node can do so, whereas in a permissioned blockchain there are specific roles for creating transactions, committing them into ledger, and validating the authenticity of transactions. Since many nodes can create a block, it’s important to maintain the order of transactions, for ensuring data integrity. Blockchain does that using consensus mechanism. Consensus mechanism may use proof of work (POW) algorithm, where majority of all participating nodes will need to validate a transaction. Alternatively, proof of stake (PoS) algorithm may be used where there are specific transaction validators who stake their crypto token for this purpose, and a majority of them have to approve the transaction. Either way, very significant number-crunching operations at high-speed will need to be successfully completed before a new block can be added, requiring very significant computing power. This rigor makes hacking blockchain economically non-viable.
Agora‘s solution uses a permissioned blockchain, with the following steps:
- Configuration, where election administrators create a new poll event.
- Voters cast their encrypted ballots into the blockchain network.
- The network anonymizes all ballots.
- Decryption of the anonymized ballots.
- Tallying of ballots.
- Auditing, the step by which independent auditors confirm validity of election results.
In Sierra Leone’s presidential election, Agora‘s solution was used as an initial test only in the most populous West districts, and more than 400,000 ballots were manually entered into the blockchain. While NEC will provide the official results, Agora has worked as an independent observer in this election. They have published the results for the West districts, which can be compared against the official results declared by the NEC. A summary of the election results from West districts as published by Agora is following: