Conducting free and fair elections has been a problem for young democracies in Africa. The issue is quite significant because the integrity of an election is crucial in solidifying the people’s confidence in the democratic process. Following the adoption of a multi-party democratic system in Kenya in 1991, elections have often been tightly contested, with cases of widespread fraud, result manipulation, and discrepancies. Distrust in the electoral process has often led to the rejection of results by frustrated political contestants, expensive court cases and in some instances, post-election violence.
The use of blockchain for voting could change this. Applications built on this platform could help promote transparency and trust which may be a viable solution to the local election problem as it will encourage the organization of credible elections which will help secure Africa’s developing democratic systems. Wafula Chebukati, the chairman of Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), appears to be thinking along these lines and has announced that the IEBC will be looking to use blockchain technology to help make elections in Kenya more credible.
Kenya’s Proposed Blockchain For Voting
Chebukati believes the blockchain could offer candidates the opportunity to monitor results in real-time. This might not immediately end the lack of confidence in the Kenyan electoral system, but it could be a first step towards building trust in a system that is meant to enforce the people’s mandate. Chebukati did not delve into specifics of how this blockchain project will be implemented, as details on the blockchain structure that will be used to build the application are still vague. However, based on how the technology operates, we can infer that it will be deployed in one or more of the following three critical areas in the electoral system:
- The main central server: here, blockchain could help create an immutable database of registered voters; thereby preventing manipulation of voters data or fraud
- The central national tally center: the distributed ledger could be used to manage electoral-based data gathered from all over the country
- The endpoint collation centers: in this use case, blockchain deployment could assist representatives in counting and recording votes.
The potential to build trust is a sufficient motivator for local authorities to embrace blockchain for voting and election management; however, this is easier said than done. Critics point to the fact that the technology may not be matured enough, and even though it can offer protection against traditional fraud techniques, it may still be vulnerable to other forms of attacks. Aside from this, the blockchain promotes consensus-based transparency, allowing multiple parties to participate under its governance layer. New electoral laws that handle governance issues like separation of powers, auditing measures, and dispute resolution may have to be crafted to ensure that the technology is not abused.
Kenya Is Not Alone
In the United States, West Virginia has also announced plans to use a blockchain voting system in the upcoming mid-term elections, but it has been a controversial project since its announcement, with critics sighting the dangers of using “hackable” devices to vote.
Earlier in March this year, there was some exciting news about Sierra Leone planning to use blockchain for tallying during their presidential election; however, it turned out to be incorrect. Agora, the blockchain firm at the center of the rumor was merely acting as an international observer in the election. Their activities involved monitoring the process and demonstrating to the Sierra Leone government the practicability of a blockchain powered election.
Blockchain across Africa
In Ghana, Bitsoko, a blockchain project focused on enhancing cross-border payments and acceptance of mobile money has gained some traction and has attracted investment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. NICM, a Nigerian distributed ledger technology initiative seeks to create a practical blockchain based identity system that will enable Africans to travel around the continent with a single ID on the blockchain network. Kenya also has plans to utilize blockchain for other administrative purposes including a project focused on using the technology for the efficient management of land records, putting an end to the menace of land grabbing.
When it comes to emerging technologies, early adopters are usually the greatest benefactors. Kenya understands this and does not want to miss the blockchain train. For this reason, the country has set up a special team to look into the benefits and applications of blockchain technology as well as artificial intelligence.
“We missed the internet wave, caught up with mobile technology… blockchain is the next wave – and we must be part of it,” said, the team’s chairman, Bitange Ndemo while interviewing with BBC.