Australian Startup Using Blockchain Technology to Help Emerging Democracies Gain Greater Election Transparency

According to the Australian Broadcasting Network (ABC News), a Melbourne-based startup called Horizon State is currently using blockchain technology to help emerging democracies increase transparency in the voting and election process.

Voter manipulation and fraud is a serious problem plaguing many emerging democracies. Scandals and concerns over vote rigging have festered in Indonesia for over 20 years and have damaged the public’s trust in the election process. Jamie Skella, the co-founder, and chief product officer of Horizon State, however, believes that blockchain technology can be implemented effectively in future elections and help restore the public’s trust.

The Blockchain is a Great Record Keeping Technology

Skella noted that blockchain technology has great properties for a digital ballot box. A key advantage is that it cannot be tampered, removed, or changed.

“If you utilise blockchain to submit a vote in the same way that a Bitcoin transaction can’t be reversed, it can’t be changed, it’s a trustworthy process based on a system, which is not owned by any one entity, not by an organisation, or a government or an individual,” said Skella.

The Melbourne-based startup Horizon State is therefore about to roll-out a blockchain-based voting platform for the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The idea is to test the technology with Sumatra and eventually scale up to larger regional and national elections in Indonesia.

Professor Jason Potts, the director of the Blockchain Innovation Hub at Melbourne’s RMIT University, agrees that blockchain’s decentralized, distributed and public ledger is logical and ideal for voting.

“For blockchain technology, the first use case was cryptocurrencies and money, but it’s basically a record-keeping technology, whenever you want to create, establish truth, social consensus around facts,” said Professor Potts.

Potts noted that the idea that a voter can provide an anonymous vote on the blockchain is a great way for people to trust the election process. It’s also a not very complicated or costly process to verify that voting did take place. Trust is key in emerging democracies since many citizens are skeptical of the Government. Using a blockchain-based voting system can ensure that the voters have greater confidence in the election process since they do not have to trust the Government but rather the technology and system behind it.

Horizon State Testing Blockchain Technology for Indonesia’s Presidential Elections

Carla Chianese, a Voter Education Specialist from The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), mentioned to ABC that voter manipulation is fairly high. Chianese, therefore, saw great potential for technology and digital intervention to provide greater transparency and assurance to the public.

“If that’s through a new technology or process, or more research on behaviors, it’s really important that even technocrats are at the forefront of thought leadership and share knowledge, protect the secrecy of the ballot and create an enabling electoral environment that is free from intimidation and violence,” said Chianese.

Although the Sumatra project is a fairly small project for Horizon State, it nevertheless will be a great opportunity for Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, to vote on key areas like community projects, fund allocation, and key leading figures that will affect their community using the blockchain platform. If the Sumatra project is a success, the Indonesian presidential elections may be conducted on the blockchain as well.

“We’re in interesting dialogue at the moment with national regional Governments, which are interested in the future to use of the technology in regional and national government elections in the region,” said Oren Alazraki, the chief executive officer of Horizon State. Alazraki went on to mention that Horizon State’s technology will also most likely be used for a national government election in the European Union.

Blockchain Can Reduce the Skepticism of Voters

While blockchain can streamline and digitize the voting process, its greatest value proposition compared to other e-voting systems is its decentralized nature and transparency.

Henri Morgan Napitupulu, a Sumatran businessman noted that blockchain may be an effective way to ease the skepticism of voting election and fraud from the Indonesian people.

“The problem at this moment in Indonesia is there is a lot of fake calculations, fake information,” said Napitupulu. “A lot of people in Indonesia are skeptical and don’t trust the election body.”

While blockchain has great benefits, Chianese noted that new technology may actually cause people to distrust the system even more.

“They might not trust the system, because they don’t trust that it’s going to be free from hacking or manipulation of some kind. Either because there is a lot of disinformation or intimidation of voters, so it really does depend on the context.”

Blockchain is a fairly new technology that has only just emerged in the last decade. Professor Potts, however, believes that the transparent nature and security of the blockchain are key differentiators of the technology to existing e-voting systems.

As Skella mentioned on GovInsider, there’s a good deal of unrest in the world today, as citizens are beginning to have greater expectations from their government. The best way to help emerging democracies is to design transparent systems and to foster greater trust between the people and the government.

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