Since the moment towns and villages grew larger than the average soccer team, the need to field group consensus and achieve a workable model of government has plagued our societies. Democracy, a concept derived and named by the earliest Greek philosophers, is, to date, the most widely accepted system for achieving as close to this goal as possible. Yet, it is far from perfect, and is inherently troubled by the issues it aims to solve in the first place. As such, most democracies we know today are actually more akin to systems of representative government.
Why is it then, some 2000 years after Plato and Aristotle argued how best to gather the opinions of the people in a fair and practical way, that we still have these same problems?
One major inhibiting factor we shall explore in this article, is the ability of those of the peripherals of society to access to a ‘fair and equal vote’. Or, to niche into the specific topic at hand, access to participation and potential remote voting mechanisms.
Now, I’ll try to hold back the indignation side of this piece for now, however, it is simply incredulous in 2022 that, for the most part, voting in elections and ‘democracies’, especially when remotely accessed, still relies on that most old fashioned of methods, pen and paper.
Yes, while, no less than 7 possible working models for remote voting have been identified and are being used in various jurisdictions, you may be able to spot something strange about this list:
- Voting by post
- Voting by proxy
- Voting in person from abroad (e.g. in a consulate)
- Voting at special polling station inside the country (e.g. in a hospital or prison)
- Voting through a mobile polling station
- Voting at any polling station in the country (implying that people can vote outside their district of residence)
- Internet voting
Notice how 6 of the 7 methods still rely upon paper ballots? And tucked away at the very end, in a world in which our day to day lives revolve around the internet, is ‘internet voting’. Is this because the technology doesn't exist yet to fully fulfil the needs of our complicated systems of rule?
Of course not! In its simplest form, a blockchain, such as the Bitcoin blockchain brought to life by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008, is no more than a distributed collection of consensus based actions and decisions. Transactions made with Bitcoin are immutable, identifiable, and importantly, permanent.
While it would make no sense to perform a national election using the Bitcoin blockchain (it might get a touch costly for one!), this concept could easily be applied to a vote of lesser consequence with fewer participants. During my time as a chef at a private members golf course, for example, there were innumerous votes upon all sorts of trivial topics (trivial to me in the kitchen anyway!) which technologically could have been streamlined with a simple mobile application, let alone blockchain!
The indignation is hard to resist, sorry folks.
In 2002, everyone's favourite vaccine tracking expert, Bill Gates, infamously emailed his employees at Microsoft his thoughts on the need for trusted computing standards.
“Computing is already an important part of many people's lives. Within 10 years, it will be an integral and indispensable part of almost everything we do.”
It’s been 20 years people! Why are we all still so scared of our computers when it comes to matters of Government!? In the internet, and to be a Bitcoin bore, blockchain technology, we have the capabilities for true, trustless transactions from any place on Earth.
And what is a vote, if not a transaction?
To play devil’s advocate to my own arguments, there are still issues to be resolved. Anonymity of voters is paramount to most national voting procedures. After all, it’s none of my business if you vote for the wrong guy, right? (And vice versa, of course). And despite the common notion Bitcoin is only used by arms dealers and drug peddlers, transactions are anything but anonymous. In fact, every single AK, 8th and illicit favour ever bought or sold using Bitcoin can be tracked and traced to the transaction generators with a little detective work.
So it seems what is required is the means and the will to utilise the technologies already in use today (see Estonia for example) to enable trustless, anonymous voting for every applicable participant, regardless of their location.
Well, it just so happens, dear reader, that I have recently been invited to engage with a group of subject matter experts in this very field. Quite why they want my help is a mystery, but I do know they are some of the most knowledgeable so ‘n so’s in these parts, so of course, I said yes.
Keep your eyes peeled for a follow up to this article of mooted outrage then, as with any luck, I’ll be bringing you some bona-fide solutions to these very bona-fide problems. Until then, if you want to know more about how blockchain and the government should pull their pants up and start working together, check out the work of my good frens over at the Government Blockchain Association.