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Elections on the Blockchain? Look to Sierra Leone!

The African country of Sierra Leone used blockchain technology for voting and evaluation in the recent presidential elections. This makes it the first state to use the blockchain in elections at the national level. This also allows conclusions to be drawn about the potential of technology in states with weak institutions.

Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world. Decades of oppression by Western colonial rulers were followed by a persistent mismanagement of the post-colonial ruling elites. In addition, the country suffered during this decade from epidemics such as the Ebola epidemic or environmental disasters such as floods. Both cost thousands of lives and the economy continued to collapse.

Against this backdrop, the parliamentary elections were held in Sierra Leone on 7 March, in which a neck-and-neck race emerged after the first ballot. The special thing about these elections: For the first time they used the blockchain as a tool. In the western district of Sierra Leone, the elections were held on a Permissioned Ledger. This was provided by the Swiss Agora Foundation, which specializes in solutions for digital elections.

In the electoral process, the electoral officers record every vote cast on the blockchain. The entries on the blockchain can be freely viewed by anyone, but must be validated by authorized persons. Agora thus ensures greater transparency in the elections and increased trust. In the past there had often been cases of election manipulation and great public distrust.

A role model for other African states?

The Swiss Foundation looks further ahead. The CEO of Agora, Leonardo Gammar, hopes that what has worked successfully in Sierra Leone will also prevail in other countries. “If we make it to Sierra Leone, why not do it somewhere else,” he asks. The factors that make Sierra Leone interesting for the Blockchain can also be found in many other African states. The regions are poorly networked, literacy is low and everyday violence prevails.

A special opportunity for the implementation of the blockchain in national elections lies in the weakness of the domestic institutions. Just as crypto currencies only became possible after confidence in financial institutions was shaken, the failure of state institutions brings blockchain elections to the fore. Decentralized technology can function where the centralized state no longer does so.

Both sides could benefit from this development. For the states concerned, a blockchain solution offers security and new confidence in democracy. The technology itself and its developers, on the other hand, can test the sensitive application blockchain elections on a comparatively small scale.

About Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is a republic in West Africa. It borders Guinea, Liberia and the Atlantic Ocean. The former British colony has for years occupied the last place on the UNDP list, equivalent to the status of the least developed of 177 countries surveyed. After a decade of bloody civil war, the country is now engaged in rebuilding and coming to terms with recent history.