Blockchain, the technology that allows cryptocurrencies like bitcoin (BTC) and ethereum (ETH) to exist, has taken the world by storm that there are those who made it out to be like some sort of panacea to the countless problems present in this advanced age.
So what is blockchain? Blockchain is a continuously expanding list of records of data distributed to all the people in the network so that the information recorded is in the block is visible to the public and cannot be changed nor tampered with. The technology is so disruptive that it’s not surprising that people in all walks of life are looking at this technology to solve persistent issues prevailing in our society.
One example of this problem is one of the most debilitating issues that Philippines has been trying to combat but to no avail—electoral fraud.
Local polls in the Philippines
Ironically, despite being the oldest democratic country in Asia, it took the country over a century to modernize its election. Election in the Philippines used to be an overwhelming tedious event. Before the poll was automated, the entire process was cumbersome and took roughly 3 weeks for the result to be published.
Current electoral process
When the poll became automated in 2010, there was a significant change to the efficiency of the election. The voters just have to shade the oval that was indicated before the candidate’s name, and a voting machines or precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine manufactured by Smartmatic automatically counts each ballot that is being fed to the machine. The results are then printed as the election return and sent electronically to the city or municipal Board of Canvassers.
How blockchain could transform Philippine election
Philippine government is drowning in massive, disorganized data, which often results in inefficiency and imposes a heavy burden on the people and on the country itself. Despite being automated, the public has to trust the machine to be error-free, the municipal Board of Canvasser and all the local officials to remain unbiased. However, history and the current state of the country are both screaming: “Government is not to be trusted.”
Cost-effectiveness and efficiency
For the 2010 elections, Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) Corp. leased a complete automated election system (AES) to the Comelec in 2009 for P7.1 billion. In 2016, the government deployed 92,500 of vote counting machines (VCM), thereby making these machines to be considered as the largest in the world. To lease this machine, the government spent P2.8 billion and in February 2018, the Comelec (Commissions on Election) paid P2.122 billion to purchase the same dubious machines.
That being said, holding a blockchain-powered poll will not only eliminate this exorbitant expenditure, it will also prevent dubious transactions between government and third-party entities. Since blockchain-based election will allow votes to be stored in an immutable ledger, it can offer instant access to the election results.
Taking this into account, blockchain can potentially eliminate significant resource burdens and improve efficiency by easing regulatory compliance strains and eliminating layers of redundancy. Most importantly, this technology can create streamlined government operations throughout the entire election process.
At the end of the day, vote counting machines are man-made tools, which means that they are prone to breakage and malfunction. Unlike these conventional machines, blockchain has a built-in durability functionality as it does not possess a single point of failure due to its distributed nature.
Accountability, verifiability, and security
Let’s be honest, there will always be a nagging feeling that perhaps the election result may have been tampered with due to the lack of trust in the government. It is also a known fact that traditional polls are susceptible to manipulation. This feeling is not totally unfounded given the controversies surrounding Comelec’s acquisition of VCMs and alleged irregularities in the 2016 general elections.
So here’s the exciting part: using blockchain should be able to resolve this because it is designed for the participants to trust each other by distributing the trust among different participants in the network so that all the votes can be verified by anyone.
Ian Khan, TEDx Speaker, said,
“As revolutionary as it sounds, blockchain truly is a mechanism to bring everyone to the highest degree of accountability. No more missed transactions, human or machine errors, or even an exchange that was not done with the consent of the parties involved. Above anything else, the most critical area where blockchain helps is to guarantee the validity of a transaction by recording it not only on a main register but a connected distributed system of registers, all of which are connected through a secure validation mechanism.”
Elections on blockchain
The immutable nature of blockchain may seem to be the answer to corruption and to the lack of transparency and credibility in the local polls; however, the act of automating the Philippine elections has always been met with vehement opposition from the beginning. So if automation is already posing to be such a huge hindrance, the obstacle seems to be higher for blockchain election, wherein electorate is able to see the result in a transparent, verifiable manner.
Given the self-interest that perpetuates the political landscape in the country, this technology could potentially disrupt the system and could pose a huge threat to political profiteers who are benefiting from the traditional and outdated local polls
Eliminating corruption may seem impossible at the moment; however, this does not mean that it is a hopeless case. In fact, in March 2016, Smartmatic-Cybernetica used blockchain to implement its voting solution for the Utah Republican party to conduct its Presidential Preference Caucus. Agora also used blockchain technology during Sierra Leone election for a proof-of-concept experiment. And just recently, Ukraine also utilized blockchain to hold their election in an experiment using test coins provided by the NEM Foundation.
While this is no more than a proof of concept at the moment, it is still enough to give hope that someone has carried the burden on their shoulder to solve a problem that could potentially change a nation.
When all is said and done, I think I just exhausted all possible reasons why we should put the elections on blockchain.