Voter casts ballot in Sierra Leone elections

Blockchain technology deployed in Sierra Leonean election

Image credit: REUTERS/Olivia Acland

Sierra Leone has become the first country to use blockchain in an election, in an effort to make voting more transparent and secure.

A blockchain is a distributed public database; it securely stores information across many computers. Blockchain technology is used as the basis for cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, as information on a blockchain is near impossible to meddle with.

So far, blockchain has been primarily used for financial transactions, although there is potential for applications in a range of sectors, including taxation, medicine and manufacturing.

In this case, a blockchain application developed by Agora, a Switzerland-based company, was used to collate votes in the recent Sierra Leonean elections, which included presidential, parliamentary, local and mayoral elections. Agora was accredited by Sierra Leone’s National Election Committee for the occasion, and was given responsibility for counts in the country’s most populous electoral district, which includes the capital, Freetown.

“The [Agora] team is engaged in Sierra Leone’s presidential elections, and we are in Freetown with our partners, the European Commission, helping our blockchain node operators audit today’s election results,” said Leonardo Gammar, Agora CEO, during the count. “We are proud to announce that our results in the western district are two hours ahead of the National Election Commission and all NGOs, with 86 per cent tallied.”

Voters in this district completed their votes on conventional paper ballots, which were tallied, then 280 Agora ‘observers’ registered these 400,000 votes anonymously on the blockchain. Agora was able to reveal results of the vote according to their method before the official announcement.

This system could offer a transparent and verifiable means of counting votes, which could be particularly valuable in countries rife with electoral fraud.

Gammar said that Agora would continue to work on building a custom blockchain to assist with governance in Sierra Leone. Agora also aims to develop a full blockchain-based e-voting system which combines identification, voting and vote counting within a single app. This could include other security features to tackle prevalent problems such as vote buying. Gammar has said that Agora were in talks with other countries who are interested in utilising blockchain to crack down on election fraud.

“Our goal is to provide voting solutions for people, electronic voting solutions, but decentralised,” Gammar told RFI. “In Sierra Leone, what we did is just a use case, and it’s not the full implementation of our digital solution.”

No presidential candidate received the necessary 55 per cent they needed to win in this first round of voting. A second ballot will commence on 27 March, in which the two leading candidates – All People’s Congress candidate Samura Kamara and Sierra Leone People’s Party candidate Julius Maada Bio – will compete for a majority.

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