Last Wednesday, Sierra Leone held their presidential election with more than a dozen candidates. More than just electing officials to address the country's challenges, Sierra Leone became the first country in the world to power their election using blockchain.
A startup named Agora provided the blockchain service. Its proprietary distributed ledger and private, permissioned blockchain coupled with the use of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, aided in transmitting data in real time for trusted individuals to oversee the whole process.
This is no small opportunity for Agora, especially as a startup. More developments to its decentralized technology may soon come after the elections due to the exposure this gives them. Other countries in Africa and Europe were said to have already contacted them for potential partnerships. The primary value proposition of Agora in these conversations with other countries is the cost savings their business model can bring – up to 70% versus traditional models.
COO and previous founder of Coinsetter, Jaron Lukasiewicz commented the following about the opportunity:
"You're looking at a country that you probably wouldn't normally expect to be the first to use transparent voting tech… A country like Sierra Leone can ultimately minimize a lot of the fall-out of a highly contentious election by using software like this."
Although paper ballots were still being used, Agora’s team of impartial observers record these and log them on the blockchain. As the manual counting poses vulnerabilities for fraud, CEO Leonardo Gammar said that there might be further decentralization of the process involving the bitcoin blockchain.
"It has been incredible to play a role in helping Sierra Leone's citizens exercise their democratic rights, and to help their country maintain a transparent democracy… I strongly believe that this election is the beginning of a much larger blockchain voting movement," Gammar said.
Says Thomas Alieu, “This is the first time in the history of this country where a #blind person like myself can vote independently with the aid of the Tactile Ballot Guide. I am so happy and thank God the whole atmosphere has been peaceful.” pic.twitter.com/KuL055Qlzl
— National Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (@NECsalone) March 7, 2018
The government had its doubts about the existing process before the election started. This led it to approach Agora in the first place, and add a bit of novel technology to the process to possibly help cut down the corruption the country was used to experiencing in the previous elections. More than just the technology, Sierra Leone authorities implemented military support through police to govern the streets as well as real-time blog updates about difficulties in the voting process.
Overall, the election itself was not just a major event for the company, but a great way to showcase its “skipchain” technology where consensus can be reached with each node on the network only seeing a portion of the blockchain. With this, users can have “write-permissioned” or “read-only” access as needed and keep data integrity high at all times despite having people view these.