Blockchain technology can deliver elections everyone trusts - Daily Nation

Blockchain technology can deliver elections everyone trusts

Tuesday September 19 2017

By JOHN WALUBENGO
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Kenya's political temperatures are back to their previous high levels, after the Supreme Court’s groundbreaking ruling returned the country to election mode.

At the centre of the controversy is a mix of issues that surprisingly lend themselves to Blockchain technology - the newest technology on the planet.

As previously discussed, Blockchain is the underlying technology behind the more commonly known cryptocurrency known as Bitcoin. 

Bitcoin’s creators were motivated by the lack of faith they had in centralised systems of Trust. Essentially they wanted a currency that is not controlled in the traditional way through centralised institutions like central banks. 

Central banks exist because the users trust them to print reliable currencies.  Commercial banks trust them as a central clearing house for customer cheques and transactions.

Central banks therefore must be trusted and are the only entities that have the holistic view of all the money supply in the market – both real and fake money.

However, some central banks have been known to be unreliable, and they print fake money, or they occasionally rig the money supply to favour some interested big players.

How do you deal with a centralised money system that has lost trust or credibility? Bitcoin was born out of this question and it used Blockchain technology to essentially transfer trust away from a centralised system into a distributed or decentralised system.

This idea, that we can disrupt centralised trust systems and reconstitute their trust role across multiple players or actors with in-built checks and balances, is what drives Bitcoin’s success.

Through acts of negligence, omission or commission, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) now finds itself with a huge deficit of trust.

Despite spending billions in technology, they were unable to convince the Supreme Court and a good chunk of Kenyans that the electronic figures posted as final presidential results were credible.

CROSS-CHECKED

As a reaction, to rebuild trust, the IEBC chairman said he intended to have ICT experts from the contending parties embedded in the IEBC server rooms. But what if each party sent in their worst cybercriminals, commonly known as hackers, into those server rooms? 

Would that make the presidential results more acceptable and credible during the election rerun?

There are no simple answers to the trust problem currently bedevilling the IEBC. However, Blockchain technology was built and anchored to work specifically within such an environment.

Such an environment has players and actors with zero trust in each other, zero trust in the central agency and zero trust in the records generated by their activities.

It's a bit too late too implement for the rerun election, but we hope that by 2022, the IEBC electoral software would be based on Blockchain technology.

Voters would have an IEBC mobile application that allows them to electronically vote for their candidates through their mobile phone upon authentication.

However, unlike the currently available mobile voting systems, the Blockchain version would not record the vote until it has been verified through the in-built, distributed, cryptographic trust system.

Once the vote has been automatically cross-checked and accepted into the voting Blockchain, any peer or voter can actually confirm its validity – without necessarily knowing whom you voted for.

PUBLIC LEDGER

Such a system does not require ICT experts from opposing parties to be stationed in IEBC server rooms, because system audit aspects are also distributed across the individual voters’ devices.

That is why the Blockchain database is also called a public ledger. Whatever goes into it is instantly and openly available for scrutiny, without the need for a Supreme Court order.

Does it mean we do not need the IEBC commissioners and secretariat after implementing Blockchain voting systems? We will still need them to oversee the infrastructure. 

However, we will not need them to tell us who has won, since we will be able to tell directly from our handset as we directly access the Blockchain voting database.

We will also do away with voting queues and the massive amounts of personnel and logistics that go into manning the 40,000-plus polling stations.

The ceremonial Bomas of Kenya gathering and its accompanying drama will also become obsolete, since the so-called national tallying centre will be right on our handsets.

It may sound futuristic and science fiction-like, but for the small country of Estonia, this type of voting is becoming more of the norm than the exception. We should join them.

Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT. Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu