The term “democracy” originates from the Greek word “δημοκρατία” which means rule by the people. Since the birth of democracy in the ancient Greek city of Athens back in 508 BC, the political concept of rule by the people has been through its fair share of ups and downs, though it has ultimately managed to prevail through the ages. In this day and age, democracy seems to have established itself as the prime choice of political governance system. In a study conducted by Pew Research Centre, it was found that as of the end of 2017 more than half of the countries around the world (57%) are democracies whereas about a quarter (23%) are autocracies. In this regard, it is notable that in contrast with democracy which provides for the concept of a government elected by the people, autocracy provides for the concentration of absolute power in the hands of a single entity i.e. a totalitarian state.
As for the remaining 30%, they were found to have a combination of democratic and autocratic elements in their government administration systems. Notwithstanding the popularity of democracy as the political governance system of choice for most countries, it has to be said that far from being an ideal system, it is perhaps more accurate to refer to democracy as the best among other forms of political governance systems. As Winston Churchill puts it, “democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. In this modern day and age which we live in, perhaps the technological wonder that is blockchain may lend a helping hand in transforming democracy from being the worst form of government, albeit one which is better than the rest, into being a political governance system which is truly the best of the lot.
Any discussions involving democracy would be incomplete without the inclusion of the United States (U.S) which is generally regarded as the epitome of democracy in particular the idea of universal suffrage which provides that all adult citizens should have the right to vote. The idea of universal suffrage can be found in the second paragraph of the United States Declaration of Independence which sets out as a self-evident truth its underlying belief that “all men are created equal”.
Notwithstanding all these conceptual niceties, the holding of elections in mega countries such as the U.S with its massive population of more than 330 million people consumes astronomical amounts of resources. Suffice to say, the fulfilment of democratic principles brings with it a heavy price tag as exemplified by the 2016 U.S elections which was estimated to have cost a mind-blowing US$6.5 billion. Little wonder therefore why Winston Churchill labelled democracy as the worst form of government as conducting the election process itself would blow a hole in the government’s coffers all in the name of rule by the people.
Leading the charge in the use of blockchain for the reduction of election costs is U.S-based non-partisan public benefit corporation FollowMyVote which aims to reduce election costs by 50-60% through its online voting platform which dispenses with the need for voting machines and physical receipts. Other than the cost factor, there is also the issue of low voter turnout as illustrated by the fact that only 56% of the U.S. voting-age population casted their votes in the country’s 2016 presidential election.
In comes multinational cybersecurity and anti-virus provider Kaspersky with its Polys Voting Machine which leverages blockchain to allow voters to participate in elections in a remote manner through electronic voting whereby this may improve the rate of voter turnout due to the convenience of not having to be physically present at voting stations. From a democratic perspective, the increased participation of voters in the electoral process would certainly enhance the authenticity of the democratic process as it renders the election results to be a more accurate reflection of the will of the people which in turn renders the elected leaders to be a more legitimate representation of the people.
The reference point in the use of blockchain for voting is most certainly Estonia which became the first country in the world to use the technology for its online voting system back in 2005. As part of the Estonian government’s electronic governance (e-governance) framework under which 99% of the country’s public services are made available online 24/7, the country’s blockchain-based i-Voting system allows Estonians to cast their votes through any internet-connected computer from anywhere in the world.
With about 44% of Estonians being users of the i-Voting system, it is estimated that the system saved a total of 11,000 working days during the country’s 2019 elections. Following in the tracks of Estonia is India which Election Commission has established a collaboration with the country’s Institute of Technology to develop a blockchain-based electronic voting system in the country.
The collaboration follows from the low voter turnout during India’s general election in 2019 in which almost a third of the country’s eligible voters did not exercise their right to vote. Through the development of the blockchain-based electronic voting system which adopts the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) to allow voters to register themselves in any part of the country, the Indian government hopes that this will improve the rate of voter participation in the country’s next general election which is scheduled to be held in May 2024.
More than 2,500 years ago, the ancient Greeks have laid down the fundamental ideals of democratic principles. Fast forward to the twenty-first century, humanity finds itself in a state of seemingly endless wars and power struggles whereby democracy has been reduced to being little more than being rhetorical justifications to support the battle cries of power-hungry political leaders. Although modern men may lack the philosophical acumen of the ancient Greeks, recourse could be had to the technological tools available to us in this digital age which can be used to ensure that democratically elected leaders truly represent the will of the people. Perhaps the technological wonder that is blockchain may prove to be the missing piece in the noble agenda of reverting political power to the collective will of common people in line with the true spirit of democracy.
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