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Swiss City Announces Test of Blockchain-Based Electoral Counting

The Swiss town of Zug has announced a plan to measure the efficacy of blockchain-based vote counting systems at the municipal level. However, the votes themselves will be nonbinding and also completely trivial and unrelated to the actual elected positions or referendums affecting the city. 

Still, the test will serve as one of the most significant proofs of concept to date for blockchain technology’s potential to keep an accurate record of votes and a useable interface for the citizenry as a whole. The success of this endeavor could influence more widespread applications in the future. 

Agora Scandal and International Reputation of Blockchain Elections

Agora, a Swiss-based blockchain company, recently caused an uproar when it claimed in an official press release that it facilitated a binding national election in Sierra Leone using a blockchain system that it developed. The National Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone denied these claims, and it came to light that Agora used its blockchain system at a limited number of polling stations to receive data identical to that gathered with paper ballots, rather than actually running the election on its blockchain. 

This denial was so immediate that it drew large amounts of criticism for Agora, but nevertheless, officials from Sierra Leone clarified that their concern was not specifically about the applications of blockchains in hypothetical elections, but rather that Agora’s story significantly undersold the work that the Electoral Commission had to carry out in its paper-ballot election. 

Despite this miscommunication, it seems as if this Swiss company did not significantly impact the credibility of blockchain elections themselves as much as its own reputation. 

The Silicon Valley of Switzerland

Although Switzerland as a whole is not a massive contributor to the number of blockchain patents or cryptocurrencies mined on a worldwide scale, a number of Swiss firms such as Agora have displayed a marked interest in exploring the applications of blockchain technology. 

The town of Zug, in particular, has declared itself the “Silicon Valley” of blockchain technology, leveraging Swiss neutrality, an established and private financial system and the regional culture of individualism and local governance. Several noteworthy blockchain-related firms have already established themselves in Zug, including the foundation behind Ethereum.

The municipal government of Zug itself has tried to increase this reputation as a friendly area for investors and enthusiasts of blockchain technology, and Zug was the first city in the world to accept cryptocurrency as a form of payment for government services, in addition to installing a number of ATMs that would exchange cryptocurrencies for fiat currencies. 

Electoral Testing in Zug 

Zug, Switzerland, is now seeking to further this reputation as a blockchain-friendly area in a new display of this technology’s potential applications. The town has announced that, between June 25 and July 1, a live test of blockchain technology’s ability to organize a small-scale election. The election will be based off of the Swiss eID system, a blockchain-based platform that citizens can use to access several city services. 

The election itself will only consist of questions gauging citizen approval of various happenings within the town, including approval of a fireworks display, the library system and the level of comfort with using this new voting method. Nevertheless, the success of this test will provide the Swiss government with information about how well a blockchain system can handle elections, which will prove especially relevant given Switzerland’s stated goal of a two-thirds majority of all cantons using online ballots by 2019.

The Future of Blockchain Ballots Worldwide

Using blockchain systems to tally electoral votes has caught the interest of many enthusiasts and policymakers worldwide. Experts in the U.S. have latched on to this idea already, notably running a similar test with blockchain-based primary elections in West Virginia. Advocates have claimed that the impregnable security afforded by blockchains can allow ballots to maintain integrity even over the internet, simultaneously reducing fraud and increasing turnout by allowing voters to access ballots conveniently from work, home or even overseas.

As further experiments like the one in Zug show more and more results, interested parties should seize the chance to replicate the successes of blockchain elections on larger and larger scales.

If the concept behind this sort of voting displays legitimate successes in totally disparate regions, it should build credibility for a massive overhaul of electoral systems. If specialist firms manage to establish a niche for themselves in this field early enough, it could pay substantial dividends as the election overhauls increase dramatically in scale.

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