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
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
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
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
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.