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Sierra Leone’s “blockchain vote” sounds neat, but don’t get carried away


Last week, the West African nation became the first to use blockchain technology as part of a presidential election. But contrary to some headlines, the vote wasn’t “blockchain-powered”— it was only blockchain-verified, and only sort of, at that.

The actual news:  Agora, a Swiss company with a proprietary blockchain-based voting system, was one of the “accredited observers” providing an independent vote count for comparison to the main tally, according to CoinDesk. And the system only tracked votes cast in the country’s most populous district. But it did generate good press for the company, which is also pitching the software to other countries in Africa and Europe.

Why it matters: Blockchain technology has real potential for elections, since it can be used to create tamper-proof audit trails. Sierra Leone’s test was at least a step in the right direction.

But: How the data is entered in the first place is crucial. In Sierra Leone, 280 designated individuals manually counted votes and wrote the data to a permissioned blockchain—which could in theory allow those humans to tamper with the numbers. Agora’s CEO told CoinDesk that future versions will further reduce openings for fraud.