Swiss Agora Tests Blockchain in African Elections

Implementation of blockchain was experimental in two electoral districts.

by Marin Marinov
16 March • 5 min
In News

Swiss company Agora tested its blockchain in Sierra Leone`s general election last week, the crypto company announced. The implementation of blockchain was experimental in two electoral districts - West Area Urban and West Area Rural.

Agora claimed that it used the technology behind Bitcoin and Ethereum for counting and verifying of the results in the first round of the presidential election. The two electoral districts are the most populous voting areas as they include the capital Freetown and its neighborhoods.

Blockchain in election

“Our goal is to provide voting solutions for people, electronic voting solutions, but decentralized. We recorded the votes after tallying on our blockchain where the votes are anonymised,” Agora’s CEO Leonardo Gammar told Radio France International in an interview.

two men, shaking hands
Agora’s CEO Leonardo Gammar meeting with National Election Commission (NEC)`s representative/Image source: agora.vote

Agora’s platform logs every vote from the ballot paper in the blockchain. It is a public distributed ledger, which counts the results immediately, and records every activity on the blockchain, making it available to everybody at any time.

Agora, set up in 2015, developed an end-to-end verifiable voting solution for governments and institutions. The goal of the project is to support free, fair and cheap elections by lowering the cost of the polls, providing more security, transparency and accessibility.

“In Sierra Leone, what we did is just a use case and it’s not the full implementation of our digital solution,” Gammar added. The system was implemented only for counting and verifying parts of the presidential elections, while there were also elections for parliament and local councils.

In the whitepaper of the project, Agora team explains the importance of blockchain technology: “Blockchain is the key technology that unlocks this mission. Blockchain provides a trustless, digital and decentralized method of generating cryptographically secure records, which also preserve the anonymity of participants while remaining open to public inspection. Applied to voting, blockchain ensures that votes are recorded accurately, transparently, permanently and securely.”

Blockchain and electoral commission

With its blockchain platform, Agora does not intend to replace electoral authorities, but to help them. In Sierra Leone, it provides data along with the National Election Commission (NEC).

“It brings back trust from the inside, but also from the outside. IT [Information Technology] people from the election commission, from the government, from the state, can check our code, also hackers are very welcome to look at the code before the event,” said Gammar.

a man in front of desk an old wooden desk
Voting process/Image source: agora.vote

Agora published its results from the presidential election before NEC. Its unofficial results differ from the official, casting doubts on the effectiveness of the exercise. Sierra Leone will hold a presidential runoff on March 27. Julius Maada Bio, leader of the opposition People's Party (43.3% of votes) will face Samura Kamara of the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC, 42.7%).

Why Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is one of the poorest counties in Africa despite its huge mineral resources. It exports a lot of minerals: diamonds, rutile and bauxite. Diamond fields cover about one quarter of the country, according to a 2010 Ministry of Mineral Resources report. About 60% of Sierra Leoneans live below the national poverty line and 70% of youth are unemployed or underemployed, according to the United Nations (UN). Corruption is one of the biggest problems in the country, which is ranked 130th in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index.

a lot of people, sitting around two tables
European Union sent observers to Sierra Leone/Image source: EU Election Observation Mission Sierra Leone 2018 © European Union, 2018

Sierra Leone was heavily hit by the Ebola outbreak in 2014-2015. It registered more than 14 000 cases with nearly 4000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). International donors provided millions for recovering, but there have been a lot of suspicions of frauds.

Sierra Leone is classified hybrid regime by The Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index. Countries in this category do not guarantee free and fair elections because of consequential irregularities in elections. How blockchain system will change democracy in the country remains an open question. Agora will take part also in the runoff counting and verifying.