“World’s First Blockchain-Powered Election” Fails to Materialize in Sierra Leone

Blockchain technology was not used in any way for registering and counting votes in the first round of Sierra Leone’s presidential elections earlier this month.

Sierra Leone’s presidential elections, which were held on March 7, 2018, used traditional technologies for registering and counting the votes, the country’s National Election Commission (NEC) explained on Twitter. Contrary to previous media reports, blockchain technology was not used for any task or process, as the NEC statement clarifies.

Soon after the presidential elections in the West African country, media reported that we had the world’s first use of blockchain in presidential elections. Swiss-based Agora was said to have registered and checked the votes digitally with the help of distributed ledger technology (DLT).

In fact, Agora itself claimed it had developed the technology used in the elections. The vote was anonymous, and blockchain helped to cut costs, according to the report. Agora boasted about the achievement in a blog post  titled “Swiss-based Agora powers world’s first ever blockchain elections in Sierra Leone.”

In reality, Agora did not power NEC’s voting system. The startup was unofficially accepted as an international observer and had access to 250 polling stations in two Western districts out of 11,200 locations in total. It counted the votes on its own for a survey, probably by applying blockchain, but that had nothing to do with the official results.

Moreover, French radio station RFI found that Agora’s counting results were wrong as they did not agree with NEC’s numbers.

After the media hype, the NEC came up with its Twitter statement, revealing that traditional technology was used in the elections:

“The National Electoral Commission uses an in-house database to tally election results. This database was originally developed for elections held in 2012. It was then expanded and updated, prior to the 2018 elections. The database was developed in C++ and runs on MS SQL — neither of which are open source applications. And it does not use Blockchain in any way.”

On Tuesday, Agora clarified the situation in another blog post, explaining its status as an international observer and providing more details about the whole process. The statement went on to criticize the Sierra Leone Open Election Data Platform (SLOEDP) for launching a campaign against Agora.

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