Using blockchain to support democracy in Sweden
Jörgen Dehlin and Josef Gustafsson – Länsstyrelsen Skåne, Sweden
Skåne’s democratic goal
The County Administrative Board of Skåne in southern Sweden believes that blockchain-solutions can be used to develop the dialogue between the citizen and society. The question Skåne wanted to answer through their participation in the BLING project was how blockchain-enabled solutions could increase citizen participation in government and democracy.
Skåne wished to test a blockchain-enabled governance/voting solution in a community that was looking for tools to implement an innovative approach to community governance (see the article on ‘Enabling new approaches to community governance’ to learn more about R:ekobyn.) This is the story of why Skåne took this approach and what they learned about what e-voting solutions are available.
How can blockchain strengthen democracy?
The blockchain’s most important component in supporting democratic systems is that it should create trust between participants. With systems that use blockchains, trust can be designed and built into the system – because there is no single actor who is in control of the system and able to influence outcomes.
Blockchain combines openness with cryptographic security to give everyone a faster, safer way to verify key information and establish trust. With blockchain distributing copies of records across multiple nodes/computers, data security is enhanced, and it is virtually impossible to tamper with or delete records once they have been created, significantly reducing the risk of fraud. These technical solutions distribute trust, with participants being able to have relatively unfettered access to their records, which enhances transparency and control.
Bringing decisions closer to citizens
Local self-government is important in democratic terms. Swedish municipalities, county councils and regions have wide-ranging responsibilities – particularly when compared with other EU member states. Local self- government means that Swedish municipalities are able to design and adopt solutions that are locally appropriate – be it at municipal, county council or regional level. This also helps to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of service provision.
Citizens’ closeness to local decision-making should make it easier for them to gain access to local politicians, and to then hold them accountable for their decisions. This in turn should improve citizens’ opportunities to influence local service provision in their Municipality, county council or region, and to affect how their taxes are used.
Unfortunately, it tends to be the citizens’ perspective that local authorities know theeast about, and where systematic analysis is most lacking. If we are to support citizen dialogue, how do we listen to everyone, not just to lobby groups and those who shout the loudest? How do we make sure that we are not giving those who already have resources yet another way to influence outcomes?
You can develop new approaches to dialogue by using new technologies, through outreach activities and through cooperation with organisations across civil society. Democracy is constantly changing and developing. Digitization is one of the strongest driving forces for change in our time, and it creates opportunities as well as challenges for democracy. Digitization can create better conditions for people to meet, to make decisions, and develop the tools, methods, processes, and functions of democracy. But we also need to remember that not everyone is online – at the moment over half a million Swedes don’t use the internet.
Blockchain-enabled democratic solutions
In concrete terms, Skåne sees great potential in blockchain-enabled solutions as a way to deliver different types of engagement with citizens – be they referendums, e-petitions, elections, or other approaches that widen or enhance citizen participation. The citizen casts their vote and sees their choices are stored on the blockchain, visible and transparent to anyone who can access the blockchain. While the votes themselves are stored on a blockchain the voter’s identity is not saved in the blockchain – it’s just ticked off on an electronic voter list – respecting both the voter’s privacy and the need to follow data-protection requirements.
By using blockchain-enabled platforms, a system for electronic voting (or any other form of electronic engagement) could be created which makes it possible to vote or “speak” from anywhere. Everyone who is entitled to vote would be registered as users of the blockchain, and every user would be assigned a vote. Users should be able to exercise their vote(s) through an interface that would be accessible via any electronic device with internet connection.
Each user would have their own password, that would give access to a secret key, which is used when the vote is registered. All votes would be saved in the blockchain in the same way that other transactions are. The validity of each voting record would then be verified by other users via public keys. This can deliver a new level of transparency, where the results of elections and other forms of digital citizen engagement are public and verifiable.
Democracy and blockchain in practice
For Skåne, blockchain solutions can definitely be used to enhance democracy, deliver better voting solutions, and to develop digital democracy.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, many countries have considered the introduction of electronic voting over the Internet as a supplement to general elections. Although internet voting is not yet considered secure enough to be implemented in general elections in most countries, there is a wide range of uses for the technology in other forms of elections and polls.
Blockchain has been proposed as a technical solution that has the potential to provide secure electronic voting while preserving the secrecy of individual votes – however there are only a few examples where blockchain technology has been used to enable electronic voting.
Building new solutions
When Skåne started work on the BLING project, they assumed that there were already developed solutions for elections and polls using the blockchain available in open- source; models that they could just ‘pick up off the shelf’ and use. This turned out to be wrong: there weren’t.
Skåne have studied approximately 250 different projects around the world where blockchain has been used by various local authorities and governments for things like polls, and have not yet found a solution that meets their needs. The hunt for an open- source, GDPR compliant blockchain-based citizen-engagement platform continues.
Skåne have not given up though. They have now reached out to academic and governance networks across Scandinavia to identify new partners who will help them define a new solution. Skåne is currently working with students from Copenhagen Business School and Karlstad University to identify new approaches and options to build a GDPR compliant voting and governance solution.