With popularity of elections on the wane, a new technology may help re-energise democracies around the world.
Elections are getting rigged. Digital profiles of people are hacked and sold. Trust in democracies around the world has been shaken like never before. Whether it’s the United States, the UK, the EU or India, the lack of transparency in our elections and the lack of security of our election systems are common phenomena irrespective of geographies. We all are living in countries where political parties are backed by large corporations and wealthy investors and people’s personal data are hacked. Doesn’t democracy revolve around the infinite loop of electing representatives — voting in a new set of politicians after the previous rung has been tainted by corruption charges? Should we be satisfied and settle with such an arrangement? Probably not. Everyone, after all, deserves the right to cast vote in favour of his/her representative fairly and transparently.
Apart from election authorities, no one can truly comprehend the end result of your vote once you have cast it. So it’s not strange that more and more research efforts are demonstrating that a big chunk of people don’t vote since they don’t trust that their votes matter.
Democracy under attack, worldwide
Throughout the world, we are seeing a decay of democracy. China’s Xi Jinping has named himself president for life. In Russia, Vladimir Putin runs unopposed while state employees vote at multiple polling stations to swell voter turnout statistics. In Spain, five Catalan leaders have been jailed. In Venezuela, hyperinflation of more than 6,000 per cent spurs thousands of starving citizens in search of food and crucial medicines across the border to Colombia every day.
In Turkey, Egypt, Hungary, Poland, the Philippines and Venezuela, we are looking at pseudo-democracies getting established. Command and control are replacing freedom and choice worldwide. According to Freedom House report, between 2000 and 2015, democracy in 27 countries has ended and there has been a decline in the number of citizen and political freedoms in 71 countries.
Naturally, baffled voters are losing trust in democratic frameworks. In India, the popular debate is about conducting elections through paper ballot or Electronic Voting Machines, irrespective of how the democratic system is designed. As democracies across the globe are beginning to adopt innovation and technology to enhance the effectiveness of the election procedure, numerous individuals are finding that specific kinds of technology can be under tremendous risk, which can possibly unjustifiably impact the result of elections. Moreover, voting can’t work and help move democracy forward if half of the people don’t vote in the first place.
Commonly, when a new technology is presented to the people, there is a heavy monetary price put on early adopters. They have to pay a higher cost so as to exploit the extra advantages the new innovation provides. In spite of this pattern, blockchain technology can help cut the cost of holding elections, freeing up exchequer money to be spent on other more critical areas such as education, healthcare and infrastructure.
Blockchain might have been in the news for all the wrong reasons as a result of the soaring estimation of digital forms of money such as bitcoin, but, in the long haul, it may just be in the field of governance where the technology can have its most positive impact.
Envision a UN-sponsored appointive blockchain utilised as the highest quality parameter to counter illegitimacy in elections, swapping the requirement for a high-priced election observatory mechanism. On blockchain, regardless of what structure voting will have, each record/vote will be completely secure.
Presently, a number of technologists and blockchain devotees are deliberating if this approach could change the democratic system by creating what they call a liquid democracy — bridge the gap between citizens and their representatives and make elected representatives responsible to the voters with more accountability and transparency. Elections all across the world have been tormented by allegations of wrongness, opening up a space for decentralised innovation with the power to change the present and future political mechanisms.
Liquid democracy: True democracy for the digital era
Blockchain technology leading to liquid democracy is not a new concept. It has only gained more traction in the current technological age. Liquid democracy is the modern version of an improved democratic decision-making process. In a liquid democracy, you always have the option to vote directly, representing yourself. And you may even pick trusted proxies, who can use your extra vote anytime you don’t use it yourself (In India, proxy voting is an option available to the Army and government officials who live outside the country and NRIs).
You may appoint a personal representative and even replace them at any time. Voting through proxies creates a fluid network, as you empower your most trusted person as your representative. This creates a way to democratically make decisions at scale, with much more inclusion, resistance to corruption, and less polarisation into two limiting parties.
User’s own information and her personalised unique ID (which doesn’t contain any individual data) are coordinated on a protected server, in a closed network. This idea assures to secure the data of every voter.
It won’t stop there nonetheless. Imagine a scenario where we could utilise blockchain technology to substitute politicians? Incorporated human networks have the synergy to create Democracy 3.0. This new democratic system can give more power to the people where the power shift will happen from bottom to top, thereby allowing people to make more knowledgeable decisions.
Liquid Democracy: Democracy 3.0
The general idea behind liquid democracy can be easily compared with the idea behind a distributed ledger. There is no focused authority and each unit has control. The sign of political mechanism around the globe carries an absence of trust and the big void between what’s needed by the people and what is suited best for a government.
Notwithstanding the specialised complications behind the proposed framework, the thought is very basic. At the point, when the season of voting comes, every person gets bitcoin-like tokens that the voter can use himself, exchange them or delegate them to a proxy. It is a genuinely basic thought that appears to give entire control over results of decisions to the party individuals or volunteers.
Coordinated human systems will exist in two ways. Citizens having similar interests and psychographics will have the capacity to associate and work together keeping in mind the end goal to influence legislation. Furthermore, voters will be coordinated with all levels of the democratic framework. The way that votes can be exchanged with the individuals who can settle on better choices is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Experts in economic/political matters will have the capacity to make better and weighted resolutions.
Liquid democracy: Scalable, responsible and leading to better decisions
In a liquid democracy or Democracy 3.0, a politician is just a pawn. No decision is taken by the politician in this new democratic system. Even political parties are not required to win voters and no high marketing campaigns are required to deceive voters as a person’s knowledge and ability are prime factors in winning votes. A vote can be given without queuing up by just sitting on your sofa or sipping coffee in a cafe. A single individual can be associated at all decision-making levels, from basic leadership to any elective inquiry. It enables and gives power back to the people to have a substantial impact on government legislation that will inevitably influence and improve one’s life.
No legislator, not even the exceptionally insightful ones, can have all the solutions to every problem — this is one of the hidden ideas behind liquid democracy. The other issue liquid democracy takes care of is the issue of dominance and self-esteem. History has reflected very well that when people are violent and try to take control of power, the old mechanism is repeated wherein the new person/group in power exploit their new-found position. This is a vicious cycle.
Ina liquid democracy, the legislator has no power, the majority does. Thus, there is no requirement for a violent Opposition by people/groups to gain control of power.
Another essential thing about the blockchain-controlled liquid democracy is that skilful individuals can, at last, have genuine control over the decision-making process of the state or nation. Politicians are sometimes in a fix about making decisions on issues that they don’t know much about. An advanced voting framework would empower voters to endow the basic leadership to the individuals who comprehend the most about the subject.
But here comes the challenge. It is perhaps not a big positive that only specialists will have the ability to make decisions. It would amount to recreating a mechanism similar to what exists now, where a little group holds power and it will be difficult to stop consolidation of votes in return for cash. In fact, in the event that somebody votes himself, the vote can be tracked de-anonymising the individual and, in the most extraordinary cases, may open the voter to peril.
While the popularity and awareness of liquid democracy are low, many countries have started experimenting with the model. Flux Party in Australia received 0.15 per cent votes in 2016. The Net party in Argentina received 22,000 votes (1 per cent) while the government of Moscow and Brazil (will handle popular petitions on blockchain) are thinking about piloting it.
While India’s Digital India mission is in a mess and the government’s political rivals are increasingly expressing their discomfort with Electronic Voting Machines, blockchain politics or liquid democracy may just be a model mechanism for the politics of future, if not today. I’m confident that in the changing landscape of digital institutions, citizen groups will push small town, villages or small corporations to adopt liquid democracy before India as a nation takes its first step from flawed democracy to true democracy.
This article was originally published at Newslaundry.