Blockchain Powered Democracy
I’m an avid reader of science-fiction novels. The great thing about science-fiction is that it’s all fiction, up to the point that time catches up and the fiction part is left behind in favor of the science part.
Alastair Reynolds’s excellent book The Prefect describes a post-human community where democracy is being performed in it’s optimal, or at least most democratic, way. He describes that all humans are connected to a network that runs thousands of polls every day and which every participant of the network can vote on. Decisions for the community are based on the voting results for each poll.
Although being hooked up to a giant computer that feeds me polls all day long doesn’t seem that realistic, having a open and transparent way to register votes is something our current society could probably benefit from as well. Let’s explore how far our current technology can take us to achieving this democratic dream (hell?).
For our thought experiment we are going to assume we have found a small country somewhere in a good climate. The latter doesn’t really matter but since this is suppose to be a dream scenario let’s make it as pleasant as possible. Let’s say this country, let’s call it Demo, has 10,000 inhabitants that want to rule the country in the purest democratic way then can. Let’s determine the following rules about what being a pure democracy means:
- Every adult should be able to vote on each poll;
- Every vote should count as strong as the next one;
- Every adult can only vote once per poll;
- Every adult should be able to start a poll;
- Every vote should be anonymous;
Since we also want full transparency the following extra rules apply:
- Every vote and voter should be able to be verified while still being anonymous;
Now let’s determine what this system need feature wise:
- A way for the inhabitants of Demo to create polls that they need votes on;
- A way to find active polls and cast their votes;
- A way of storing and protecting the integrity of these votes;
The first two points are not that hard to achieve. We could have a Bitcoin like application that once we boot it has two options.
- Vote on a poll
- Suggest a new poll
Voting on a poll would display a detailed page with all the information required to make a well informed decision on a certain poll. It would list benefits and cons, the net effects passing this poll would have, who created the poll and the time left to vote on it. It also has space for “advertisement”, more on that later.
There should also be a way to create a new poll. I’m guessing there might be an extra voting system in place where your suggestion for a poll needs a minimal amount of “approval” votes before it becomes a official poll but that’s out of the scope of this post for now.
Now let’s move on to the next challenge; storing the data.
Thanks to the invention of the “block chain” made famous by Bitcoin we have a way to securely store votes. A block chain is a large public ledger which has the history of all transactions in a network. In Demo’s case this block chain will store a record of all votes and polls in our network.
A block chain needs to be updated and protected by miners and miners generally need an incentive to contribute their CPU (GPU/ASIC) to protect a network. So in order for our democratic system to survive we will need to come up with an incentive.
The first thing that comes to mind is to incentivise by giving out extra votes. This however violates a handful of the principles we established earlier. A better way to incentivise would be by distributing credits that can be used for bidding on “advertisement” spots on certain polls.
Let say somebody proposes to increase dog tax by 20% to help decrease the current deficit. You, the dog loving person that you are, decide to spend your hard earned credits to buy an ad on the poll page to sway people not to increase dog tax.
I believe that this idea strikes a good balance in what you gain from helping sustain the network without being too overpowered.
Our system is getting in shape, the only thing that’s missing is the extra item we defined earlier: “Every vote and voter should be able to be verified while still being anonymous”. This is where things get tricky.
Every inhabitant of Demo is only allowed to vote once, something that is quite the opposite of a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin where having multiple identities (addresses) is encouraged. We somehow need a system where we can verify every vote belongs to a real person so to prevent Sybil attacks. The problem is that it’s really hard to verify each vote while also keeping the voters themselves anonymous and the control decentralised.
I will continue to think on it but in the meantime don’t be shy and let me know if you, dear reader, have any idea how to overcome this problem.
Now the final question that always hits me when talking about democracy is whether we should want a democracy where the people control every aspect of the country. I think that even if the technology that Demo craves exists the country might destroy itself in a few years because the decisions people make are often for their own short-term benefit and not for the long-term greater good.
Then again, people call me a pessimist.