This is the latest post by regular guest writer Eddie Mitchell. Eddie is a seasoned writer on all things Blockchain and crypto and we’re delighted that he has become a regular contributor to Rhetoriq.
For quite some time, cryptocurrencies have gone from controversy to controversy resulting in the incessant criticism of the emerging and humbly imperfect industry that has barely learned to walk. Though with the success of many blockchain technology use-cases now swarming across numerous sectors, there appears to be a new and, rather surprising set of such instances occurring in governments and political discourse.
Though it may seem somewhat counterintuitive to the early cypherpunk dreams of reducing centralized power via anonymous currencies and decentralized databases, modern blockchain technologies are displaying the scope of its latent potential, which is slowly but surely becoming realized in almost every major industry and sector out there with politics being no exception.
Taking a look at data gathered by machine learning and data analytics firm CB Insights, you’ll notice the swathes of industries that are likely to be impacted by the tech, including a couple of instances within the political realm, namely voting and “government and public records”.
In America, the state of West Virginia recently deployed a blockchain-based mobile voting app; it was designed to allow overseas military service members and their families to vote during the general elections. After being announced and piloted earlier this year, the project went on to be quite a success for the November elections; approximately 144 votes were cast from 30 different countries with this application, receiving praise and scoffing in the face of earlier doubters.
In Africa earlier this year, 70% of votes were recorded in Sierra Leone on March 7th; according to the creator of the technology used, Leonardo Gammar, this was the first time that a government election utilized blockchain technology. With regards to the intentions of the project and indicating the sentiment of future blockchain stints during elections, Gammar said:
“Sierra Leone wishes to create an environment of trust with the voters in a contentious election, especially looking at how the election will be publicly viewed post-election. By using blockchain as a means to immutably record ballots and results, the country hopes to create legitimacy around the election and reduce fall-out from opposition parties,”
But there are also plans underway to upgrade e-government systems through distributed ledger systems (DLT).
In South Korea, the Ministry of Interior and Safety (MOIS) unveiled plans to tap fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) in a move that would upgrade e-government systems. In doing so, these cutting-edge technologies would find themselves applied to particular challenges such as “administrative affairs, legal guidance, and civil affair consultation.”
One of the earliest nations to adopt blockchain technology into their government services was Estonia. Since 1997, Estonia has been developing e-Estonia, a project that has gone on to supply public services to its citizens digitally, and surprisingly the nation has been tinkering with blockchain technologies since 2008, which it claims was prior to the Bitcoin white-paper coining the term “blockchain”, at the time it referred to the tech as “hash-linked time-sharing”.
From 2012, Estonia began using DLT for the protection of “national data” as well as its e-services “both in the public and private sector”. As written in an FAQ, The ongoing use of blockchain for e-Estonia has been an ongoing success and has been applied to “national health, judicial, legislative, security and commercial code systems, with plans to extend its use to other spheres such as personal medicine, cyber-security and data embassies.”
Estonians are now able to access personal data, medical data, insurance details and so on through the blockchain. They can also legally challenge illegal or unauthorized access to this information.
What may be the most surprising combination of blockchain technologies in politics is the extremely contentious issue of cryptocurrency donations for political campaigns.
A prime example of this discourse has come from the United States, where a few state governors and 2020 presidential candidates have opened up the door for this form of donation with some friction.
In 2014, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) set out their relatively loose guidelines for Bitcoin donations; in summary, they are a valid donation method however, they can only be in the form of an “in-kind” contribution aka “a gift” at a maximum of 100 USD. Other donations that are categorized this way include donated equipment, items, and subsidized rent.
Studies have suggested that there is faith in cryptocurrencies as campaign donation funds; 60% of respondents to a survey believe that crypto and US fiat should be treated the same for federal elections, 21% opposed.
This year the Chairman of the Wisconsin state Libertarian Party and candidate for State Governor, Phil Anderson, began seeking “formal guidance” and approached the Wisconsin Ethics Commission (WEC) on the matter and again later in May. Despite the WEC believing bitcoin donations present “a serious challenge to the commission’s ability to ensure compliance with state law”, Anderson is still going ahead with accepting bitcoin donations.
Around the same time, Colorado State proposed a set of fresh rules for cryptocurrency campaign donations that were rather strict depending on whether or not they were from anonymous contributors, though generally speaking cryptocurrencies are accepted.
On a far grander scale is the 2020 US Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang, a Democrat who has openly and proudly declared that his campaign would be accepting Bitcoin, Ethereum or any other ERC20 standard token. The one pre-condition is that donors will be required to verify their right to vote in the US; afterward, they are sent a donation wallet address.
It’s a state-by-state affair; recently California ruled that political candidates may not receive cryptocurrency donations, joining North Carolina who also barred crypto contributions.
As you can see, blockchain technologies and cryptocurrencies have found some validity within politics and governments. Whilst the new technological frontier has its magic tested across almost every industry imaginable, the political sphere is beginning to take a vested interested in digital tokens.
If there is any indication that this technology has gone past the ‘fad’ stage, the above examples would definitively be just that.