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Decentralising Democracy: Exploring Web3’s Potential for Civic Engagement

Decentralising Democracy: Exploring Web3's Potential for Civic Engagement

Written by Kelly Roegies

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As someone fully immersed in the ‘Brussels bubble,’ where every conversation seems to revolve around EU policies and politics, there’s a buzz in the air as the EU elections draw near. However, for many of us expats living away from our home countries, voting in the EU Parliamentary elections can feel like trying to navigate a maze blindfolded. And let’s face it, for those outside the bubble, the excitement isn’t quite as palpable. Turnout for these elections has been on the decline since the late ’70s.

 

But what if voting could be made simpler and more accessible, allowing us to cast our votes securely from the comfort of our own homes? This question has sparked a growing interest in the potential of Web3 and blockchain technologies as alternative solutions to the challenges of voter participation, transparency and electoral fraud. In fact, it’s something the European Parliament’s official think tank has already looked into. Unlike traditional systems where records are managed by central authorities, blockchain technology enables a decentralised approach, ensuring that every transaction, or in this case, vote, is securely logged and verifiable by all participants. This not only enhances transparency but fundamentally alters the trust dynamics within public governance.

 

We’ve seen promising trials of blockchain in voting systems worldwide. For example, in Indonesia, a trial demonstrated that blockchain can provide a quick and tamper-resistant method for reporting and tallying votes. During the 2019 national elections, the “Democracy Anchored” initiative by a local civil society group managed to report on 25 million out of the 193 million votes cast within hours of the closure of polling stations. A pretty good result for a country with its voters spread over 17,000 islands, where counting the votes usually takes weeks!

 

Similarly, Romania experimented with a blockchain-like digital back-end during their 2020 Parliamentary elections. This allowed for voting data to be available for public scrutiny and verification in real-time. On a smaller scale, blockchain has already been employed in political party elections in Estonia, Norway, and Switzerland. 

 

Beyond voting, Web3 holds the potential to transform citizen engagement in governance. Decentralised platforms and smart contracts could enable more direct involvement in policy formulation, budget allocations, and public decision-making. Smart contracts are self-executing contracts with the terms of the agreement directly written into code. These could be employed in scenarios where election results trigger the automatic implementation of specific policy measures or investment choices, as stipulated in smart contracts. This not only streamlines governance but also ensures it more accurately reflects public will.

 

How would that work in practice? Picture, for example, your local commune using Web3 governance. Residents have a say in proposing and voting on improvement projects, such as building a park. Once a project gains enough support and passes a vote, a smart contract automatically releases funds and selects contractors through transparent blockchain-recorded processes. This approach ensures that development projects are initiated swiftly, with full transparency and community involvement, avoiding the dreaded delays typically associated with bureaucratic processes.

 

However, making blockchain a standard in national elections and civic engagement won’t happen without addressing the many challenges. These include ensuring ballot secrecy, verifying voter identities, and navigating privacy laws, data protection, and cybersecurity threats. Overcoming these obstacles means everyone—government agencies, developers, lawyers, cybersecurity experts, and civil society—has to work together and come up with smart solutions. We certainly don’t want to rush ‘going on-chain’ and jeopardise the democratic processes that we cherish so dearly.

 

In conclusion, while the integration of blockchain technologies into public governance poses challenges, the potential benefits—enhanced transparency, security, and participatory democracy—are too significant to overlook. As technology evolves, so too does the opportunity to reimagine how we govern and engage as a society, offering a future where public governance is more inclusive, transparent, and accountable.

 

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Written by Kelly Roegies

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