7 minutes reading time (1401 words)

Blockchain Technology Solutions For Democracy


Democracy has been a pillar of Western civilization since Ancient Greece, and it serves as a central features in the smallest communities and up to global politics today. While advocating for freedom of expression, equal representation and giving voice to the will of the people, some elements of democracy remain more efficient on paper than in practice.

The quintessential feature of democratic voting poses some serious challenges to the society which relies on it. One example may be the difficulty to predict consequences of the majority vote. Secondly, it can be problematic to decide who is eligible to vote, and whether all votes are of equal weight. Thirdly, it is required that voters are knowledgeable about the topics on which they vote, which is difficult to control. Finally, the issues on which people are required to vote are often more complex than a black and white decision, making it harder for voting to have meaningful input.

The revolutionary development of blockchain technology is a game-changer for the operation of many industries, but it also changes the practical possibilities of democracy. Blockchain innovates on the existing democratic framework and facilitates solutions to some of the challenges mentioned, through the inherent qualities of decentralization, transparency and incorruptibility. Democracy.Earth is an organization which deals with exactly this, offering "free, sovereign and incorruptible governance".

It is important to understand that Democracy.Earth is not looking to fix the current system. Rather than attempting to implement blockchain technology into existing political structures and democratic practices, the broader vision to create a system that bypasses the need for central governments in the first place. As founder Santiago Siri says in an interview to Wired: "We are not in the business of selling e-voting machines or helping modernize governments with internet voting. We want to empower people down to the individual level without asking for the permission of governments." This is an experiment which innovates on the act of decision-making to suit the rhythm and technical potential of today and of the future.

One of the central concepts at work is liquid democracy. In the project, it corresponds a vote with a social media "like", "upvote" or "retweet", denoting the ubiquity of our democratic engagement in everyday life. On the project's blockchain-based open-source application, Sovereign, anyone can propose a topic to debate and vote upon. Votes, which also happens to be the name of the Democracy Earth token, are stocked to users who can spend them in different ways. For example, a user can choose to weigh down their expression with more than one vote on a single issue, or delegate their vote to someone else who they trust to make a more informed decision on their behalf, or retract their vote if they change their mind. This kind of democracy imitates our daily social media interaction with content. Siri sees liquid democracy as a part of the inevitable evolution of democracy, one which is designed for the internet age. "Democracy is not an absolute idea, it's a work in progress. It will never be complete," he says.

Maria Sofía Cossar Lambertini is an ambassador to Democracy.Earth, with a background in Political Law of International Security. Maria is a "democracy disruptor, incremental revolutionary, hacktivist and creative non-conformist". In our interview, she answers some of the most imperative questions about the revolutionary connection between blockchain and democracy.

What are the current pitfalls in democracy?

"The dilemma that democracy faces is four-fold, and it is linked to its current design: representative democracy combined with party politics.

  • Rampant centralization of power. This includes "formal power" (due to institutional and bureaucratic barriers like regular elections) and "real power" (due to an uneven influence in decision-making in benefit of privileged groups like lobbyists).

  • Very weak interest aggregation mechanism, since our only option is to directly vote for candidates with pre-settled, rigid, overarching political platforms, with the hope they get elected and their policies implemented, instead of voting directly on particular issues.

  • We are victims of deliberate manipulation of the public opinion and sentiment through emotion-abundant speeches and unverified statements. Legitimization in the public sphere usually resorts to evoking anger, fear, and hope instead of making use of mature, rigorous debate.

  • We cannot effectively dismantle the lack of transparency in the government. Secrecy is an intrinsic feature of most governmental operations.

  • We cannot effectively hold our representatives accountable for poor or repudiable performances in a timely manner, since our votes are "kept frozen" until new elections.

Of course, democracy has been an improvement when compared to autocracies and dictatorships. But it continues to be unethically advertised as the "government of the people, for the people". That is the equivalent of arguing that free market capitalism is a meritocratic market of perfect competition. Those might be idealized end-points, but we are still far from turning them into a reality."

The innovation of blockchain technology changes the rules of the game. What does it enable (politically) that was not possible before?

"What blockchain technology ensures to civil-tech, in general, and e-voting platforms, particularly, is transparency and inviolability when recording peer-to-peer transactions/ transfers of information (votes). Depending on the protocol, it can also ensure anonymity, meeting the requirement, for example, that the vote be secret. Altogether, it adds a layer of trustability to transactions in the political sphere, including for policy and lawmaking within democratic systems. In a world where the level of political engagement of the active population is in sharp decline, it certainly becomes a game-changer."

How are decentralization and democracy linked?

"By default, decentralized decision-making schemes are democratic, but not all democracies are decentralized. Lack of delegation leads to a "polyopoly", or extreme fragmentation of the voting power. Abundance of delegation can lead to a "monopoly", or extreme concentration of voting power. In theory, we should aim for a trusted environment of decentralized governance that is both stable and based on a high level of legitimacy. For that reason, Democracy Earth combines liquid democracy with quadratic voting.

In quadratic voting, the number of votes spent increases quadratically with the number of votes sent. That is, if Alice wants to send one vote to a proposal or delegate to a person, she can spend one vote on that issue. But, for example, if she wants the proposal to receive two votes (i.e., voting twice), it will cost her four votes. Thus, through quadratic voting, participants can express how strongly they feel about an issue without necessarily falling into a polyopoly."

How does Democracy Earth innovate on the philosophy of democracy?

"Sovereign is Democracy Earth's unique proposal - a blockchain-based liquid democracy platform which innovates in four key points: identity, liquidity, voting, and representation.

User-citizens are able to participate after their self-sovereign identity is validated by other members of the network, ensuring data privacy and ownership while claiming back a role that has been historically delegated solely to public registries in national jurisdictions. Once validated, each of them gets a certain amount of tokens that can be used to vote, which are dripped over time to his wallet following a UBI mechanism. This guarantees an equal starting point and liquidity for all participants, irrespectively of when they join the network.

Additional votes may be delegated by another user or granted by the respective Organization. Private and public Organizations of any size can be set up through a Constitutional Smart Contract, which lays out the governance rules in terms of membership, issues, and ballots. The possibilities are endless: from a time-limited, one-man/ one-vote, and simple majority type of scheme; to a never-ending, plural voting, voter's reputation counting method configuration.

However, the truly innovative feature pertains to representation: who casts the votes? Both representative democracy and direct democracy work within a binary option-spectrum participation/ abstention. Under representative democracy, one "participates" when voting for a candidate. Under direct democracy, when deciding on an issue.

Liquid democracy, as envisaged by Democracy Earth, involves a different social dynamic streaming from a wider and more fluid sense of individual freedom: participation/ delegation/ revocation/ abstention. If the Organization decides to operate under a liquid democracy scheme, user-citizens can freely decide whether to directly cast a vote on the issue or delegate it to anyone within his or her social graph based on trust, expertise, or any other quality. If they feel that their representative voted incorrectly, or if they change their mind on the issue, they can revoke that vote at any time."

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