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Businesses Broke Ground on Blockchain. What Can Civic Groups Learn?


Blockchain technology has had its ups and downs. While some cryptocurrencies have been successful, many blockchain projects have failed to gain traction. For example, Civil had to cancel its initial coin offering after its attempt to use blockchain for verifying user-submitted news content did not work out. Despite 84 percent of global companies experimenting with this technology, a staggering 92 percent of blockchain projects have faltered. Companies have found it difficult to implement blockchain effectively due to technical obstacles and user engagement issues. In addition, the technology’s touted security has been called into question.

Despite these setbacks, the business value of blockchain is projected to reach $2 trillion, indicating that some firms have managed to leverage it successfully. As West Virginia prepares to implement the technology for absentee voting in November, civic groups and states should take note of the business community’s experience with blockchain and the lessons it offers.

Better Elections or Bust

Governments and political groups are intrigued by blockchain’s potential to offer a secure way to share and verify data, which could enhance election security and voter turnout. However, turning this theoretical potential into a practical voting aid requires careful consideration. To this end, it is essential to:

1. Make it rewarding.
In an effort to improve the abysmal voter participation rate, some have explored incentivizing voting, although this is generally illegal. Sweet, a social marketplace and loyalty platform, rewards users with a digital token called “Sugar” for engaging in social actions, including educating themselves on current events and sharing election-related content.

2. Start small.
Successful blockchain initiatives, like JPMorgan Chase’s interbank exchange, began with a limited number of participants before scaling up. Similarly, Sweden’s initial foray into blockchain-based voting took a measured approach, with plans to expand its application across the country.

3. Don’t assume it’s secure.
Despite its decentralized nature, blockchain is not impervious to security breaches, as evidenced by the hack of a smart contract used in the ethereum blockchain. To address concerns, West Virginia has implemented a stringent three-tier security system for its blockchain voting app.

4. Dream big.
Businesses have demonstrated creativity in leveraging blockchain for various applications, and civic advocates have similarly envisioned innovative uses for the technology, such as Democracy.Earth’s proposal for a blockchain-based social network for voting.

While blockchain is not a cure-all, it represents a significant opportunity for civic groups. Learning from the experiences of the business community, they can navigate the challenges and capitalize on the potential of blockchain to build a better democracy in the future.

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