The town of Zug, situated at the heart of Switzerland’s self-styled Crypto Valley, has launched a trial blockchain voting system that could be rolled out to cover public votes in future years.
The trial period, which will last between June 25 and July 1, takes the form of a non-binding questionnaire soliciting opinion on whether people like to see fireworks at the annual town festival and similar low-key issues. The purpose of the exercise is to see if the system works and to iron out any bugs it may throw up.
But Zug mayor Dolfi Müller made it clear that the town could in future make more use of the blockchain technology that stores and distributes data in a decentralised manner. “Who knows, in five or ten years’ time blockchain may be used for votes,” he told swissinfo.ch. “Not everyone has faith in blockchain, or even e-voting, but I personally believe in its potential.”
But before the Zug authorities can seriously consider widening blockchain voting, it first has to pass the trial.
If successful, the test could have significant implications for Switzerland’s system of direct democracy. The government wants two thirds of cantons to employ e-voting by the end of next year, but not necessarily using blockchain.
Blockchain Government Alliance
Müller believes that blockchain offers enhanced security over other e-voting systems, including better protection against hacks and misuse of personal data. Blockchain’s decentralised nature means there is no single point of entry for hackers to manipulate vote results, the Zug authorities said on Monday.
The system also promises to better preserve voter anonymity by granting users complete control over their vote data and the opportunity to erase the trail of their personal voting preference. This can be achieved without wiping out the collective result, experts say.
Voters can access the system via Zug’s blockchain eID system that was set up in November of last year and currently counts 240 registered users. All other eligible voters will be able to set up their own eID during the trial period. This system has also been employed for Zug’s blockchain bicycle hire and library service.
However, blockchain technology is still in its infancy and has barely been tested in live conditions. Even the government’s focus on non-blockchain e-voting has raised some political hackles, with opponents fearing that Switzerland’s cherished system of direct democracy could be damaged.
“As in all societies, there are open minded people and more conservative citizens,” said Müller. “We hope to persuade more people to be open minded.”
The Zug vote was developed with help from Lucerne’s University of Applied Sciences and Artsexternal link and Luxoftexternal link, an international IT firm that operates out of Switzerland. Luxoft also announced that it plans to form a Swiss ‘Blockchain for Government Alliance’, an organisation to develop and promote blockchain applications for governmental bodies. The alliance would put ideas into the open source domain to allow people to test code and offer improvements.