Agora gets defensive, Sierra Leone government denies the use of blockchain technology in March 7 election. An article published on the 15 of March by techcrunch.com, stated that blockchain technology had been used to record votes and that it was the first of its kind in actual practice. Agora’s Leonardo Grammar, credited with the creation of the tech is quoted as having 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,”
In an interesting twist, Sierra Leone’s government has outright denied all claims that the National Electoral Commission(NEC) used blockchain technology to tally the votes. It goes without saying that the government’s denial would have adverse effects on Agora’s public image. In response, Agora released an official statement on Medium detailing their actual roles as being an observer and that they never claimed to be counting official votes in their blockchain election trial.
The Medium post went on to explain that the NEC accredited Agora to cover 280 polling stations in the country’s West District. This was referred to in the post as a “partial deployment of their technology”. If the post is anything to go by, then the deployment was partial indeed, as the process of tallying votes went something like this:
- Voters placed their normal paper ballots into boxes, as per usual.
- The boxes were then emptied out in front of election observers, to be counted out loud.
Pretty normal as far as voting goes don’t you think? What Agora did during this process was “manually recorded each ballot onto our Blockchain using a digital device.”, once the boxes were taken to the NEC’s regional tallying office, Agora was no longer involved. Agora’s Medium post also seems to point a finger at the Sierra Leone Open Election Data Platform (SLOEDP) for what they call a “targeted campaign” against them. Agora claims that the SLOEDP “attacking our involvement in the election,” via blog posts and mainstream Media.
The SLOEDP was not the only one to criticise the company. Morris Marrah, who founded the Sensi Tech Hub which is based in the capital Freetown, told the French news agency RFI:
“What these guys [Agora] are saying is great. But they haven’t really tested it because they basically took a paper card of the results and put it on their system. That’s what everybody else is doing, that’s not new.”
Agora then went on to, in a nutshell, blame all this on the media by saying “sensational headlines have become a norm on the internet”. They made a point of mentioning that this was their first major event and that they are working on internal policies to better execute it in future. Agora rounded up the blog post by extending an olive branch to the SLOEDP:
“We invite SLOEDP to join Agora in creating a positive and honest dialogue that leads to the establishment of digitally verifiable elections in Sierra Leone.”
All in all, the idea of electoral votes being on an open platform and freely available to all is very appealing, especially in an African setting. Hopefully, someone gets it right sometime soon.
[Image credit: Arizona Daily Star]