After reading the headline, one might think that democracy is already accessible. Is not one person, one vote? It’s been touted as the most progressive system of governance throughout the world. But recently, it’s shown its blind spots.
A voter cannot possibly understand every issue and every implication thereof, so representatives are chosen to make the tough decisions. Those representatives are believed to have the best interests of their constituency at their core. But government representatives are easily corrupted and susceptible to populist opinion.
But what if there was a way to decentralise the democratic system? Former game developer turned political theorist Santiago Siri is advocating for a future where we could exchange our trust in political representatives for an objective, incorruptible third system of technology: blockchain.
A blockchain is a system of blocks that contain information. Think of it as a connected, old-school accounting ledger system. It was originally created in 1991 by a group of researchers to timestamp digital documents so that it was not possible to tamper with or backdate them.
Its popularity soared in 2009 when it was used to create the digital cryptocurrency, Bitcoin. But its major drawcard is not that it could make people instantly rich through Bitcoin, but that once data is stored on the blockchain, it becomes virtually impossible to change it.
Each block contains a hash, a digital fingerprint, which contains all the information inside the block. In the case of bitcoin, it contains the number of coins, the sender’s information and the receiver’s information.
Once a change is made inside the block, its hash or fingerprint changes. The block also stores its older fingerprints, creating a chain of traceable information.
Beyond its internal mechanisms, blockchain’s security also comes from its peer to peer network. Each user, with their own copy of the blockchain, verifies each new and old block to make sure the information hasn’t been tampered with. This decentralises the blockchain, making it even more secure.
It’s this peer-to-peer network that Siri believes could change the way we vote. He says that by cutting out political intermediation, we could create a sovereign open source and decentralised democratic governance protocol for any kind of organisation.
Siri calls it Liquid Democracy or democracy for the internet age. "Democracy is not an absolute idea, it’s a work in progress. It will never be complete,” he explains.
Siri envisioned a world where politics is not carried out by certain members of society but rather that it become a part of our daily lives. “We should create institutions that enable that kind of life for all of us,” he says.
“That can be done by making this transnational, borderless, permissionless networks the default setting of our political and financial configuration rather than the ancient institutions of the past”
Siri and a team of like-minded coders began work on a sovereign system, a blockchain liquid democracy that enables direct voting on issues as well as the ability to delegate voting power on specific topics to peers over a secure, decentralised network.
It operates using tokens on a blockchain – all votes become censorship resistant and can be audited by anyone without the need to access servers or private infrastructure. It’s an open and transparent system.
While the system, is still a work-in-progress, Siri has open-sourced the design, inviting anyone to participate in its development. The White Paper created by Siri to detail the model’s development draws on Wikipedia’s peer-to-peer “governance” as an example:
“A liquid democracy is based on a dynamic representation model that works with a bottom-up approach: citizens are able to freely elect within their social graph (friends, colleagues, family) who they want to have as representatives on a specific set of topics.
It is the most flexible form of democratic governance that can be constructed with digital technology, operating as a hybrid that enables direct or delegated voting at any time.
There are few precedents of trustworthy bottom-up environments that have led to authoritative content, Wikipedia being a pioneering case.
But if history is any guide, the last time civilization faced a paradigm shift regarding encyclopedic enlightenment it was precisely in the epoch preceding the rise of modern democracies.”
Alternative methods of governance have become increasingly important as some of the most developed countries in the world struggle to maintain voter trust.
In Russia President Vladimir Putin was re-elected earlier this year with more than 76% of the vote and more than 67% turnout, according to CNN.
It’s a victory that International election monitors was "overly controlled" and "lacked genuine competition."
Even more recently, in Florida in the United States the midterm elections were marred by controversy as headlines alluded to gross mismanagement.
Perhaps it is time that our systems of governance evolve as we do. “Democracy… what we want is to get the best possible decision with the greatest amount of legitimacy. I think with digital democracy we can achieve that,” says Siri.