Comparing headlines between Western societies and Pakistan’s still-emerging democracy reveals a common, existential problem: neither seems to hold elections that consistently win the people’s trust in the integrity of the vote. Setting aside the hype around bit coin and crypto currency, we believe that blockchain — the revolutionary new technology underlying most digital currencies — will finally help solve these shortcomings.Simply put, the blockchain is a protocol of trust. Information rests on a public ledger that is maintained, used, and accessible by each participant in a computer network. Each participant in the network has their own local copy of the entire ledger and can access data from the entire chain. Each change to the state of the ledger (which can represent value transactions such as in the bitcoin blockchain or a running tally of votes in an election, for example) is updated onto each copy of the blockchain. By incorporating blockchain technology into voting systems, anyone can audit the results to ensure that all votes have been counted correctly and that no fraudulent ballots have been added. Running state elections has many challenges, ranging from coordinating logistics to preventing ballot fixing and limiting voter fraud. These issues, contrary to popular belief, are not limited to developing countries without established election systems. For instance, even the United States, a country whose system of elections is considered well-developed and even sophisticated, routinely encounters issues such as the “hanging chads”, resulting from the use of scan able paper ballots in one state during its 2000 presidential election, or allegations that the 2016 Democratic Party’s primary was rigged against Bernie Sanders.Then, of course, there’s the ongoing dispute over the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections and the role Cambridge Analytica may have played in giving Donald Trump an advantage. These instances show that even in countries where the right to vote is highly respected, differences in election administration can undermine public trust in the fairness of election managers. Pakistan too has a history of electoral challenges. In the 2013 elections, several incidents of electoral rigging were exposed during a NADRA investigation. In the same polls, a slew of violent incidents ranging from kidnappings to bombings created widespread fear and disrupted voter turnout on election day. Blockchain-based elections can limit this danger by providing anonymity, allowing citizens to vote without fear of reprisal. Blockchain-based elections also allow for secure remote ballots, giving users the ability to vote safely from their phones or computers from home.For remote voting to be successful, voter identity verification must also be secure. Blockchain technology can prevent election fraud that targets this usually vulnerable aspect of elections. The ledger can employ more sophisticated verification systems, such as fingerprint scanning and facial recognition technologies now found in users’ cell phones, in addition to the traditional methods based on manual verification of government-issued ID. The more that human interaction is limited in the entire electoral process, and the more that decentralised consensus (which is the essence of the blockchain) is utilised to verify voter identity, the harder it will be for bad actors to successfully invade the pool of admitted voters and distort election outcomes. Blockchain technology can also help make the election system essentially hack-proof. This is because a bad actor would have an incredibly difficult time successfully corrupting the “original state” of election results. Since the participating devices in the network are all connected, one would have to modify every copy of the blockchain on each device it is kept on. This becomes an incredibly difficult logistical challenge for any attacker. Unlike a centralised point of failure, such as any single ballot box, the decentralised nature of a blockchain-based system defeats the attacker’s ability to affect results from any polling place or centralised data point.By embracing blockchain technology in its upcoming elections, Pakistan can set a new standard for innovative applications of information and communications technologies, not only for South Asia but the entire worldBlockchain-based elections can vary in implementation from fully electronic or remote submissions to a hybrid, paper ballot based submission system. In one patented system, a blockchain-based voter registry can be linked to a separate blockchain dedicated to one election contest. At its full potential, blockchain technology can increase transparency, eliminate vote fraud, encourage greater participation by fostering increased confidence in fair and open elections, and even make voting easier by allowing citizens to vote while temporarily abroad, all while being able to provide “real-time tallies” of election results virtually instantly. While great in theory, blockchain-based voting still faces obstacles before it can be successfully implemented. A major shift in policy, infrastructure, and public opinion is necessary as entrenched powers would have to be willing to risk living with the results of an election which could weaken or end their control. The political cultures of most countries would have to shift to accept a technology whose nature is inherently difficult to exploit for partisan or illicit goals.Blockchain-based voting also does not, and cannot, solve offline problems such as voter coercion or ballot switching which can occur at any time before a blockchain gets involved in the process. Put simply, a blockchain is not a magic bullet which can examine and verify the accuracy and authenticity of each bit of information before its deposit onto the chain. Moreover, while the integrity of the blockchain containing the votes is secure, each voter’s device used to cast a vote is still vulnerable to hacks, accidents, theft or other malfunctions. To achieve the full potential of blockchain-based voting, widespread internet and smart device penetration is required since many voter fraud prevention measures hinge on biometric scanners or cameras on smart devices. Only 22 per cent of the Pakistani population currently has access to the internet, meaning that a fully electronic implementation of blockchain-based voting faces the obstacle of still-incomplete penetration by existing technologies into what is still mostly a pre-Information age culture and economy.Despite the drawbacks, the built-in security and transparency blockchain technology provides makes it a promising solution to build a trustworthy voting system for the Pakistani people. The ability of the public to audit the vote count eliminates the need for the inherent trust placed in the managers (like a government agency) running the election. This is especially relevant in countries with contentious elections and widespread allegations of ballot fixing. Blockchain technology can also help deter, if not prevent altogether, many types of future corruption which exploits flaws in how elections are conducted. Ultimately, blockchain technology will build the people’s confidence in fair, open and accurate elections in the future.By embracing blockchain technology in its upcoming elections, Pakistan can set a new standard for innovative applications of information and communications technologies, not only for South Asia but the entire world. We recommend that NADRA run a hybrid pilot programme that uses both paper ballots and localised blockchains that live on portable storage drives before being uploaded to the public Bitcoin blockchain as a proof of concept, and hopefully fully implement blockchain in future elections. Although implementation in its current form is not perfect, block chain-based elections provide a way for the Pakistani government to show its citizens that it is willing to take a tangible step towards a more secure and less corrupt future.Nick Spanos is the founder of Bitcoin Centre, NYC and CEO of Blockchain Technologies Corporation. Dr Zeeshan-ul-Hassan Usmani is a freelance big data, artificial intelligence and blockchain consultantPublished in Daily Times, July 18th 2018.