- Guatemala’s Supreme Election Tribunal is using Bitcoin’s blockchain via the OpenTimestamps tool to timestamp key election documents, making it easier to detect fraudulent activities.
- While this system doesn’t validate individual tally sheets, it adds an additional layer of security by allowing citizens to verify the timestamps of documents
Amid growing concerns about electoral integrity worldwide, Guatemala stands out as a beacon of innovation. Harnessing the revolutionary power of blockchain technology, the nation is taking a pioneering step. Guatemala’s Supreme Election Tribunal is using Bitcoin timestamping to ensure transparency and detect fraud attempts in the country’s presidential elections.
Tackling election fraud with OpenTimestamps
The cornerstone of this effort is a tool called OpenTimestamps, developed by Bitcoin developer Peter Todd. Working alongside the Guatemalan tech startup Simple Proof, OpenTimestamps has been employed to ensure the veracity of election-related documents. By creating cryptographic timestamps of essential election data and embedding it within the Bitcoin blockchain, this system establishes an immutable record of that information.
At its core, OpenTimestamps utilizes hash functions –– a mathematical process that converts variable-length input into a consistent output. By hashing election data and including it in the Bitcoin blockchain, the system creates a permanent and publicly verifiable record that the information existed at a specific point in time.
If any discrepancy arises or claims of tampering surface, the data’s original hash can be referenced and checked against the stored value in the blockchain. This ensures that any alterations post-timestamping would be detectable.
To scale the process and avoid overwhelming the blockchain with individual data pieces, OpenTimestamps employs Merkle trees. By hashing numerous pieces of data into a singular root hash, the system efficiently embeds numerous records into the blockchain with a single transaction. This structure not only ensures the integrity of individual pieces of data but also distributes the cost of embedding that data.
Guatemala’s push for transparency
In the face of long-standing issues with political corruption and fraud, Guatemala’s Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) has welcomed this innovative approach. Partnering with ITZ DATA to implement the Simple Proof solution, named “Immutable Backup”, TSE has taken proactive measures to safeguard election documents.
As Rafael Cordón, co-founder of Simple Proof, highlights, the collaboration ensures that “any tampering of documents is made evident and any citizen can independently verify the information for themselves.”
This new level of transparency allows Guatemalans to verify tally sheets, which are essential records that sum the votes for each candidate at individual voting polls. By enabling public access to these documents, as well as their timestamp data, the populace is given a window into the election’s operational aspects. While this system doesn’t validate the content of individual tally sheets, it provides a transparent overview of the entire election process.
Challenges and successes in the face of controversy
The recent election of President-elect Bernardo Arévalo stirred considerable controversy. Despite being considered an outlier in the race, Arévalo’s victory led to widespread claims of fraud and led to official investigations into the TSE. Amid these challenges, the opposing UNE party posted alleged evidence that included a screenshot from the Simple Proof web tool. However, this screenshot was based on a misrepresentation of time zones, leading to unfounded claims.
Fortunately, the public accessibility of the timestamp data allowed an independent verification, dispelling the misleading allegations by UNE. The involvement of Bitcoin and OpenTimestamps provided an essential layer of clarity in a situation that could have led to more significant political turmoil.
It’s evident that while Bitcoin’s primary function is as a decentralized currency, its robust and transparent infrastructure can play a pivotal role in other sectors. By ensuring that key election data remained secure and publicly verifiable, both OpenTimestamps and Bitcoin have demonstrated their value beyond mere financial transactions. This innovative approach in Guatemala’s election could serve as a blueprint for other nations aiming to bolster confidence in their democratic processes.
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