A soldier shouts to keep order as people queue to cast their vote during Sierra Leone's general election in Freetown, Sierra Leone March 7, 2018. Photo: Reuters/Olivia Acland

Swiss startup Agora has helped oversee the results of Sierra Leone’s March 9 presidential election, marking the first use of blockchain technology in a national poll, writes Quartz.

In Sierra Leone’s Western District, the most populous in the country, votes were made traditionally with the use of paper ballots that were cast at polling stations but these were then manually recorded using a permissioned blockchain. Public blockchains, like those that support Bitcoin, can be validated by anyone whereas a permissioned blockchains only allows authorized persons to validate transactions

Lack of transparency is an on-going issue in elections around the world and particularly in many African countries where there is a consistent suspicion of manipulation that often leads to polling centre violence. It is hoped that blockchain can provide a more transparent system that can help restore and maintain trust. Over time, Agora hopes to be able to deploy solutions that will automate the entire electoral process with citizens voting electronically using biometric identification and personalized cryptographic keys while the votes, in turn, are validated by blockchain.

The Sierra Leone results so far indicate a run-off between existing president Ernest Bai Koroma and main opposition party candidate, Julius Maada Bio, but, whatever the outcome, the task ahead for the country will be one of sustained rebuilding. Sierra Leone remains one of the world’s poorest countries. Last year it experienced widespread flooding and in 2014 an Ebola outbreak caused nearly 4,000 deaths as well as GDP losses estimated at $1.4 billion.

“If we can do it in Sierra Leone, we can do it everywhere else,” concluded Leonardo Gammar, CEO of Agora.