ODF nominates Bitcoin Simple Proof Solution for the Copenhagen Democracy Tech Award. We are proud to promote enhancing transparency and security in vote counting in Guatemala with Bitcoin Blockchain.
In Guatemala’s 2023 elections, the country’s highest electoral authority turned to the Bitcoin Blockchain technology to digitize and secure voting tallies and other key election documents, rendering them tamper-proof and immutable against unauthorized alterations and potential misuse of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and disinformation campaigns. This historic, first-time application played a crucial role in safeguarding the integrity of information in Guatemala’s recent elections, especially vital in a post-electoral landscape marked by potential interference and widespread protests. Pioneering a new frontier in election security, integrity and transparency, the system now offers a compelling blueprint for other democracies.
Background: In 2019, Guatemala faced a pivotal chapter in its electoral history. The country’s Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE), responsible for overseeing elections, and its historically acclaimed decentralized electoral model was seriously threatened. The period leading up to the 2019 elections was marked by political turbulence and uncertainty around the technology systems to be used to count and publish the votes, coupled with the global trend of political parties making unsubstantiated claims of fraud. The night of the elections, after voting centers closed, the TSE IT System crashed, and the online publishing of results became erratic, causing widespread confusion and distrust. In response to these challenges threatening the integrity of democracy itself, for the 2023 elections, the TSE successfully implemented a solution based on the Bitcoin Blockchain, which played a pivotal role in upholding information integrity.
Electoral Process and Centralisation Challenge: At the heart of Guatemala’s electoral system are the Vote Reception Boards (JRVs in Spanish), established in all voting centers across the nation, totaling around 25,000. Comprising five citizen volunteers each, these boards form a ‘citizen army’ of roughly 100,000 individuals, playing a critical role in the electoral process: receiving ballots from voters and ensuring the manual vote count proceeds transparently and impartially. This process, further observed by representatives from opposing political parties and electoral observation missions, both local and international, is foundational in ensuring the credibility of election results. Over the years, the system evolved to incorporate technological advancements that aid in processing and announcing election results that come from the compilation of the tally sheets created by the JRVs. It started with basic tech tools, like fax machines, and gradually moved towards more sophisticated digital solutions. However, like in many democracies across the world, the adoption of centralized IT systems for vote counting has introduced challenges, as it creates a closed, unverifiable environment susceptible to abuse, especially in challenging democratic contexts.
Implementation of the Simple Proof Solution: In response to these challenges, the TSE implemented Simple Proof, a pioneering immutable backup solution that, at its core, utilizes the OpenTimestamps protocol, which leverages the Bitcoin Blockchain and cryptographic mechanisms to provide proof of the authenticity of digital documents. In practice, by digitizing around 150,000 vote tally sheet images and saving them on a decentralized ledger, the system safeguarded the documents from alteration, including making it resilient against attempts at AI manipulation or unsubstantiated allegations of fraud and election theft. Importantly, this system is open to anyone, allowing for broad verification and transparency.
Preserving Decentralization. Impact on Electoral Integrity and Community Empowerment: The implementation of Simple Proof is a pivotal moment in the reclamation of the electoral system’s decentralization, enhancing its security, transparency, and integrity while empowering the people. It addresses the vulnerabilities inherent in the digital realm, where previously, alterations to electoral data could occur without leaving any trace. By securing the digital documents that contain manually revised information created under the objective scrutiny of opposing stakeholders at the community level (JRVs and various electoral observers), the use of Simple Proof reinstates the power of verification to the people. Before the implementation of the system there was no way of verifying whether the information used to calculate the final results was compromised, altered, or tampered. Now anyone has the unprecedented ability to independently verify the accuracy of the vote counting process, reducing reliance on central electoral authorities, and fostering a renewed sense of ownership and trust in the democratic process. This became evident as individual groups of citizens started downloading vote tally sheets, validating the counting process and publishing their own findings on social media. Traditional and independent news outlets published articles and podcasts on how the Bitcoin blockchain system was used to safeguard elections information. This has proved crucial amid the turbulent political context of unsubstantiated allegations of election fraud and attempts at political interference.
Solution’s Resilience in Guatemala’s Political Crisis: Guatemala is currently untangling a complex post-election landscape marked by widespread protests that decry suspected political meddling by the Ministerio Público (Attorney General, or MP by its Spanish acronym). These protests were triggered by the MP’s unprecedented confiscation of all the physical tally sheets, an action deemed unconstitutional by many legal experts. The ongoing demonstrations outside the MP’s office, widely covered by local and international news sources, underscore the deep-seated concerns held by the public regarding the credibility of the electoral process and the role of governmental institutions in preserving democratic principles. These protests also reflect the public’s demand for increased transparency and accountability.
In this context, Bitcoin blockchain technology played an important role in ensuring election result accuracy, as recognized in reports by the European Union Election Observation Mission (MOE-UE) and the Organization of American States (OAS). However, challenges persist due to actions of the MP’s office undermining the trust in the process. Other inquiries, including an ongoing closed-door investigation into the Simple Proof solution, have also raised concerns of potential political persecution.
Transitioning to a wider view, as observed by the EU Observatory Mission’s report, Guatemala’s 2023 elections occurred under complex circumstances, marked by political tension and strained democratic system, compounded by legal controversies such as arbitrary candidate disqualifications. The report highlighted issues like the misuse of institutions or restricted media landscape. Despite these hurdles, the Guatemalan people showcased a strong commitment to their democratic rights. These observations are crucial in understanding the context in which the elections were held, reinforcing the importance of robust systems to uphold electoral integrity.
The United States has already sanctioned key actors, including the attorney general and the anti-corruption prosecutor who is leading investigations into Semilla and the electoral process. Some Guatemala experts, such as former U.S. Ambassador Stephen McFarland, argue that in addition to canceling visas, the United States should consider using the Magnitsky Act to freeze the U.S. assets of those responsible for human rights violations or acts of significant corruption.
Conclusion and Global Relevance: In a time of political uncertainty in Guatemala, as the nation prepares for the inauguration of the President-Elect on January 14, 2024 the importance of transparent and secure electoral systems is readily apparent. The country stands at a crossroads, where the effective use of technology like Bitcoin blockchain can play a pivotal role in restoring faith in democratic institutions and processes. The successful implementation of Guatemala’s blockchain-based electoral system also holds profound implications for democracies worldwide. In an era marked by the growing relevance of AI and data security concerns, and amidst the backdrop of coordinated disinformation campaigns and populist challenges to election results, Guatemala’s model provides a valuable blueprint for other nations seeking to enhance electoral transparency and integrity. While the adaptation of this system may necessitate adjustments to align with the unique political and technological landscapes of different countries, its fundamental principles of decentralization, transparency, and community empowerment remain universally applicable.
Criminal Lawsuits Against TSE Magistrates
Allegations Denouncing Irregular Tally Sheets
Attorney General Tally Sheet Investigation
International Observation Missions Reports
- European Union Spanish Report, Page 13: https://www.eeas.europa.eu/sites/default/files/documents/2023/EU%20EOM%20GT%202023%20FINAL%20REPORT%20SPANISH_0.pdf
- OAS General Elections Report in Spanish, Page 10: https://www.oas.org/fpdb/press/INFORME-PRELIMINAR—Mision-Electoral-OEA-en-Guatemala-1ra-vuelta-.pdf
- OAS Run-Off Report in Spanish, PAge 24: https://www.oas.org/fpdb/press/INFORME-PRELIMINAR—Mision-Electoral-OEA-en-Guatemala-2da-vuelta.pdf
- Association of World Election Bodies: http://www.aweb.org/eng/bbs/B0000013/view.do?nttId=15825&gubun=1&menuNo=300040
Guatemalan Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) official Communications
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- Joint submission of the civil society coalition: Tools to prevent abuse of FATF anti-money laundering/financing of terrorism rules and address transnational repression (November 27, 2023)
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- Misuse of the Anti-Money Laundering Measures (AML) and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (CFT) regulations as a tool of transnational repression (January 19, 2023)