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Can the Blockchain Tame Moscow's Wild Politics?

Critics say that the city’s Active Citizen app, which allows residents of the Russian capital to vote on municipal projects, is vulnerable to manipulation. The solution? Put it on the blockchain.
The city government's electronic voting platform reaches 2 million Muscovites.
The city government's electronic voting platform reaches 2 million Muscovites.Madison McVeigh/CityLab/AP

It’s both light and shadow that make up the beauty of life, wrote Leo Tolstoy. He was talking about love, not politics. But in Moscow, it’s also light and shadow that, side by side, govern the city. The light: a seemingly transparent and revolutionary form of online citizen participation. The shadow: a dense fog of suspicion surrounding how it works.

In 2014, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin launched Active Citizen, an e-voting platform designed to allow citizens to directly weigh in on non-political city decisions—things like setting speed limits, plotting bus routes, and naming subway stations. Since then, 2,800 polls have been administered via the app and almost 2 million users across this city of 11 million residents have participated.