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If the American midterm elections have reminded us of anything, it is that electoral controversies easily spill beyond the politics between candidates, and into the election process itself. The integrity of the November 6 elections has been marred with claims of voter fraud and suppression tactics, discoveries of votes being misplaced or turning inadmissible after not physically reaching counting stations before deadlines, and official sources reporting that technical glitches had caused ballots to be counted for a different candidate than the voter specified or not counted at all.
These phenomena are not new. Claims of electoral injustice date back to the 2000 presidential election in Florida between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Heightened scrutiny was recently further fueled in 2017 when Alex Halderman, a professor of computer science at the University of Michigan explained to the US Senate Intelligence Committee how US electoral systems were ‘vulnerable to sabotage and cyberattacks’, and said in a US congressional briefing that ‘hacking a national election in the United States would be, well, shockingly easy’.
Whether the evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, one day reveals rampant fraud, or woeful incompetence, one thing is certain: voters and candidates alike do not trust modern electoral management systems that have proven to be expensive, inefficient, insecure, and prone to failure.
But what would a trusted system look like?
Now, I know what you’re thinking — here comes another ‘just put it on the blockchain’ proposal — but voting is one of the few use cases outside of currency that can inexorably benefit from a distributed network compared to current approaches. The decentralized nature of blockchains means they carry a ‘trustless’ property that removes the need to trust any singular decision-making entity within the system for the network to operate efficiently, and thus eliminates many of the attack vectors that make modern voting systems vulnerable to tampering.
Operating out of New Zealand and Australia, new startup Horizon State began building such a voting platform in 2017 that is — according to CTO Nimo Naamani — designed to allow any community to quickly reach decision-making consensus in a cost-effective and secure manner.
By removing prohibitive cost and security barriers, blockchain-based decision making could spell more regular community input than the status-quo of enduring four-year plus election cycles before there is another opportunity to change things — and this forward thinking has earned Horizon State a position among the World Economic Forum’s list of ‘Tech Pioneers’, joining alumni including the likes of Google and Airbnb.
Naamani said the platform’s immediate beneficiaries could be taxpayers, local residents, shareholders, or even members of professional sporting clubs, adding:
“These users can take active part in the deliberation and shaping of policies, budget plans, projects and more. The system offers a path for true inclusiveness on one hand, and leader accountability on the other. We think people want to be more involved in the various aspects of their lives, but don’t always have a straightforward method of achieving it. Horizon State is aiming to provide this method.”
On first look, Horizon State’s blockchain-based platform could spell the end of election cynicism. Casting ballots digitally promotes participation regardless of voters’ transport access, and stamps out the risk that some may be lost in transit. Embedded identity systems ensure each voter is entitled to participate. And the algorithmic counting mechanism extinguishes the chance of human error by providing accurate counts almost instantly. Cast votes are permanently embedded into the blockchain, and this allows voters to check that their vote has been accounted for correctly, while maintaining their anonymity — resting the minds of voters and candidates who may otherwise feel hard-done-by.
Naamani said that he believes the cost efficiency Horizon State can offer (thanks to less human administrative complexity) will make its voting platform a sensible alternative in decision-making processes — with his eye looking beyond democratic organizations towards a much wider potential market of entities who may use the system for a one-off decision, or to receive regular approval signals and meaningful feedback from multiple stakeholders in a way that raises engagement.
“Going forward – there are many use cases for Horizon State – because communities and decision making are all around us. A lot of people have this notion that Horizon State is about voting alone. Now – voting in a general election is a huge, important and crucial use case – but it is only one use case, and a very technical one. We are looking at it as one of the things we could do – but there are so many others.”
Several political organizations have said they will begin use of the Horizon State platform including The Opportunities Party of New Zealand, India’s DPI (Democratic Party of India), and the company is in talks with multiple private organizations that have shown interest in using the software. When asked about what Horizon State was immediately focusing on after completing the first phase of development, Naamani pointed to a shift towards community engagement.
“We are working hard on getting the community engagement mechanisms beefed up as well. Our goals here would be local councils for their various community engagement needs, maybe sports clubs for fan engagements. Universities, indigenous groups, charities, NGOs. – we have really just started.”
Consensus by blockchain looks set to be a high-growth industry if cost projections by PWC are to be believed — where a simple referendum would cost the Australian economy $158 million Australian dollars to facilitate, and a further productivity loss externality of $281 million as people leave work to engage in democracy. Horizon State believes they can massively reduce the direct costs of such a vote, and the company’s solution would all but eliminate worker productivity losses through flexible voting windows from their smartphone or computer.
If you would like to learn more about Horizon State, click here.
This is not a sponsored article, and the author has never held any of Horizon State’s HST token