Written by Rachel Lourie.
In a world of advanced technology, why are voting platforms so far behind?
While the notion of participating in democracy by casting a ballot is timeless, the efficiency, verifiability, and security of the systems we use to enable that process are mediocre at best. With election fraud becoming an increasingly present issue, Votem is making tremendous strides by way of a blockchain mobile voting solution.
Keep reading to find out what I learned from Founder and CEO, Pete Martin.
A Description of Votem:
“Votem allows people to vote in elections securely from their phones. We are a blockchain based mobile voting company that also has an election management setup product. Everything from registering as a voter, to casting your vote, to the analytics and reporting on election night can be done via our platform.”
The Idea Behind Votem:
“Votem is actually my fifth company. In 2014, I had just sold my business and was attending a conference for entrepreneurs and business leaders that was facilitated by the prolific Peter Diamandis. During one of the workshops, he had us take out a blank piece of paper, and prompted us to write down the one thing we’ll do before we die that will impact one billion people in this world. He wanted us to focus on what he calls our ‘massively transformative purpose’ — essentially, what we wanted our legacies to be.
At the time, I’d been seriously considering running for office in Ohio, but I knew that the bureaucracy and red tape in government would frustrate me to no end. After a few minutes of thinking and staring at my blank piece of paper, I wrote down two words: mobile voting. The more I looked at them, the more I started to wonder why we weren’t already utilizing such a thing. The current process of voting in the U.S. lacks security, and definitely isn’t modern from a technology standpoint. And outside of the U.S., you have some extreme global voting issues; in many countries, people literally risk their lives just to cast a ballot. As I started contemplating mobile voting, I realized that it was a way for me to get into politics without being square in the center of politics, and I left the conference with the notion that this was what I wanted to be my lasting legacy.
I quickly recognized, though, that I didn’t know much about the elections business. I spent the next six months talking to hundreds of different people who were very intimate with the industry — Secretaries of State, people on the ground who run elections, mobile voting competitors, you name it — anyone who would talk to me, I’d listen. I wanted to understand what the obstacles were and determine if there was a real market for my idea. Based on what I heard, I realized that my vision was viable.
In 2015, we offered a quarter million dollars to anyone, anywhere in the world, who could give us a tech solution for an online voting system that couldn’t be hacked. We had two hundred people from thirty countries submit, and we settled on using blockchain as the technology. About that same time, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was letting fans vote for the first time ever on who would be inducted that year, and by way of fortuitous circumstances they became our first client. Now we’re running the primary elections for half a dozen states, and we’re growing in both the public and private election markets. So far, there have been over thirteen million votes cast on our platform, which is something we’re insanely proud of.”
What Users Get:
“The intrinsic value of Votem is that we can provide a level of security and verifiability that doesn’t exist elsewhere. What’s fascinating to me is that the notion of online voting scares people largely because we’re constantly inundated with stories of how Russia hacked our election system. In addition, there are a lot of academics who opine on the ways mobile voting could go wrong. The reality is, however, that every fraud in elections has been committed with paper ballots — and that’s something that people can’t seem to accept.
We’re trying to impart on people that with the solution we have, we can mitigate the majority of things that could happen and — most importantly — we have more verifiability than in anything else that exists today.
An example of a direct benefit that voters get when they use Votem: most states make you fill out an absentee ballot either on paper or in person, but once that ballot has been submitted, you have no idea whether it was A) submitted as intended and B) actually counted. But on Votem, you get two digital receipts. One that says nothing was changed on your ballot, and one that allows you to check on a public website that the vote you submitted was counted.”
Why Votem Is Unique:
“There are two things that make us unique. The first is that if you look at other pure-playing blockchain companies, they consist largely technology people trying to get into this market. Those people don’t deeply understand elections. With the way we’ve built our business, we have people who have been running elections for thirty years. Because of that, we have a level of election execution experience that is unmatched. And from an election bodies perspective, they don’t really care about the technology — they just want to make sure that the company behind the technology has executed elections as perfectly as possible because if their election goes off perfectly, no one says a word. If there’s a tiny hiccup, their name shows up on the front page of the paper. Working in elections is often a thankless job, so evidence of successful execution is key.
The second thing that makes us unique is that from the product side, we’ve open-sourced all of our protocol. There are a lot of concerns about the notion of ‘black box’ voting — if people can’t see, feel, or touch the ballots, then you have to be able to show that their results aren’t being manipulated. Our protocol is published, and we’re constantly soliciting feedback because we want to continue to improve. That level of transparency is unmatched by our competitors.”
How Pete Got Into Tech and Politics:
“This really started in High School — I ran for Class President, and the result was that I’d won, but only by one vote. My school did a recount, and the result of that was that my competitor had actually won by one vote. On the third count, it was determined to be a tie, and they gave the victory to my competitor. So, I guess you could say that I’ve always had this itch that needed to be scratched. And I do genuinely love everything around politics, but instead of being right in the center, I’ve found my perfect intersection of bleeding edge advanced tech and that political piece. We have a really big mission, and it’s a tough thing that we’re trying to accomplish. I call it the bell curve of belief — if you talk to people about what we’re doing, some people will say you can never secure online voting in any respect and that all voting should be on paper. On the other end, you get people who say paper disenfranchises voters and that all voting should be online. Most importantly, you have this big group in the middle who thinks that mobile voting is a better way to vote, but who want to make sure it’s secure. Those are the folks that we’re focused on. We want them to rest assured that voting by way of Votem is safe, verifiable, transparent, and easy.”
How Tech is Shaping Politics, and the Coolest Thing in the Marketplace Today
“It’s really interesting — I think that technology, broadly speaking, is having two impacts on politics. One is very positive and one is very negative. The positive impact is that campaigns are able to focus on data analytics and target messages very specifically to you, which allows campaigns to figure out where to put resources in order to win. The negative impact it is that this hacking fear is a giant obstacle. People are scared and worried — and genuinely so. We want to acknowledge that in our work, and prove to people that what we’re doing is secure.”
Want to learn more? Contact Rachel Lourie, Senior Advisor at Agency Advisors, at firstname.lastname@example.org
At Agency Advisors, we bring new and innovative tech to candidates, causes, and the agencies that work on their behalf. This series aims to shed light on the leading-edge technologies that are creating a resounding impact within politics and advocacy.