Recently, while visiting my hometown, Buffalo, NY, I was bombarded by ads for the race for the local seat in the US House of Representatives. In case you don’t have 3 hours per day to spare to follow all the mid-term races, Buffalo’s Congressional District is drawing a tremendous amount of interest as Chris Collins, the incumbent, has been charged with insider trading and the race is competitive when it normally wouldn’t be. Seeing and hearing about this election got me thinking about my own voting history, or more accurately, lack thereof.
For better or worse, like many people in my age group I have rarely voted. There are many factors in this, but mostly I just found the mechanics of voting — filling out forms and mailing them or showing up at polling station to wait in a line — outdated and annoying. An article about a study conducted by officials in Fairfax County, VA on why 18– 24-year-olds don’t vote also caught my eye—they don’t vote because they don’t know where to buy stamps?!? While many people in older generations scoff at this, it reinforced my feelings about the way voting is conducted — there has to be a better, modern way of doing it.
While looking into voting technology further I also found that there are issues with ballot design and user interfaces that make it difficult for people to understand them and even to cast the vote they have intended. Again, in 2018 how can these types of problems still exist?
Being a technologist focused on blockchain and security, I started to think of solutions. Could I use blockchain and other technology to create a secure and legal way to make it easier to get a ballot and vote? With the Eth San Francisco Ethereum Hackathon coming up, everything aligned for me to devise of a legal and modern way to redefine how ballots are cast.
After 36 hours, CollectMyVote.org was born. CollectMyVote is a system using Ethereum, Chainlink, a web 3 site and a robot that could fill out a ballot. We learned quite a bit over the course of the hackathon: that we suck with robots for one, but most importantly that people truly saw the value in the project based on the feedback and interest that we received. We were incredibly encouraged by winning a prize from Chainlink, which we’ve used to further the project, and having numerous people stop by our station asking about using B3PO (CollectMyVote’s robot) to vote.
Without getting into the technical weeds, the current version of CollectMyVote allows a person to cast their ballot via a web interface that removes the UX issues experienced by some voters who receive poorly designed ballots. The web ballot then feeds a smart contract that tells the robot what to fill out on the physical ballot. From there the voter takes their ballot and can vote.
Given that this a project that we feel should be continued so that it can incorporate much greater capability and so anyone can use it, we decided to make it open source and do everything we can to promote the growth of a CollectMyVote’s community. Plus, we need to find people who know how to use robots efficiently. We’re seeking people and groups to get involved: student technology groups, student voting groups, and anyone else who wants to engage.
At this point we’ve run a modest proof concept filling out our own ballots in Buffalo, NY and San Francisco, CA, you can view our votes on the Ethereum blockchain here, though the information is hashed:
We plan to build off this and believe with the proper engagement and support we could see B3PO used in 2020 to allow much greater voter participation. We’d love to see B3POs set up on campuses, retirement homes or anywhere that people who have an impediment to voting to can take advantage of modern technology and take part in this fundamental component of our citizenship. Please join us in creating the future of voting.