Greetings! It’s been a while since we’ve posted actively. We’ve been quiet, but we’re still around. In truth, we’ve had some struggles through the past years, and for a while it was unclear whether we would be able to continue working and bringing our solutions to the world.
Things are looking quite a bit brighter now, though, and we are once again confident in our ability to deliver what we promised. Over the past years, the difficulties we encountered affected each of us who make up Follow My Vote differently, and tested our resolve, but over time, we have been refined by this fire, and it has clarified our vision and strengthened our resolve to continue. We have examined our situation and ascertained our position, charted a course forward, and embarked upon the journey.
Make no mistake, Follow My Vote is fundamentally the same today as it was when last we spoke. We are a small crew of three guys, brought together by a shared vision of a better world, based upon systems that work for everyone, where the best ideas are gathered, tested, refined, implemented, and improved. A world where communication is easier and more effective, where societies are formed by individuals empowered to speak out about the problems they see, propose solutions to those problems, experiment on how to implement those solutions, and collaborate on which implementations are most safe, effective, scalable, economical, and desirable.
Having surpassed the difficulties that beset us, we are as convinced as ever before that this vision can be realized, but we also have greater clarity on just how big that vision is, and how much work it will take to bring it to fruition. We have identified the necessary groundwork and have secured operational funding to begin laying the foundations. We have formulated a plan and are currently working on its execution.
In order to succeed in making our vision a reality, we have realized that we must be more open and transparent about that vision, the plans to realize it, and the path and progress to getting there. Today, we are sharing our vision and plans as they exist now, and we are committing to maintain an open dialogue as to our position and progress at every step along the way. As a first step along this path, in addition to this article, we are also giving to the world our pending patent for one of humanity’s most important solutions for scalable communication: a secure, anonymous, end-to-end verifiable online voting system.
The importance of a new solution for voting is clearer now than ever before. Confidence in election integrity would seem to be at an all time low, and the need is great for more scalable and accessible solutions, without compromising on integrity, security, and privacy. Some solutions are already being proposed and brought to the market, but these solutions are dangerously ill-prepared to meet the needs of modern elections, and we at Follow My Vote are gravely concerned that the market may be swayed by these ineffective half-measures. This makes ever more clear the pressing need for transparency and education on the concerns involved in designing an online voting system to meet the rigorous security and voter privacy requirements necessary to re-establish confidence in election integrity.
At the same time, we are fully aware that voting is only one of humanity’s communication needs. New solutions are necessary to support all kinds of communication with guarantees of integrity, authenticity, and privacy. While the internet has become the de facto solution for our communication problems, the technologies which exist today are inadequate to provide for the next generation of services and applications supporting communication at scale. By creating new internet technologies which adequately support the rigorous requirements of online elections, we simultaneously establish a foundation and platform, not only for voting solutions, but myriad other applications as well.
Since 2014, Follow My Vote has had a plan for an end-to-end verifiable, anonymous online voting system secure enough to support national elections. The difficulty is that the current solutions to problems fundamental to all online applications were simply not intended to withstand the kinds of attacks we expect and observe to be leveled against national elections. We need solutions to these problems the same as everyone else, but whereas the existing approaches may be adequate for other applications, if we relied upon these technologies, our voting system’s security would be decimated and it would be feasible that advanced or well-positioned attackers could successfully interfere with the results.
In the intermediate years, we have struggled to keep the company afloat while searching for solutions that could solve the problems well enough that we could build our system and deploy it with confidence that its foundations were strong enough to deliver on its promise without crumbling under the load of real-world usage and attacks. At the same time, we’ve been confronted by numerous dilemmas where we could compromise the principles informing the design of our solutions to make them more practical or popular, but at the cost of making the resultant system less trustworthy or easier to defeat.
Through these trials, we have come to understand that Follow My Vote’s purpose in the market, the company’s raison d’être, is to make, with absolute and honest purity of intent and principles, an online voting system with absolutely zero compromise on security and voter privacy. We know that honesty and principles are rigidly inflexible, and to hold ourselves to these standards, we will make decisions which will be unpopular and politically incorrect. Nevertheless, we will hold to principle and create a solution with zero compromise in the integrity of its design or its results, wherever that takes us. Our software will be open source and free to modify, and others will be welcome to make dilute versions which they find more palatable, but we will keep our designs on the straight and narrow path of the greatest possible integrity and resilience.
The first step on this path, then, is to share with the public our plans to make such a system logistically and technically feasible. As we have stated above, existing solutions for creating online applications are not adequate to support our online voting system. A secure online voting system must not only give voters incontrovertible proof that their decision was accurately recorded and included in the tally, but it must also be resilient enough that it would be infeasible to prevent voters from successfully casting their votes, and it must ensure that the voter’s privacy is absolute and unbreakable by any entity within the system, while simultaneously guaranteeing that only legitimate voters can successfully cast a vote and that each voter gets exactly one vote. To ensure that all of these constraints are met, a protocol, or the rules and procedures governing how the system works and how information is handled, is established and an application is used by voters to easily and intuitively interact with the system according to protocol. This application is written in software code and that code must be downloaded to the voter’s device or computer to enable them to interact with the system. Once the voter has the application, they use it and it locates and communicates with other computers in the system on their behalf. All of these processes must succeed, and all of the information must be handled with integrity, even under attack, even when the attackers are well funded, technically advanced, and enjoy privileged positions of power from which to corrupt the system.
There are two universal problems to be solved in making any application based on communication technology such as the internet. First is getting the application to the human so they can use it, and second is supporting the application’s communications as it operates on the human’s behalf. Both must be conducted without a reasonable possibility of corruption. The first problem, getting the application to the human, is typically solved today by downloading the application over the web or from an app store. The second problem, supporting the application while it locates and communicates with other computers online, is typically solved today using the Domain Name System (DNS) and Certificate Authorities (CAs). Unfortunately, all of these solutions — web downloads, app stores, DNS, and CAs — are susceptible to easy attack if the attacker is adequately advanced or enjoys a convenient position of power. These solutions were designed only to be secure against common attackers without powerful positions, but a voting system needs to be secure even against attackers who happen to control, or can seize control of, instrumental computers within the system. As a result, these technologies constitute a weak foundation for an online voting system, and any system based upon them, no matter how much security is added later on, is susceptible to attack.
Furthermore, the aforementioned technologies are not highly resilient to outages and failures. If key systems fail, the application may not load, may not function, or may not successfully locate other computers within the system. For highly sensitive applications, this is not adequate. In the immortal words of Apollo 13, “Failure is not an option.” In the face of outages and failures, the technology must automatically recover or choose a new path that does not fail. If the outages are insurmountable, then the human must be given clear and practical guidance on how to proceed successfully. While this kind of redundancy has been achieved with existing internet solutions, it requires enormously expensive and complex systems which require substantial expertise and resources to construct and maintain, and even then, the solutions are centrally managed, meaning that they are resilient to outages, but not to well-positioned attacks. To support an online voting system, simpler strategies for resilience and redundancy must be found, which do not require unusual skill or resources and central management.
To meet these needs, Follow My Vote has examined the technologies available and selected more fundamental technologies which have been around for longer and provide more basic services with few conveniences relied on by modern application developers. These older and less convenient, but more durable technologies remain in widespread use and are still fundamental to our modern systems today, and thus they constitute a strong foundation upon which to build. From this position of strength, new solutions can be implemented which leverage the experience gained from the modern web to provide all of the power and convenience to which modern developers have become accustomed and more, but without relying on less robust or resilient approaches to provide them.
Out of these solutions can be fashioned a new platform for communication applications. This is not just a solution for voting; indeed, if it were then it would be questionable whether the design could be securely maintained and withstand the tests of time. By creating a solution to benefit an entire new generation of online applications, we ensure that, as with the web today, our platform is continuously examined and improved as it supports a vast and growing array of vested interests, including many that are newly made possible by the greater architectural stability of the proposed platform.
Only once this platform is fully established will we continue with building our anonymous, end-to-end verifiable online voting solution. We will construct simpler applications to prove out the platform and demonstrate its proper use, but until the platform is ready, we cannot build a ruggedly secure solution for elections, and we dare not risk redirecting resources away from the foundation prematurely. This will ensure the platform is rugged and stable before we begin building a mission critical solution on top of it, but by building smaller solutions on top of it in the meantime, we use our own designs and ensure that the platform is practical and convenient enough for everyday usage as well.
Although Follow My Vote has had our struggles in the past, we’ve learned many lessons and we’ve gained experience so that now, we have confidence that we can build the system we set out to build years ago. These difficult lessons have shown us just how far we have yet to go, but also how far we have come, and they have given us the resourcefulness we will need to succeed in walking the path we have chosen for ourselves. We know that the work cut out for us is enormous, but we also see that the need for it is as great now as it ever has been, and we are galvanized by the threat that the market may lose hope that a truly secure and integral online voting system is possible and settle for a dangerous half-measure.
Having now fully ascertained our position and regained our footing, we know the magnitude and scope of the work we have yet to do, and it is surely daunting; nevertheless, we believe that the work can be done, and we know that it will be worth it when it is finished.
As we press onward, we know the value of transparency and openness and we commit to be more communicative as to the development of our solutions going forward. We hope that this visibility gives the market hope that true solutions are possible, not only for voting, but for a host of applications targeting critical social and societal issues, and we hope that others will support our efforts to create a solution not only for our own applications, but for everyone’s. We thank you for your attention in reading this article and following our progress as we follow through with all that is within us on the work we have described.
About The Author:
Nathaniel Hourt | Co-Founder & CTO