In the run up to the 2016 United States Presidential Election, Follow My Vote brought global attention to the idea of leveraging blockchain technology (or distributed ledger technology) to build a secure end-to-end verifiable mobile voting system to be used in government-sponsored elections worldwide.
Over the past few years we’ve been contacted by media outlets, university researchers, county registrars, political parties, and voters alike wanting to know, “What happened with Follow My Vote?”
In short, we’re still here and we’re not going anywhere.
To elaborate a bit more, we wanted the public to know that, in November 2016, due to lack of funding, Follow My Vote hit the end of our runway, at which point my fellow Follow My Vote Co-founders, Nathan Hourt and Will Long, and I were forced to find day jobs in order to make ends meet.
Since then, we’ve spent our nights and weekends trying to make progress where we can.
Fast forward four years…
We know it’s been awhile since you’ve heard anything from Follow My Vote. But, we’ve been paying attention to what’s going on in the world and we wanted to take this opportunity to reassure the public that we firmly believe that there is still hope for a brighter future, a future where each and every one of our citizens has a voice and our votes truly matter.
We want the world to know that, at Follow My Vote, our mission is to promote truth and freedom by empowering individuals to communicate effectively and implement non-coercive solutions to societal problems AND we see ourselves as citizens of the planet, first and foremost.
It’s also important to note that, at Follow My Vote, we serve the people.
~So, why voting?
Being that we are located in the United States, we’ve decided to start out by focusing on building the solution we think the citizens of the United States need now more than ever, a secure and verifiably honest online voting system, one that provides greater accessibility to the polls on Election Day.
Voting is one of the key pillars to any society with a democratic government.
Therefore, citizens within democratic societies that utilize voting systems and processes that hinder accessibility and ultimately lack verifiability should be concerned. The United States is no exception. It goes without saying that, at Follow My Vote, we see the lack of accessibility / transparency with respect to the voting processes and systems that are currently in place in the United States a cause for grave concern.
In regards to verifiability in particular, with new concepts like those introduced recently by Fiscal Digital in Guatemala, we are seeing new models emerge for applying transparency to the legacy voting processes and systems in place today and applaud those willing to implement these types of solutions, ones that ensure electoral integrity and attempt to restore faith in the voting process.
Now let’s shift the focus of this article toward accessibility for a moment.
~Will Voting Be Handled Differently In The Post Covid-19 Era?
These are troubling times. While the world is still reeling from the coronavirus or Covid-19 outbreak, there is unrest all around us. Things will likely never be the same again, especially when it comes to voting.
Now more than ever, people are standing up and taking action for what they believe in. Citizens are being encouraged to vote as a way to express their opinions on Election Day. But, what happens when “We the People’s” vote is disenfranchised?
If you have been paying attention this primary season, you’re well aware of the debacles taking place at centralized polling locations. Several primary elections have been plagued by issues with the Covid-19 outbreak, such as the massive closing of many centralized polling locations causing ridiculously long-lines at the polling locations that are remaining open, which is effectively disenfranchising voters.
Just the thought of catching Covid-19 at the polls is terrifying, causing people not to show up and vote and rightfully so. United States citizens, or any citizen of any country that hosts elections for that matter, should not have to literally risk their lives in order to vote. Thankfully, some legislative change is happening to address this crisis, as things are only going to get worse as we move closer to the United States 2020 Presidential Election AND there’s no telling if the situation will improve thereafter.
However, at the end of the day, Governors, Secretaries of State, Legislators, Election Officials, academics, cyber security experts and most importantly, the voters will ultimately weigh in and decide if / when the United States is ready for secure end-to-end verifiable mobile voting.
Despite not having every United States citizen onboard the mobile voting train, now more than ever, we firmly believe that the need for a secure and verifiably honest mobile voting system, one that provides greater accessibility to the polls on Election Day, couldn’t be more apparent. So, we’re staying the course.
~Is there really a need to bring voting securely online in the United States?
The shocking reality is that many United States citizens currently cast their ballots via postal mail, email, or fax. Why you ask?
A large subset of these voters are absentee voters, those voters that can’t physically make it to their designated polling locations on Election Day. Many of these voters are also Military Overseas Voters, those fighting for the United States in foreign conflicts around the world. And, as of late, vote-by-mail is simply not an option for these citizens, in particular, as international mailing operations have come to a screeching halt due to Covid-19 issues. This means that United States Military Overseas Voters are currently being forced to use incredibly insecure electronic methods of casting their ballots, electronic voting methods which have been approved for use in many states for years now.
To make matters worse, if you really open your eyes to what’s going on, one can see that the entire United States election infrastructure is falling apart.
We’re living in modern times. Modern times call for modern solutions. Therefore, at FMV, we firmly believe that if there is in fact a way to bring voting securely online, to address issues like these and others, we should.
To be clear, we’re not advocating taking away the right for United States citizens to utilize these currently approved voting methods, which are riddled with known security vulnerabilities through and through, all we are saying is that the citizens of the United States deserve better and we’re on it!
~What do you say to those that criticize mobile voting solutions?
We understand that there has been decades of opposition by certain university researchers and security professionals with respect to bringing voting securely online. Although many critics have made some very valid points about security concerns with respect to mobile voting solutions, the people need to start reading beyond the headlines they come across in the media and the conversation needs to shift from “Why Secure Online Voting Will Never Be Possible!” to “How Could We Make Online Voting Secure?”
This singular issue is much bigger than Follow My Vote. At this point, solving this technical challenge, meaning figuring out exactly how to build a secure end-to-end verifiable mobile voting platform, has become a humanitarian cause worth pursuing. Thus, we are encouraging everyone around the world to get involved in this project.
When it comes to the United States, we are fully aware that some citizens are perfectly comfortable with waiting in line to cast their vote at a centralized polling locations on Election Day or mailing in their paper ballot in ahead of time as a means to cast their vote in an election. However, we are also very aware that there is a certain population of United States citizens that would love the opportunity to vote conveniently / instantly / securely / verifiably from their own device on Election Day AND that population is growing.
We’re building our solutions for the latter group.
Just to be crystal clear here, we’re not trying to change the way anyone currently votes in the United States today. We’d simply like to provide United States citizens an alternative option for voting on Election Day and encourage those that care about electoral integrity to vote with integrity by using more secure and verifiable voting methods.
~When did this all start?
Although I founded Follow My Vote on the 4th of July in 2012, our technological approach to administering an election using blockchain technology (or distributed ledger technology) dates back to 2014.
This ingenious approach was invented during our time spent at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg, VA. While exploring potential collaboration opportunities with Dan Larimer and the core developers at BitShares, Dan was the first person to introduce blockchain technology (or distributed ledger technology) to me.
Once I learned of this new technology and that it could be leveraged to develop a secure end-to-end verifiable mobile voting system, one that could provide greater accessibility to the polls on Election Day, we decided to make that our core focus at Follow My Vote and haven’t looked back.
From there, myself, Follow My Vote’s CTO (Nathan Hourt), and Dan Larimer began innovating. When we designed our patent-pending technological approach, we threw out all preconceived notions of voting systems design that had come before us, in order to have a fresh set of eyes on the problem.
The greatest challenge we faced was to design a secure voting system that incorporated an identity verification component and was end-to-end verifiable, yet anonymous, all while avoiding the creation of any single points of failure in the process.
The end result was our patent, which was published on Google Patents on 4-20-17. It’s also important to point out that, although I’m listed as one of the Co-inventors in our patent, along with Nathan Hourt and Daniel Larimer (CTO of Block.one), Follow My Vote owns 100% of the intellectual property associated with our patent.
~How does your invention work?
Upon review of Fig. 2 in our patent, you will see our designs for an anonymous voting key registration protocol. You’re eyes probably just glazed over as you read that. But, let’s do some unpacking there.
A protocol is just a process. And, when embedded in our voting software, this protocol allows a voter to have their identity verified, and be issued the proper ballot in an anonymous way, so that when the voter casts their ballot, they can quite literally follow their vote into the ballot box and confirm with their own eyes that their ballot was cast as intended and counted as cast. Furthermore, since all votes remain anonymous within the ballot box, all votes cast within our system during an election can be independently verified by anyone, which is showcased in our user-experience demo below:
When you think about it, this invention is truly revolutionary, as, to our knowledge, a protocol/voting system like this doesn’t exist anywhere in the world, even today.
It’s also important to point out that, when inventing our secure voting system, we decided that it was important to mirror the voting experience that currently takes place at centralized polling locations on Election Day, at least in the United States. But, in order to make the process end-to-end verifiable, we had absolutely no choice but to bring the system online.
Furthermore, when putting our thoughts on paper, our goal was to design the ideal voting system, one that couldn’t be compromised by any single actor involved in the election administration and/or voting processes, to include members of our own organization. We had to assume that if any single actor within the system can be a bad actor, they will. And, if history has shown us anything, it’s that people are fallible and can be compromised.
~What Follow My Vote solutions exist today?
We’ve designed a powerful protocol, but the elections grade voting platform itself has not been built. However, we have completed the beta version of our stake weighted voting software, which was integrated with the BitShares public blockchain back in 2016. This software demonstrated our ability to securely store voting data on a public blockchain. But, this software still lacks an identity verification component and our patent-pending anonymous voting key registration protocol, which are both needed in an end-to-end verifiable elections grade voting platform.
When it comes to developing elections grade software, security is the most pressing issue. Therefore, we felt it was imperative to establish our own security standards with respect to mobile voting system design. After analyzing the landscape for years now, we’ve determined that in order to build truly secure voting software, we’d first need to build a decentralized application platform that meets our security standards AND from there develop a decentralized application (dApp) for administering an election / a mobile voting dApp, which will sit on top of this dApp platform.
Now, building such a system will not be such an easy feat, as the dApp platform/mobile voting dApp is a multi-million dollar project that will likely span 2 to 3 years development time, at least by our current estimates. But we’re up for the challenge. Some people call us crazy. They think what we are striving to accomplish is simply not possible. Many of those same people called Elon Musk crazy when he committed to attempting the impossible by putting a man on Mars with his space exploration company called SpaceX. But, look at SpaceX now. Sure as Elon Musk, we are confident we can get the job done in time and with the proper funding.
~Will you need to raise capital to get the job done?
Follow My Vote is still very much a start up. We have yet to raise capital beyond a $50K friends and family round back in 2016. At this point in time, due to the sanctity of our current project, we are choosing to rely solely on grant funding to keep the business afloat.
To date, the majority of our time, effort, and operating capital has been spent on securing our intellectual property, developing our user experience demo software for our end-to-end verifiable mobile voting system, building our minimum viable product (MVP) for our stake weighted voting system, and educating the public of the vulnerabilities and security concerns that exist with respect to the voting processes and systems that are currently in place in the United States via our website and social media.
Should we receive grant funding in the days ahead, the funds will be appropriated to the development of our dApp platform / mobile voting dApp, which will be open source and available for use by the public.
~Are you aware of your competitors in the voting arena?
We are aware of the current players in the mobile voting space, such as Voatz and Democracy Live. We know of the voting solutions they’ve demonstrated AND we know that they are gaining traction. We have our unbiased opinions (both good and bad), which we will share with the public, in time, via our website and social media channels. But, regardless of what we may think about our competitors and the mobile voting solutions they’ve released to date, we applaud the belief in the ideal of people like West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner, Colorado Secretary of State Jenna Griswald and Utah County Clerk, Amelia Powers Gardner (among others) whom have demonstrated their willingness to trust in modern technology as a means to increase access to polls.
Despite what you may have read in the news lately about those competing in the mobile voting space, at Follow My Vote, our singular motivation is to solve this technical problem for the citizens of the planet, not to make a profit. Everyone should know that Follow My Vote is a non-partisan public benefit corporation, which on one hand means that we have no hidden agendas of any kind AND on the other hand it means that, if we succeed, a portion of our profits will go towards making a positive impact on society far beyond what our software solutions will provide.
As we work to bring our software solutions to life, it’s important to reiterate that we are taking the open-source approach to software development, which means that we plan to share our source code with the world, once it’s completed. This opens up the opportunity for our software to be reviewed and scrutinized by researchers all over the world before our secure end-to-end verifiable mobile voting software is ever used in an election. We may stumble and we may fall along the way, but we plan to pick ourselves up and try again until we get it right.
To be clear, we fully intend to open ourselves up to security reviews and 3rd party assessments from renowned security experts, such as Trail of Bits, at every step of the way and will share these outcomes with the public, as they happen, on our road to our first pilot.
~What challenges do you anticipate on your road to success?
Upon receiving grant funding, and as we work toward developing our decentralized application (dApp) platform and mobile voting dApp, we anticipate having to tackle a whole host of technical challenges, many of which will be heavily focused on security. But, we wanted to take this opportunity to point out that any company taking on the challenge of developing a secure end-to-end verifiable mobile voting platform will eventually have to address the following issues:
- Verifying Identities – Mobile devices aren’t always secure. As we are seeing now, with digital signature matching, digital identity verification can be problematic. One should also keep in mind that there is a myriad of ways digital identity verification can be accomplished, each of which come with their own security challenges/risks. Regardless of the digital identity verification approach that is taken, companies will need to get this first step in the voting process right if they are going to even get the opportunity to work on other parts.
- Getting Ballots to Voters – Digital issuing of ballots will not be easy. Making sure the proper ballot is delivered securely and untampered with to the voter is absolutely critical.
- Maintaining Anonymity – Secret ballots are essential for democracy. Being able to remove identifying connections from digital ballots is an essential step. That being said, WV Secretary of State Mac Warner, was recently attributed in saying it might be necessary to eliminate ballot secrecy for internet voting, in order to ensure that votes are safely transmitted. At Follow My Vote, we wholeheartedly disagree, as we’ve already designed a voting process that will allow for anonymous voting within our mobile voting system. Therefore, it is our position that this perceived voter anonymity issue stems from a lack of creativity in voting system design to date, which is why no other company has accomplished this feat yet, at least to our knowledge.
- Secure Data Storage – When designing secure and verifiable mobile voting software, the incorporation of blockchain technology (or distributed ledger technology) is a must, at least in our opinion. Blockchain technology alone is not a silver bullet in terms of developing a secure mobile voting platform, as the approach comes with it’s own set of challenges. However, by incorporating distributed ledger technology into your mobile voting system you can be assured that votes stored in the ballot box will be stored securely in an irreversible way, meaning the decentralized database that is the blockchain is incapable of being hacked by a would be attacker. This is also one of our areas of expertise at Follow My Vote, so we don’t anticipate too much of an uphill battle there.
- End-to-End Encryption – Facilitating secure communications should be a fundamental requirement within any mobile voting system’s design. If we want to be taken seriously, we’ll need to ensure that we get this done right. Otherwise, our system will not be trusted.
- Fully Auditable Systems – At the end of the day, citizens around the world need to be able to have trust in their own election results. Therefore, we believe that the only way a secure end-to-end verifiable mobile voting system can truly be trusted is if the software is open-source, meaning that the source code is fully auditable. This is perhaps the hardest part for your typical voting system vendor to deal with. However, it’s the easiest point for Follow My Vote to deal with, as we have pledged to be open-sourced and fully auditable from the very beginning AND we remain committed to that end.
~Where do you see opportunities to pilot your secure mobile voting software, once it’s been completed?
Right now, in the United States, many states are currently trying to scale vote-by-mail programs to keep people safe while they vote, which means that many voters will, for the first time, not vote on Election Day 2020 at a centralized polling place. We know vote-by-mail is not perfect AND many of the risk points mirror the risk points of mobile voting, such as getting ballots to voters, ensuring voter identity while protecting anonymity, protecting the ballots, and producing accurate, auditable results. But that’s where we think the majority of opportunities for a pilot will come from, meaning anywhere we see vote-by-mail taking place today, we are expecting to see secure mobile voting eventually being an option. You could say the same about anywhere where absentee voting is currently taking place, and in particular for Military Overseas Voters.
It goes without saying that, at Follow My Vote, we hope to learn a great deal during this election, and move closer to the goal of safe, secure end-to-end verifiable mobile voting.
~Any parting words?
We know we have a long and winding road ahead of us. But, as we stated in the very beginning of this article, we wanted the world to know that we’re still here and we’re not going anywhere.
We also wanted the world to know that we are open to partnerships and collaboration opportunities where it makes sense. So, whether you are a voting related organization, a potential user of our mobile voting software, or a single individual with dreams of making a difference, if you are interested in working with us in any capacity, please don’t hesitate to Contact Us using the form below.
In closing, even if we have to tackle this problem on our own, Follow My Vote is up for this challenge AND we invite you to take this journey with us! So, be sure to signup for our newsletter and follow us on social media!!