Alright. Think about the last time you voted. Or maybe the next time you do so (I know a good number of you aren’t yet old enough to do so). However, this time, instead of considering the obvious factors in an election: who you’ll vote for, how you’ll vote, where you’ll vote (all these things related to you specifically), consider the opposing perspective. How much work, how many resources, go into the facilitation of an election? Organization is no small feat, especially in a nation like the US that is so divided on not only voting procedures (consider Washington’s widespread use of mail-in ballots, as opposed to the polling stations that are still prominent elsewhere), but voting policies (voter ID). So what if I were to tell you that there was a better way to do all of this? Of course, application of such a system could have great potential within the US, but let’s consider the larger impact that’s possible. Emerging Democracies. Let me give an example.
As of today, there hasn’t been a single national election in South Sudan itself. The last sub-national election was held in 2010 to elect the current president and legislature around the time of independence. The first national election is planned for July 9th, 2015, but is being threatened by rising conflict. Of course, I don’t propose a way to counter this conflict, or what one could refer to as the deep-seated organizational flaws based on the ethnic, tribal, linguistic, etc. backgrounds of the populace. However, what I do propose is a way to simplify the process for the government via, in part, crowdsourcing, and, in doing so, significantly reduce costs. ReachVote establishes a fully digital voting system that depends on modern cryptographic technology to seal and submit votes remotely while providing aspects of vote verification that are essential for a fully transparent system. As I mentioned, it is further dependent on basic crowdsourcing, on a very low level.
Now, the idea for this element of crowdsourcing stems from a realization of the mistake in which the original idea for this system was founded. In both situations, the primary voting device would be a mobile phone. However, the original idea was dependent on the usage of private devices by individuals in the privacy of their own home. By utilizing a method that has been proposed by BitCongress (I’ll come back to this when I talk about integration) in combination with certain elements of the system through which M-PESA (I’ll come back to this, too) operates, this could have had the potential to establish a consistent identification system, thus insuring accuracy to some degree. However, thanks to the high risk of vote sales and coercion and, more importantly in the context of this sort of technology in such an environment (I will later refer to these considerations in the context of Aristotelian virtue), this unfortunately becomes less than ideal. Therefore, the essential idea would be to establish a micro-polling system such that monitoring of this would be possible, in order to 1) monitor a dedicated device for the purpose of avoiding any sort of malware infection, 2) preventing vote sales and coercion, and 3) providing support personnel who can help answer questions, even if their training is quite light, in comparison to the relatively highly trained poll workers that we see in the US having to fulfill complex duties and have knowledge about a wide variety of small nuances. Initially, the goal would be to use mobile phones as the voting machines. On one hand, this is because of cost. On the other, it is due to the growing ubiquity of such devices in many of the areas where this technology would have potential. Such a commitment would mean that one of the core identifiers of this framework would be a dependence on a mobile network. Certainly this poses a respective dependence on telecom providers, but a partnership with these corporations could thus be possible. The goal would thus be to have an SMS-based technology that would feed information back and forth from a centralized database. Now, this is where the decentralization capability of BitCongress could come in. I’ll discuss this more once we reach that phase of the presentation, but let it suffice for now to note the fact that the core tenet of this technology is direct delivery of the votes to the final party (i.e. the government). However, this, in turn, has its share of flaws that 1) don’t necessarily make it any more efficient than more simple homomorphic encryption-based vote tabulation and 2) faces a variety of risks in the form of attacks that could be launched on the Bitcoin blockchain itself (to which BitCongress is linked via Counterparty: a system which attaches more detailed data to blocks, such as in the form of a vote). Nevertheless, unless we consider the possibility of a system like Kipochi (see later) or a Vericoin-style SMS Wallet system, the other factor that BitCongress would require would be Internet access. This, in turn, would require two more components: more advanced devices and an Internet connection. The former is increasingly possible thanks to the dropping prices of tablets (for example, new Windows tablets that run for around $30). The latter is, as well, but would once again require one of two possibilities: 1) a satellite connection, which is still, more often than not, fairly expensive, or 2) access through, for example, the balloons that Google is developing to deliver Internet access to these areas (this would be another integration opportunity). Anyhow, this is enough consideration of the actual structure for now. Let’s move on to the real intention of this presentation: the philosophical drivers of the various components of this solution and the issue it addresses as a whole. As mentioned above, I will use this opportunity to continue on my exposition of the various business components of ReachVote. Finally, the last facet here is implementing the verifiability that is vital for the efficacy of this program. In Dr. Josh Benaloh’s concept for mico-polling stations, this is facilitated with physical receipts. The same goes for the STAR-vote system. However, because of the demand this places on resources, an ideal alternative might be receipts delivered over SMS, assuming a high penetration of mobile phones (which is already being demonstrated in much of the world). To prevent fraud, an election ink system like India’s could be implemented.
The importance of democracy is introduced in The Republic by Plato. His essential claim is that government is the driving force for making sure society is better for all of its citizens. Inherently, this follows his philosophy that, assuming every human’s actions are primarily driven by their “good” nature, every action of this government will serve the best interests of the people that it represents. Of course, consideration of the great ills that that unrepresentative government has perpetrated over time to select groups within society, this isn’t entirely true. However, it is certainly maintained in the context of the laws that government can enforce to prevent certain acts, and the services that it can provide. Furthermore, the importance of frequent voting is emphasized by Plato’s proposal of the rise of a demagogue to the position of tyrant or monarch without the proper cyclical emphasis in the system (as seen in places like Zimbabwe, Libya, and Egypt). On the other hand, the core values of existentialism encourage divergence from any such sort of unification of values. As presented in Being and Nothingness, it is the belief of Sartre that there is no validity to any sort of enforced system of values. Inherently, this thus creates what proponents of Natural Law would deem to be slavery: simply the removal of freedom, which is also defined by Sartre as “the unique foundation of values.” Nevertheless, democracy presents an opportunity for the avoidance of this by instead allowing individuals to hold their own sets of values such that they are represented as a whole by a ruling body. As such, “like civic republican philosophers (such as Aristotle and Rousseau), Sartre contends that controlling the social forces to which one is subject is a valuable type of human freedom” (Heter), and thus, “humans are only free if their basic needs as practical organisms are met (p. 327 of Critique of Dialectical Reason)” (Heter). In a system which is bettered, as Plato presents it, by government, democracy maintains freedom. More importantly to this project, Sartre’s political philosophy makes it evident that without universal engagement in a democratic political system, such a system fails to serve its core purpose. Storm Heter quotes him in saying that “rights, for example, would be guaranteed because of a person’s ‘active participation in the life of society’ not by appealing to a ‘problematical and abstract “human nature”’ (Anti-Semite and Jew, p. 146).” This idea seems to be based in “Sartre’s claim that engagement is an ethical and political virtue begins with the premise that humans are necessarily situated in particular places and times” (Heter). As stated above, if political freedom is a necessary factor in freedom as a whole, inability to gain it in a system of government instates a master-slave system that prevents it from serving Plato’s purpose of betterment of society. Now, of course, the fact that our case study, South Sudan, has a literacy rate of 27% may be an indicator that such ubiquity is not possible without a major preliminary increase in education. Of course, it is further possible to justify my own intentions with Sartre’s philosophy. On page 328 of Notebooks for an Ethics, he states, “if I grasp my freedom in a fulfilled intuition as both the source of all my projects and requiring universal freedom, I cannot think of destroying the freedom of others.” It is inherently my responsibility to do what I can, should I willingly accept my own political freedom, even beyond the system to which I myself belong. Voting is the way to accomplish this because it is the perfect union between the self and the group as noted in Sartre’s belief that “oppression is not an inevitable, ontological condition, but a historical reality that should be contested, through both self-assertion and collective action” (Heter). Beyond Sartre and Plato, Right Action is universally considered to be defined by Moderation. As the ultimate form of compromise through equal representation, an effective Republic fulfills this perfectly. By posing all opposing ideas of significant groups (including minorities), it creates a moderate system of values.
The primary distinction between the concepts of virtue presented by Plato and those by Aristotle and Kant is that, in the latter, virtue and right action isn’t inherent or truly natural. Per these latter ideas, a Republic is not only unable to function effectively (representatively) without the right checks and balances, but it is, more importantly to this context, unable to establish its composition fairly without such measures. As such, verifiability is an essential consideration to allow a nation’s own population to serve as this measure of checks and balances, even should it not be utilized by the majority. Finally, from an existentialist perspective, such a component ensures individual determination of values such that it isn’t necessary for one to accept those of the government. Individual belief is fostered alongside community involvement. Of course, this is a major concern within highly literate nations where corruption is something against which an active populace is fighting, such as in Iran, where the featured protests occurred. However, the establishment of such a system from the beginning in a developing system allows much smaller scale, immediate implementation on an internal scale that would take infinitely more effort in an established system, like that of the US.
The most inherent form of pour-soi -> pour-soi interaction in this situation is in the fact that the facilitation of the voting is through localized individuals from within communities. While the centralized system is built in collaboration between us and the government, we intend for it to be upheld by the populations its aims to benefit, rather than an external force (including the government). This truly does allow for large scale implementation without the sort of resources that governments generally pump into such a system. As for integration opportunities, such a pour-soi -> pour-soi mentality once again drives innovation here. Collaboration and cooperation are essential, and are the reason that building off a system like BitCongress may be favorable. A core identifier of this service is its dependence on existing infrastructure: Bitcoin, CounterParty, Axiomity. With each of these in place, there’s no need to create something new, so it’s primarily the user interface that must be created, what with the back-end interface with the Bitcoin network already in place. As such, there’s great potential there, even if the technology itself poses no inherent advantage. Furthermore, what BitCongress offers the opportunity for integration with is a financial system. Considering the context of mobile technology, the perfect example of this is Kenya’s M-Pesa program, which has had such great success and penetration that it is virtually ubiquitous in the country and has expanded widely. What M-Pesa allows is peer-to-peer monetary transfer via SMS. The potential of such an application to ReachVote is twofold: 1) The Proof-of-Concept of a central system which interfaces via SMS on the output side with a legitimate degree of security (while fraud is common on M-Pesa through social engineering, malware has not been found to significantly affect it; this is largely triggered by an isolation form the Internet, which is a reason to avoid that sort of solution) and 2) Kipochi. With an SMS input, it would be possible for a central system to take that data, match each vote with a simultaneously established database of citizens, check the latter off, and return to an encrypted state that would be publicly accessible through an online interface (this could be facilitated through a call center or SMS-based call system, as well, for Internet-less access by voters). To begin considering 2, let me first describe what Kipochi achieves. As a replacement for M-Pesa, Kipochi utilizes an identical SMS user interface, but runs all transactions through the Bitcoin network instead. This acts as the perfect Proof-of-Concept of a system through which such an interaction can be facilitated with a blockchain. In the context of BitCongress, and thus our system, should it be built around the blockchain, this interaction would be with the Axiomity blockchain, and thus respectively with CounterParty and the Bitcoin network. Of course, rather than having an SMS output, as with both of these cases, the output will be into a central tabulation mechanism that will evaluate and report the results both to the governing body and to the people alongside the interface for accessing their own votes. Finally, though everything thus far has mentioned SMS, the greatest cost associated with this would be the great temporary strain it would place on telecom providers. As such, one potential solution would be the development of a unique “cell” network. Of course, this would initially be far too expensive, and isn’t effective based on the value of collaboration, but is a definite step towards avoiding any of the malware threat that would be presented in the use of the Internet over cell networks. On the other hand, the better solution, acknowledging the present functionality, would be partnership with these telecom providers themselves. Doing so would provide another sponsor, and provide the resources for developing the ideal SMS interface based, perhaps, on the specific nuances of these specific cell networks.
We have discussed BitCongress as the basis of this system should it be based on the blockchain, due to the open-source and scalable nature, but STAR-vote and Scantegrity present existing, in-use, scenarios of one of the most essential components of this program: verifiability. Both demonstrate a paper-receipt based system which essentially follows the process described towards the beginning of this presentation to cryptographically represent votes while providing a way to confirm that they have been recorded correctly and in actuality. Their distinct success demonstrate the potential of this program and its feasibility and importance. Of course, with dependence on open-source technology, we place ourselves in the perfect location for community involvement and collaboration on development. Any can contribute to this project and bring it to success.
Early Implementation Voting Technologies for Emerging