The Digital Democracy Project
Written: November 2022
It is hard to believe, after ten days since the midterm elections, a half-dozen districts have still not completed counting its votes. The list of election problems overall is quite long, and finger pointing is plentiful. I am quite confident in a long-term solution using blockchain technology and the secure and powerful supercomputers we carry in our purses and pockets, but that is not the subject of this article. I want to share with you what I have learned about the Digital Democracy Project.
The nonpartisan nonprofit public service project is described as a voter-driven system of government for the 21st Century. The project is in the early days and only available to registered Florida voters. They plan to expand across the U.S. starting in 2024. I spoke with Ramon Perez, Executive Director, this morning. He said, “Information and access have always been the most powerful forces in government. Voters will now have that power in their own hands—literally.”
The concept is to enable registered voters to “vote” on the same bills as our state representatives. I put vote in quotes because it is actually a poll. You can see the legislative bills currently underway to ultimately become law. Perhaps an example will make it clearer. Suppose there is a bill pending having to do with public transportation. The Digital Democracy app provides a description of the content of the bill and allows you to drill down deeper and see the actual wording of the bill. The app also shows the sponsor(s) and their political affiliation. You can see if the bill has a single sponsor, multiple sponsors all of the same party, or multiple sponsors with a nonpartisan mix.
The result shows the legislators how the public feels about a particular bill. The app shows voters, legislators, and the media how people “voted” and how the legislators acted. From state legislatures to the U.S. Congress, there have been numerous bills for which polls showed overwhelming support or lack of support and elected representatives have voted the opposite of the will of the people. The Digital Discovery Project makes the support and the action visible for all the bills at the state and district level.
Currently, the app shows Florida voters eight things to “vote” on. The first item in the poll asks the voter which types of legislation you are most interested in. The choices include:
- Elections and Civil Rights
- Social Welfare
- Taxes and Governance
- Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement
The result of this first question tells the legislators what the population cares most about. The app shows the pending bills in each of the eight areas. At this point, some areas have just one pending bill, some have multiple bills. For each bill, I looked at the sponsorship. If a bill had a single sponsor, I did not vote for it. If a bill had a lot of sponsors but all from the same party, I voted thumbs down or in a few cases I abstained. If a bill had broad bipartisan sponsorship, I voted thumbs up.
For each bill, the app shows how many voted yes, no, or abstain. I believe, if the Digital Democracy Project catches on, it can strengthen our democracy. It does not take millions of participants to be statistically reflective of the will of the people. There may be cases where the legislators feel the will of the people is not best for the country. In such cases, I believe the legislators need to do a better job of explaining why they think what they know is best.
The Digital Democracy Project was created through a partnership between Voting Rights Brigade, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and Voatz, a Boston-based mobile voting software company. Voatz has focused on enfranchising military voters, overseas citizens, and disabled voters. Voatz technology has been used in 115 successful elections in the U.S. and internationally. Voatz has been selected by several states and municipalities to run elections because the company follows stringent rules for cyber security, privacy, and auditing. Voatz does not store, share, or sell any data a voter provides, and none of the polling data is monetized.
To try out the app, you first download and install it. The app asks for some personal data for two reasons. First, they need your personal data to ensure the security of their mobile voting system. They verify you are a real human being, not a bot or hacker. They do this by asking you to take a selfie and upload it along with a photo ID. Sophisticated software compares the two pictures. Once verification is complete, they delete your images. Second, they check to verify you are a U.S. citizen and a resident of the State by matching you to the state voter database. They do this using your name, birth date, and zip code. Once verification is complete, they delete your data.
Your ballot (poll choices) is secret and protected. The technology is designed so they nobody knows which piece of legislation you are voting on. When you are registered on the app, you are issued an electronic voting token which is used to submit your “votes”. This token is used to record votes on a blockchain. Anyone can see the blockchain because it’s available to the public, but the owner of the token is anonymous so nobody can see who voted for a given piece of legislation. This provides confidence all votes cast are real, and the blockchain itself cannot be manipulated, while still protecting the secret ballot.
I think ultimately the approach the Digital Democracy Project is using will be used for real elections. In the meantime, the Project offers voters the opportunity to participate in polls, gain access to legislative information, and become familiar with the power of mobile and blockchain technologies.
Disclosure: I was one of the 153 investors who helped sustain Voatz on the Wefunder crowdsourcing platform.