Voting Technology in Modern Democracy

Modern day elections are conducted using electronic voting machines (EVMs) which provide a secure way to cast your vote. Some of the countries using this technology include Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Estonia, France, Germany, India, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Romania, Switzerland, UK, Venezuela, and the Philippines. Voting machines have different levels of usability, security, efficiency and accuracy. Certain systems may be more or less accessible to all voters, or not accessible to those voters with certain types of disabilities. They can also have an effect on the public’s ability to oversee elections.

               

First Voting Machine

In 1898, Gillespie and inventor Jacob Myers, whose patents informed Gillespie’s work, organized a company that became Automatic Voting Machine Company. Myers gave the first demonstration of a voting machine in an 1892 Lockport, New York, town election.
How It Works

A Direct Recording Electronic System is essentially a computer. Voters view ballots on a screen and make choices using an input device such as a bank of buttons or a touchscreen. The voting machines used in India are a combination of two components. On the first component, the Balloting unit, the voters press a button corresponding to their selection. The second part is called the Control unit. This unit gives supervising power to the polling officer stationed at the poll booth. The two units are connected by a five-meter cable. The voter places his/her vote on the Balloting unit which is placed inside the Voting compartment.

Hardware

  1. Micro controller 89S52
  2. Max232.
  3. LED’s, switches, Buzzer.

Software

  1. Keil Software as Compiler.
  2. Proteus for Circuit Designing.
  3. Protel for PCB Designing.
  4. VB software.

Prevents Frauds and Booth Capturing

If by booth-capturing one means taking away or damaging of ballot boxes or ballot papers, this evil cannot be prevented by the use of EVMs as EVMs can also be forcibly taken away or damaged. But if one looks at booth capturing as a case of miscreants intimidating the polling personnel and stamping the ballot papers on the symbol and escaping in a matter of minutes, this can be prevented by the use of EVMs. The EVMs are programmed in such a way that the machines will record only five votes in a minute. As recording of votes has to be through the Control Unit and Balloting Unit, votes can only be recorded at the rate of 5 per minute. In the case of ballot papers, the miscreants can distribute all the 1000 odd ballot papers assigned to a polling station, among themselves, stamp them, stuff them into the ballot boxes and run away before police reinforcements arrive. In half-an-hour the miscreants can record only a maximum of 150 votes, by which time, chances are police reinforcements will arrive. Further, the presiding Officer or one of the Polling Officers can always press the “close” button as soon as they see some intruders inside the polling station. It will not be possible to record any vote when once the ‘close’ button is pressed and this will frustrate the efforts of the booth-capturers.

How are EVM’s safeguarded against fraud?

In India every EVM has an identity number attached to it, which is recorded in the Election Commission’s database. This ID is cross-checked against the database when it is being transported to and from the election booth. This process is done before the counting of votes begin.

Controversies 

There have been many controversies about the technology breaches and the EVMs tampering. In India the EVMs are not connected to any network, so no attackers can connect to these EVMs. There many been also reports that all buttons in the EVM are linked to the same political party and so any vote in the EVM will increase the votes of a single party.

Understanding Democracy

System

The word “democracy” describes a political system. In a democratic country, all eligible citizens have the right to participate, either directly or indirectly, in making the decisions that affect them. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) defined democracy as: Government of the people, by the people, for the people. Democracy is by far the most challenging form of government, both for politicians and for the people. The term democracy comes from the Greek language and means “rule by the (simple) people”.

Government

A functioning democracy is the form of government that provides its citizens with the most freedom, the most opportunity, the greatest prosperity, unity for a cause and the most comfortable life. It is also the most stable form of the government and by far the most efficient. The best thing is that the common man in the country has an opinion and his opinion can be heard by the government.

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried”– Winston Churchill

Direct Democracy

In a direct democracy people decide the policy initiatives directly– this is different from the most common system today, representative democracy. Direct democracy is similar to, but distinct from, representative democracy, in which people vote for representatives who then enact policy initiatives. In India at village level, we have direct democracy, “gram sabhas” i.e. “village assembly”. All the registered voters of the village are members of the sabha and they meet to take decisions.

Representative Democracy

Representative democracy (also indirect democracy) is a type of democracy founded on the principle of elected officials representing a group of people, as opposed to direct democracy. This is a type of democracy followed by the western countries like United Kingdom, Ireland and United States.

Inefficiencies

Some economists have criticized the efficiency of democracy, citing the premise of the irrational voter, or a voter who makes decisions without all of the facts or necessary information in order to make a truly informed decision. Another argument is that democracy slows down processes because of the amount of input and participation needed in order to go forward with a decision. A common example often quoted to substantiate this point is the high economic development achieved by China (a non-democratic country) as compared to India (a democratic country). According to economists, the lack of democratic participation in countries like China allows for unfettered economic growth.

What Do You Need an Opinion On Today?

Is Democ a Media Company? A lot has been written about Facebook’s late to the game embrace of their role as a media company and substitute for traditional news. Democ will embrace this role early and aggressively.

Why do people read the news? For one thing, they want to know the topics they need to have an opinion on. They don’t want to be caught uninformed when discussing an issue. Having an opinion also allows them to take action to course correct if this new information changes something in their life.

Democ in a way is like a newsreader, but organized with each “story” summed up as a voting topic. Each day the issues at the top of your feed show the things you most need to have an opinion on that day– at work, in your city, in your country, etc. Tapping any issue will connect you to commentary and links about that issue, to help you make an informed decision.

The algorithm we use to determine which issues to show, and in what order, takes into account multiple factors to make sure you’re using your “news” time as efficiently as possible. Start with the most important topic on which you need to form an opinion, and work your way down.

The experience for a user should be: “what do you need an opinion on today?” That makes Democ a media company, although we are a technology company first.

Structuring Rules for an Anonymous Voting Platform

Eventually we’d like users to be able to vote on the rules for Democ. For now, these are the basic rules:

  1. Everybody gets one vote, which is why (at least for now) you have to login with Facebook. We’re also going to be implementing device fingerprinting which will means every account needs a unique device attached to it. This will make it expensive, though not impossible, to cast duplicate votes.
  2. If you control an email address for a company or school (meaning you can open an email sent to that address), you can vote as a member of that company or school. Based on your location, you can vote in one city, state, and country at a time. If you leave, those votes don’t count there anymore, until you come back. Everybody can vote as a member of the @world group.
  3. Based on the preferences you set on Facebook, everybody gets to vote as a member of one political party, hometown, alma mater, religion, gender, and generation. If you change one of these preferences on Facebook your votes no longer count in that group, unless you come back.
  4. Anyone can create an issue on Democ in any group they’re in. Once created, Issues are community property— the author doesn’t control them, and can’t edit or delete them. Anyone can add new choices for multiple choice and time/date/place issues. Issues you created don’t disappear if you leave the group.
  5. Democ won’t post to your Facebook wall without your permission. If you share your contacts, Democ may invite them to join your work / school / organizational group. This invitation comes from Democ, not from you, and it does not mention your name or email address. Democ does not spam and will send at most one invite email as a result of your sharing a contact.
  6. Your school or workplace administration / management can probably ban Democ by policy and/or block our emails, but other than that they have no special control over Democ, can’t control it, and have no special powers within our system to see who voted how or on what. We take every precaution to make sure they can’t even see that you’ve joined, but can’t guarantee it.
  7. Democ reserves the right to delete issues that fail to meet our standards, including but not limited to: poor spelling or grammar, duplicate issue, personally identifiable information, bullying or hate speech, inciting violence— you get the idea. Democ will not change the number of votes on an issue, and it’s a long term goal of ours to make this verifiable through blockchain technology.
  8. Users can earn gems by creating issues, voting on issues, commenting, and otherwise engaging with Democ. They can also earn gems when others interact with their contact. The more gems a user has, the higher their issues rank on the main feed.

Some features are not yet built, this outlines our expected functionality. Thoughts on how we should handle rules and regulations? Email us at [email protected].

Web Startup Tools on a Shoestring Budget

startup tools 2017

It’s pretty amazing all the tools that have come along in 2017 to make the tech startup process easier. In building both a mobile web application and a business we’ve found tools that have saved us a lot of money. We’ve organized them into four main categories that probably apply to most tech startups, where research and choices are required– analytics, business services, design, and code.

Here are the tools we’re using to build democ.io:

-Analytics-

Success in almost any technology venture is going to depend on the completeness and trustworthiness of your analytics. Finding product / market fit depends on an ability to test messages and user acquisition channels, to be able to measure concepts like conversion, activation, and retention. A typical startup is not going to have enough traffic to meaningfully AB test, but you still want to be able to look for drop-off in your conversion funnel, check to see if product changes you push out have an impact, etc. To me the single most important analytics tool for a start-up is a user session recording tool. This basically converts every user session into a user research session. Watching session videos is an essential tactic for any Product Manager or startup founder, to find out what’s working and what’s not.

Segment

As a startup you don’t have infinite resources to add and remove javascript snippets, which are the basis for pretty much every web analytics tool out there. Samesies with adding SDKs for native apps. Segment is basically a hub– you instrument it once, and from there you can quickly add or remove analytics tools (and other kinds of tools for customer support, etc). Totally essential. For what we’ve needed for Democ, so far it’s been entirely free.

Heap

Most other analytic tools of the “event tracking” type (mixpanel, kissmetrics, etc) require editing your code and manually tagging events to fire. For your typical Single Page App of 2017, you probably even have to manually fire events for pageviews. That’s pretty labor intensive, and adds complexity that has to be managed on an ongoing basis. Heap lets you walk through your product (within their visualizer), hover over stuff you want tagged, and set up an event. So buttons your users click, text inputs they interact with, pageviews, etc. This is amazing as a Product Manager or non-tech co-founder. To make it even better, their snippet integrates via Segment. Also offer a free use tier.

Google Analytics

This is the big kahuna of analytics tools, and you’ve got to have it. Doesn’t work all that well with our Single Page App for tracking in-app behavior, but it’s still typically where I’ll go to look at acquisition channels. Also integrates via Segment and has a free tier.

Smartlook

OK, this is the best secret I have for analytics tools. If you’re not using a session recording tool, you’re throwing money away. This is the one offers by far the best free tier. The functionality is probably 90%+ what you get with Inspectlet, and you get 20k sessions/month instead of 100. Smartlook limits you to 10 sessions being recorded at a time (Inspectlet doesn’t mention any limit) and I’m pretty sure we’ve missed a few sessions, typically due to having a bunch of people leave our site open in a tab, ignoring it, at the same time. For me, $400/yr is a bit steep just to spend on one analytic tool when this gets the job done for free.

-Services-

Valcu.co

There are hundreds of sites out there that will help you incorporate. There are only a couple that are designed specifically for start-ups, and not only help you incorporate but also do the post-incorporation setup that includes assigning IP, dividing up equity, etc. The one we chose is Valcu, and we’re pretty happy with it. We ended up spending about $500, to get a Delaware C-corp and all the paperwork feeling very nice and tight. We also got paperwork to use in the future with contractors, for future equity vesting plans, etc. They give you forms to file with the IRS. If you’re coming out of a top accelerator you might be able to get someone to help you with all this for free or on deferred payment, but if not I think Valcu is a solid choice.

Iubenda

You need a privacy policy, especially if you’re doing anything with user generated content, accounts, etc. What I like about Iubenda is they give you a page on their site where you can dynamically add language when things change in the future. It’s not free but very inexpensive. You go through a wizard and just check off different attributes present in your app, technologies you’re using that might impact privacy, and then they generate the appropriate language. You could try to cut and paste this together, but it seems like a lot of work, you have to worry about copyright, and you might miss something, so I think you want a legit privacy policy. Without one, you might be in violation of some regulations in the US.

TermsFeed

You also need a Terms of Service document or something similar. Termsfeed generates them quickly and cheaply. Again, you go through a little wizard, it’s pretty painless, you pay something based on the complexity of what you’ve selected, and they give you the document. Again, this covers your ass legally.

-Design-

Sketch

Probably the best tool out there for UI design at the moment. Easy enough for an untrained Product Manager to use, which has saved us a good amount on design expenditures. Allows you to easily preview the design live on your phone to get a real sense of how readable your text is, how the colors will look, etc. Combined with Avocode via plugin, it gives your UI Engineers exactly what they need to do pixel-perfect translation from design > code. There’s also a great plugin called Magic Mirror which lets you create beautiful mockups where it looks like someone is viewing your app on their phone, tablet, or computer. Only runs on Mac, $99, well worth it.

Avocode

In the old days we used to provide “dev guides” to UI Engineers. A designer would write a bunch of documentation on the design, give measurements, comments, etc. This is and was very labor intensive. I hope no one is doing that anymore. Avocode lets a developer hover over the parts of the design to see CSS, measurements, etc. They can also easily export image files for anything hard to reproduce in code. Works on PC and Mac, and well worth the low monthly cost per account.

Swifticons

If you want to keep costs down, it’s a good idea to pick an icon set that works for your brand identity, and stick with it. There are lots of sets out there. Although Swifticons is pretty well known as far as icon sets go, I can’t ever remember seeing an icon anywhere and knowing it was from them. One of the nicest sets out there and reasonably priced.

-Code-

CloudSponge

One aspect of our app involves users demonstrating that they can authenticate a specific email account, and sharing the contacts from that account’s address book. There are a lot of email service providers out there, and writing and managing the code to do this for each one would be a nightmare. CloudSponge works with a huge array of email providers, and can also provide best-in-class (though still not ideal) address book functionality for LinkedIn. Users don’t have to leave the app to share their contacts. They have various integration options depending how much customization you want to do.

Grabicon

We figured that an easy way to add a little personalization and polish to our app would be to pull in the favicons for different groups our users join based on their email address. The favicon is the little icon that appears in the browser tab for each site, it’s at least 16×16 but can be 32×32. Grabicon offers a very simple integration to pull in these icons, and is pretty cheap– even cheaper if you cache each icon so you only ever have to pull it once.

ClientJS

Device fingerprinting is a technology that lets you identify users probabilistically based on the attributes of their browser, plugins, operating system, device, etc. It’s not perfect, but it can be used to enhance security and/or personalization. It’s widely used in advertising, especially as iOS and Android have become more restrictive about sharing device identifiers. ClientJS is an open source tool that does a lot of the work necessary to produce device fingerprints. I am not a lawyer, but I believe the license allows for commercial use.

Sendgrid

The options for sending emails for free are pretty huge. In fact, you can rotate through a few ESPs and send a lot of emails without ever paying anything. Personally I think Sendgrid is the best, so that’s what we’re using.

Using a great free or low cost start-up tool I should know about? Drop me a line: [email protected].

The World Needs an Anonymous Voting Platform

These opinions are my own, and I am committed to Democ as a non-partisan platform.

Over the years a number of people have advanced the concept of a universal “voting app”. They share my conviction that in the future, in some form, people in free societies will have access to a technology for anonymous voting. It’s not a particularly new idea– in a lot of ways it’s a logical outgrowth of the communication tools we already have:

  1. Twitter is for sharing your thoughts publicly
  2. Facebook is for sharing your thoughts privately
  3. Democ is for sharing your thoughts anonymously
  1. Blogs are for sharing your thoughts in long form
  2. Social media is for sharing your thoughts in short sentences
  3. Democ is for sharing your thoughts in binary (yes/no) or similar

We are at a convergence of technology that makes such a platform possible- we have just enough technology to enforce “one vote per person” and “only people who should have voting rights in a given group” (to an imperfect but good enough degree) without the kind of friction (DNA samples, iris scans) that would block critical mass adoption. Buy why does the world need this right now?

We are nearing the collapse of the western “capitalism + democracy” model that has maintained supremacy for hundreds of years. That model is built on a very basic balance between the two systems.

In the United States, every person who is born is told, “look around you, all of this is owned by somebody else, you just got here so you have nothing (if you’re lucky, your family will give you a little something)– all you get is a vote”. With that vote, a person is supposed to be able to extract a little value out of the system, a little table-stakes to set themselves up in society. Public school, shelter, food, healthcare during childhood. That’s how it was, that’s how it’s supposed to be. But increasingly that’s not how it is anymore.

Capitalism is eating democracy, and the balance has tipped.

Voting is, by design, done in library basements, at the most inopportune times. Gerrymandering and disenfranchisement by voter suppression has made it a farce. Candidates are heavily vetted by a corrupt process. Rather than dole out a little table-stakes to provide some semblance of equitability, incredible amounts of money are thrown at distorting not just the process, but the actual reality around voters. Everyone knows it.

But it’s not just that– people used to be able to employ a little leverage at work, through their right as a person in a free society to organize. Unions held together another balance, between workers and capital, as our society industrialized. When WWII hit, it was an existential threat to everybody. The property owners couldn’t defend their property alone– they needed every able-bodied man and woman to fight, and why fight for someone else’s property when you have nothing? This very same situation caused many of the revolutions of the pre-industrial era, and the memory of that existential threat kept the balance for a generation or two– one of the most prosperous periods in American history.

Today that’s all broken. Democracy is no longer providing the necessary counterbalance to capitalism. The existential threats to capital and bargains struck with workers have been forgotten. In fact, a lot of people don’t believe we technically live in an democracy anymore. Some people say that our system can’t move fast enough to compete with authoritarian governments in China and Russia.

Technology has had a big role in the situation we find ourselves in now. As we enter what may be the final hour of capitalism, as doors close one-by-one on the poor and working class, technology is vacuuming wealth upwards in a race for the finish. We have communication tools ad nausea, but none have been particularly effective in redistributing power and wealth from capital to workers or from governors to the governed.

Democ is a platform for communication that combines anonymity and voting. It’s not a tool for unionization, but it does enable organization among workers of an individual company. It’s not a tool for governance, but it does enable people to organize within real life groups– geographic groups like cities and optional groups like political parties. If we achieve our goals, Democ will give more power and leverage to workers, students, and citizens. It will also be fun and a little bit rebellious.

Technology companies all love to talk about democratization. Democratizing artificial intelligence, storage, genome informatics… but today what needs democratizing most is our “democracy” itself.

Hand holding up the Democ app