Votem is a revolutionary mobile voting platform designed to securely cast votes in elections around the world. They have launched a $230,000 Challenge in partnership with InnoCentive to find solutions that can overcome the main obstacles to mobile voting; security, identification and authentication, and accuracy and verifiability.
We recently spoke with Pete Martin, President and CEO at Votem, to find out some more about the Challenge.
Could you start by telling us more about Votem and what the company stands for?
Voting in most places around the world and especially in the U.S. is pretty much the same process as it’s been for decades. In some places like my home state of Ohio, we actually went back in time to paper ballots. In an age where mobile technology has transformed how we work and live, I find this unacceptable. Voter turnout in the last general election was the lowest in 72 years. Part of the reason for this is that voting is incredibly inconvenient so when you throw general apathy in politicians and the political process on top of this, people simply aren’t going to do it.
I founded Votem because I believe that people truly do care about what happens in their government and do want to make a difference, but the process makes it more difficult to do so. If we can make it easier, safer and more secure for citizens around the world, I am confident that more people will step-up and participate by casting their vote more often.
How does this Challenge align with the company objectives and what would you like to see from the solutions?
When we speak with anyone about what we are doing with mobile voting, we consistently get 2 responses. The first response is “Great idea! I would absolutely vote more often if I could do it on my phone.” The second response is almost always, “But what about security. I’d have to be confident that my vote would never be hacked.”
That’s what this Challenge is all about. We want to ensure that we are building a solution from the ground-up with the best security in the world at its core so that politicians can’t simply wave off this option due to “security concerns.”
Once we take the technological concerns off the table, then we can have a substantive conversation about why this is good for all democratic nations, regardless of ideology or political affiliation.
What was your motivation for crowdsourcing this Challenge instead of using more traditional methods?
There are very good companies that have done an admiral job of pushing online voting through the Internet with limited success so we know there are the kernel of solutions out there. But like most markets, people that work in an industry tend to go after solutions the same way and consequently only get marginal improvements. We think that by opening up this challenge to the crowd, that novel solutions that have never been explored or applied to the voting system market will drive breakthrough solutions. It might have been easier for us to hire some really smart developers / mobile security firms, but history tell us that the toughest challenges are generally solved more effectively by the crowd – that’s certainly what we are hoping for here.
What are the key attributes that you’d like to see (or not see) in a winning solution?
Although there are many characteristics of a world-class mobile voting solution, they all start with 3 foundational elements. Without these, the rest of the functions don’t matter. The first is mass proof security. We are not naïve and know that there is no true “hack-proof” system but we also know that through pre-emptive and preventative measures, constant-monitoring and the highest-level security built-in from the beginning, that we can create a system that effectively can’t be hacked on a mass-scale which by itself deters hacking.
The second and third pieces of the challenge involve identification / authentication through the process from voting through casting and then end-to-end verifiability for the both and the elections bodies and their auditors to give everyone the confidence that a vote cast is indeed a vote counted.
If solvers can provide us with a rich-level of detail on how they can solve these challenges in elegant and innovative ways, then we are glad to award them the prize money and discuss how we might work with them on an ongoing basis.
Thanks for your time Pete – do you have any final guidance or advice for our Solvers as they tackle this Challenge?
My final piece of advice is that I implore anyone who thinks they can tackle these challenges in ways not seen before to participate because we truly think this can change democratic nations as we know it by literally putting the power of the people back in their hands. We’ve very recently seen what social and mobile can do to spark revolutions and topple governments at witness in the Middle East; imagine what peaceful power on a consistent basis can do to help keep power in check and the voice of people ever-present with our governmental leaders. Please join our mobile voting revolution!