Perth startup veri.vote is looking to bring tech to the Australian voting system

- July 22, 2016 3 MIN READ

For two weeks following the Federal election the nation was left waiting for the millions of votes to be hand counted and processed. The whole system was left subject to scrutinisation as postal votes travelled at a snail’s pace and the question of recounting arose in some seats; the Australian Electoral Commission is currently still counting votes. Of course, with 21st century technology many question why the hell are we still hand counting.

Ballot box voting presents major issues for both governments and voters. Aside from the ridiculously large Senate voting paper, the process can be riddled with problems like misplaced votes and double voting. This is not to mention that the counting of votes requires a huge amount of government resources, time and money.

Perth startup veri.vote is looking to change the way Australians vote by adding technology into the process. The startup uses blockchain technology to create a more efficient, secure and transparent voting system.

CEO of veri.vote Adrian Petersen said the team is excited to start the conversation around how we can improve democracy to better represent the voice of the general public.

“veri.vote exists because we believe that no existing electronic voting solutions that provide the necessary security to replace the paper ballot box,” he said.

By taking advantage of blockchain technology – an irreversible public ledger of online records that can be shared among many different parties across a network all around the world – and cryptography, veri.vote can store votes permanently in a public forum. While votes are viewed through an online public forum, each voter maintains their anonymity.

Petersen and four friends founded veri.vote after the news in 2014 that more than 1,300 ballots had been lost in a state election in 2014.

“Results would be available at 6.01pm on election day, subject to scrutinising,” said Rick Newnham, CFO of veri.vote. “The secret physical paper ballot was first introduced over 150 years ago and not much has changed in ballot technology since then.”

veri.vote was one of seven startups accepted into the Vocus Upstart accelerator program in Perth. The startup received $40,000 in seed funding from the accelerator, along with a mentor program that will help develop and commercialise their technology.

Managing director of Vocus Upstart Rob Nathan said veri.vote was a poised for a bright future and would benefit from the acceleration seed capital and mentoring offered by the upstart program.

Recently democratic countries like the US and even Estonia have implemented electronic voting as a form of ballot counting and verification. However, according to Newnham both systems still suffer from security issues.

“No competitor offers the full set of security and anonymity guarantees provided by physical ballots. Existing systems are not adequately secure because votes are typically stored in a single database. This means voters must place trust in a third party to administer the election.

“Since data is stored in a single database, it is also open to attack from an information security point of view. It is no different from an attacker’s point of view to change one vote, or all of the votes,” he explained.

The Estonian online election system is tied to a national smart identity card that is used in conjunction with a smart-card reader. According to the Atlantic Council report citizens vote by inserting their nationally issued smart cards into a card reader, which can be connected to any personal computer via an installed voting application.

The system is dependent on a two-way authentication process – a smart card and an individual PIN code, which creates a digitally encrypted and signed ballot. However the process also relies on a third party app, an app which can be subject to security breaches.

However the Estonian president told a reporter at The National Interest that the e-voting system is “not an election-specific technology but embedded as an additional service among a plethora of services”. Indeed, “e-voting is just one of some 500 services and one of the least used. Estonians have given almost 200 million digital signatures; they do their banking with this same system.”

After the Australian election’s painfully slow voting count both Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten came out in favour for e-voting. In Turnbull’s address to the media after winning the election he said electronic voting was “something we must look at.”

While some commentators have the opinion that e-voting is a “monumentally fatuous idea,” others – including Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten – believe it’s just a matter of time until the correct technology is in place to wipe out paper voting.

“On the contrary [to alternative e-voting systems] veri.vote is a completely transparent and verifiable system, eliminating the need to trust in the organisation administering the election.”

The startup is currently creating a secure, anonymous and verifiable end-to-end voting process that looks to see election results announced on the same day as the last polling booth closing.

veri.vote will be raising a follow up funding round in October. With support from the Government and startup community, veri.vote is aiming to offer its SaaS product before the end of 2016 and will run elections at university and local council level in the second half of 2017.

Image: Adrian Petersen, Dylan Johnston, Ilyas Ridhuan, Cam Sinclair, Rick Newnham. Source: Supplied.