Voatz is developing a platform to enable remote voting using a smartphone app. The software will use biometrics to verify identity and a blockchain to provide a tamper-proof record of votes, effectively addressing the security problems that have plagued previous attempts at internet voting platforms.
The software has been in development for several years, and has recently entered public testing in Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area. The company's ultimate ambition is to increase voter participation by simplifying the process of voting.
Voatz was founded by Nimit Sawhney, who still appears to be the company's sole employee. Sawhney holds a Master's degree in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University, and has over a dozen years of professional software development experience.
Since founding Voatz in 2014, he has discussed its idea at several conferences, and attracted over $2 million in seed funding from angel investors. Several software developer job openings at Voatz are posted around the internet, so the company may have more employees than Sawhney, but he remains the face of the company.
Unfortunately, Voatz's website provides frustratingly little information about the technology and its features. The company does not appear to have published a whitepaper, only a short introduction video and several blog posts. More information about the product can be learned from Youtube videos of Sawhney's lectures than from the website.
The company has received coverage several popular publications, most notably Forbes and Inc., but has not yet gained a large following on social media. It has also partnered with Clear Ballot, an influential organization focused on using technology to improve voter participation.
Voatz's sole product is an app that allows voters to participate in elections remotely, using a smartphone app. The app will verify each user's identity using biometric information (most likely facial recognition, but this is not thoroughly explained), and record their votes in a blockchain. The company suggests that its product could be useful not only for communities holding political elections, but also for groups conducting opinion polling or internal votes.
Blockchains, an innovation introduced by the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, offer inherent security because their design prevents past records from being altered, and entries can be added pseudonymously.
Blockchains are gaining use in a wide variety of applications because of their security and portability, and Voatz is likely the strongest product thus far to apply it to decentralized voting. However, without a whitepaper or detailed FAQ webpage, it's unclear exactly what features the service will offer, or when it will be fully released.
Voatz's platform is being tested in several large cities around the United States, including Boston and San Francisco. While the project is still in its early stages and is so far embraced only by early adopters, its progress is promising, and it is gaining significant attention at conferences centered on blockchain technology. Voatz's business plan seems to be to sell or lease the use of their product to groups holding elections, but this is not fully explained.
Investing in Voatz is apparently restricted to larger private firms; it's not clear if individuals can casually invest small amounts in the company. The website Crunchbase, which tracks funding for startup companies, lists only 11 investors.
The Voatz Verdict
It's unlikely that Voatz will replace traditional voting anytime soon; large portions of the public don't own smartphones, and many voters have a deep mistrust of any fully electronic system that leaves no paper trail. The company's goal of increasing voter participation is truly noble, but it will likely require a significant shift in public attitudes about internet voting before such technology gains major traction.
The company also ought to include considerably more information on its website, including both technical details and descriptions of its features, in order to win over skeptics. Nonetheless, everyone enthusiastic about blockchain technology should keep an eye on Voatz and its public tests, since it could be providing a glimpse at the future of elections.