We talk with Eduardo Robles, and along with David Ruescas, they are the main proponents of the Agora Voting project.
Ferdinand Reyes: What is Agora Voting?
Eduardo and David: Agora Voting is a free software voting system, born as Agora Ciudadana (Citizen Agora) in 2008 by a group of developers looking for creating a voting system useful for Partido de Internet (Internet Party). Currently fifteen persons work on this project and it has been used in two experiences in Spanish Parliament and pirate parties around the world.
It is a flexible tool which can adapt to several use cases: different privacy and security levels, optional delegation, multiple types of questions, multiple authentication systems and an advanced API.
We look for a reliable system with high security standards to keep the legitimacy of votings. Many people already shop online, but not so many trust the electronic vote. For those more optimistic, we understand they need the most secure voting tool available.
This is why we looked since the beginning for the best security measures, aiming for a robust system with verifiable votes and trust shared among independent actors.
In the last vote in Iniciativa Congreso Transparente (Transparent Congress initiative) we implemented the first version of the security system that took us two years to end, based on cryptographic systems known as mixnets.
But we don’t want to stop here, we want a stronger system and here is where Bitcoin enters. It has very interesting properties. One of them is its trustlesness, which means you don’t have to trust any authority but you trust the network, more distributed and robust. Another one, it is not malleable. Everything written in the blockchain is permanent. It also has DDoS protection, making it extremely difficult to bring down the service of the whole network, unlike a centralized system.
We have talked to bitcoin’s developers about how to get a more efficient system and one of these ways is chronobit. It allows one to associate a piece of data to each block as a hash, with prior agreement in a mining pool.
Using a chronobit based system, votes recount can be done with mixnets and we get an unalterable and distributed register, with votes registered by date in the blockchain. You could download the file with the votes from different mirrors and check their hashes. You trust the blockchain. Bitcoin would be a cybernotary.
This is one of the most basic forms to use the blockchain. We are researching advanced options using Zerocoin due to a very interesting trait: transactions are fully anonymous, unlike Bitcoin. The main idea is to vote using anonymized transactions to accounts associated with an option. In this way, the final count is done by the cryptocurrency: the account associated with an option with more money wins. Now we are talking with Zerocoin team to see how we can work together.
Currently we do not have a definitive way to develop this but we are learning and investigating. There is an important work to do.
FR: How can bitcoin help to create a more democratic society?
E&D:With bitcoin, Paypal could not have blocked donations to Wikileaks. Also, “corralito” could not have occurred in Argentina. Why? Because you do not need the middleman: No PayPal, no bank, no government to coerce them and no third party able to force the government… It is an independent system from ground: it is more reliable. This is very good for society.
Bitcoin lays down new rules, that go far beyond being a simple electronic currency. It eliminates intermediaries. It is a system of generation of information under some rules, reliable, immutable, highly distributed and hard to attack. It is based on trust in a network that operates by democratic rules.
Bitcoin based systems can be applied in different areas, taking advantage of these interesting properties above: you can build a Domain Name System (DNS) independent from ICANN, or a SSL certificate issuer system without central authorities. Or, like in our case, you can build a decentralized voting system with no central web server or authorities.
When you remove intermediaries, your system is more robust. In a vital system like money or elections, a robust system allows you to reach a higher democratic quality.
FR: How to apply delegation from liquid democracy to vote by bitcoin?
E&D:This needs further research. We have some ideas about how to make liquid democracy viable in a Zerocoin based system. Nothing definitive yet. This is a new area to explore.
FR: Is this the only project using cryptocoins for this purpose?
E&D: As far as we know, there is no other viable bitcoin based voting system which can be secure, verifiable and anonymous at the same time.
What strengths and weaknesses does it have?
Strengths: the proposed Zerocoin based system is DDoS resistant, anonymous, verifiable count and trustlessness, trust is distributed in the network. It is more decentralized than currently available voting systems.
As weaknesses, a voting can have some cost in bitcoins (although you save costs in web servers and other services). Also, votes are not possibly registered instantly in the blockchain and they can’t be revoked due anonymous transactions, required for liquid democracy. Finally, we need to research the cost and computational efficiency of elections on bitcoin.
FR: What are your plans?
E&D:Our target is to build the most distributed and secure voting system possible.
We plan to keep support for both versions: public votings and votings with mixnets and authorities. We are going to support and improve them.
We want to explore the boundaries of the possible. This requires a constant effort to keep its security and up to date about cryptographic techniques. For this reason we opened a Bitcoin account to receive donations and give a boost to the project: 1EwqtN6GwHmkfYEfxGhuVcjrNBdQwvXMd3.
Our software has been used twice last year in Spain’s Congreso de los Diputados (Congress of Deputies) and we already have a first implementation of ciphered voting with mixnets. All this without funding. We expect to have funding during this year and it will be better. Fasten your seatbelts!
FR: What is your monetary target and where can donations be made?
E&D: In this post where we announced our intention to use bitcoin in Agora we established an initial amount of BTC 100. It may seem a large figure for some, but really a voting system doesn’t write itself. Even less if we want to make secure. This requires a professional job, very specific qualifications and complete dedication. Our goals are ambitious but feasible. If you want to help by donating, you can do it at 1EwqtN6GwHmkfYEfxGhuVcjrNBdQwvXMd3.
You can also collaborate in the free software project by working on the cryptographic part, writing code, translating, testing, writing documentation, helping people on the lists, working on the infrastructure side or otherwise in our mailing list.
First image of Ruben Alexander.
Ferran Reyes is a social educator involved in cooperativism and commons projects. Nowadays he works for the crowdfunding platform @goteofunding and as a advisor for social economy as well as social and cryptocurrency initiatives. You can reach him on Twitter at @ferranrego