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After Chaotic First Day, Bitcoin Foundation Reboots Run-off Election

Op-ed - After Chaotic First Day

It was an interesting experiment, but the Bitcoin Foundation’s bid to hold on-blockchain elections today seems to be over.

In a letter sent to members dated February 25, 2015 at 12:46:33 a.m. EST and posted on the Bitcoin Foundation blog, the Foundation’s Director of Communications, Jinyoung Lee Englund, announced that the run-off elections being held to fill two board member seats would be utilizing a new voting platform in co-operation with Swarm.

“The Foundation’s mission is to advance blockchain technology and this is an important new avenue of innovation,” said Patrick Murck, Executive Director of the Bitcoin Foundation, in the announcement. “While we may not have had the smoothest experience in this experimental launch, it’s important for us to push the boundaries and spark innovation — even if things get a little messy sometimes.”

“Messy” seems to have become the operative word.

From the outset, voters have complained of duplicate email, overly complex processes, inability to vote for all eligible candidates and general confusion.

The first of the four run-off candidates to draw attention to voting protocol problems was Michael Perklin. In a posting on the Bitcoin Foundation forum, before the first ballots were even cast, Perklin listed several concerns:

  • A significant and cumbersome number of steps that voters need to take before being able to cast a vote.
  • The new voting platform is not mobile friendly.
  • The order of candidate names appears to be static but also random. (Who chose that order and why?)
  • Privacy concerns.
  • Entrusting voter email addresses to another third party – in this case, Swarm.

These concerns and others were quickly reiterated by fellow candidates Olivier Janssens, Jim Harper and Bruce Fenton, as well as many forum participants.

Candidate Olivier Janssens went so far as to accuse Patrick Murck, Director of the Bitcoin Foundation, of “a serious breach and a clear attempt at throwing a wrench in the machine” and “totally and purposefully [manipulating] the voting process.” He then called on the Foundation to cancel the voting round immediately and switch back to the earlier Helios platform.

Candidates Jim Harper and Bruce Fenton also called for a reset. Bruce Fenton noted that some voters have complained that his name wasn’t listed as a vote option. “I agree that it should be reversed immediately,” he said in a forum post. “I don’t think the results are trustworthy.”

“I think we can reach consensus among candidates about restarting the election on the original system,” Jim Harper stated in the online forum discussion. “Given that a full day has already passed when voting was supposed to be underway, I think resetting the vote, with a new announced start date and voting period, would be best, but I’m open to discussion.”

Other concerns that emerged included lack of adequate explanation, lack of transparency in the decision-making process and publication of results while elections are still ongoing.

In response to the heated discussion on the forum, which saw voters calling the whole process “a complete mess,” “ baffling,” and “a disaster” — some going so far as to refuse to participate in the election at all — Patrick Murck has agreed to re-launch the run-off elections.

In his latest post, he says: “… I’m glad we took a chance to innovate and spark a conversation. I’m also glad that we had a fallback option in place in case things didn’t work out. Whether or not you believe voting on the blockchain is a worthy avenue to explore, if the system isn’t working for voters then we should move on.”

[Updated at 4:25PM EST]

In written comments to Bitcoin Magazine,Murck said, “This clearly struck a nerve with folks that think blockchain technology should only be used for transferring Bitcoin and not other [applications] like voting. [It] sparked a debate on how people use the blockchain.” He also said that there were many people who were excited to try using blockchain voting. Joel Dietz, founder of Swarm, could not be reached for comment.

[Updated at 5:53PM EST]

The Bitcoin Foundation has released a new blog postoutlining the new election process. Here are some of the most important details:

  1. Members will receive an email from Helios to vote. Ballots cast on Swarm are not valid. Members who cast a vote via Swarm already will need to recast their votes using Helios.
  2. Members will receive Helios emails by end of day today (Wednesday, February 25, 2015 at 11:59pm EST).
  3. The runoff election will be extended by an extra day. The new deadline for voting is Saturday, February 28 at 11:59pm EST.
  4. Election Results will be posted on Sunday, February 29, 2015.

The post states, “We knew this was going to be messy and that there was a risk that it might not even work. In response to the difficulties with user interface and ballot presentation, in order to maintain the integrity of the runoff election, as promised, we are hitting “reboot” and starting over. “

The Foundation also thanked members for providing feedback on its first attempt at implementing on-blockchain voting and encouraged them to continue to test out the Swarm platform and give feedback, even though votes cast there will not be counted.