Featured Image for Horizon State co-founder Jamie Skella on how his startup is changing democracy as we know it

Horizon State co-founder Jamie Skella on how his startup is changing democracy as we know it

Techly's Business Success Series

At the end of October 2017, Horizon State concluded Australia’s largest software crowdfunding campaign in history.

The startup raised a staggering $1.4 million from investors all over the world in just two weeks. Incredibly, $700,000 of that total came through within the final 24 hours of the ICO (Initial Coin Offering, a form of crowdfunding).

But Horizon State is not your typical software startup. It’s built on a vision of creating a more transparent, trustworthy and democratic future.

Co-founded by Jamie Skella, Horizon State describes itself as “the future of voting and collaborative decision making.”

Using a token-based blockchain system, the Horizon State team have created a secure, anonymous, convenient and affordable voting platform. In other words, it’s a digital ballot box that can be used to conduct sensitive votes quickly, cheaply and securely.

Imagine voting on key political issues and government policies as they arise, rather than waiting years to commit your vote to a preferred political party – a party you may not agree with on everything.

Jamie himself says that it took him years to enrol to vote, such was his apathy for the current process in which you submit a ballot member every few years.

But it’s not just inconvenient: it’s expensive, too. Horizon State reports that traditional voting methods cost from $7 to $25 per head, while its blockchain voting platform comes in at under 50c.

Australia’s recent $122 million plebiscite on marriage equality is the perfect example of how dated and costly the current system is.

Have no idea what blockchain is? You’re not alone. The short version is that blockchain is a digital, decentralised public ledger of cryptocurrency transactions used by Bitcoin and in various other applications.

Basically, it decentralises recordkeeping and maximises integrity. Horizon State has harnessed this technology to create a platform that hides the identity of voters, prevents tampering of results and protects the ballot from hackers.

No vote run by Horizon State is owned by any government, organisation or individual.

Other bodies throughout the world have adopted blockchain technology for similar applications, including Follow My Vote in the United States.

The University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom also released a proposal for integrating blockchain technology into existing voting systems.

Skella is passionate about moving away from the inefficiencies of the current system and into a future of immediate, transparent democracy. He and his team applied their vision, knowledge and technology to MiVote, a not-for-profit that is conducting its fourth vote on Australian issues at time of writing and distributing free, unbiased research.

It may be early days for Horizon State, but MiVote’s success so far is enough to suggest we could be seeing drastic political change a lot sooner than we think.

With such exciting prospects in Australia and across the globe, we spoke to Jamie to further understand Horizon State and what drives the man behind it.

MiVote platform on smartphone

First thing’s first. You’ve just seen your crowdfunding campaign go absolutely berserk – tell us what’s going through your head on a personal level after such an achievement.

“Having secured funding through traditional investment avenues for previous startup businesses, I can tell you first hand that this feels nothing at all like it. With every dollar that rolled in, we knew we had to work even harder.

“Unlike a typical seed round, people who contributed to our token sale are not necessarily wealthy or elite investors. Over 1000 people from all around the world contributed as little as $5 and $50 – whatever they could spare. They did so because they share our vision for democratic improvement, and they believe we can pull it off – backing that belief with their hard-earned cash.

“It has been a truly humbling experience to raise over US$1 million without any involvement from institutional investors, funds, or firms, of any kind.”

You have said that part of Horizon State’s inspiration came from your distaste of the traditional voting process. Can you explain why you feel the concept of immediacy in democracy is important?

“Our current processes just don’t make very much sense in the context of our modern world. Everything around us has moved on. Driverless cars now exist, yet our electoral system remains a horse and cart.

“Personally, the idea that I need to turn up to a polling station only once every few years to cast my vote is far too infrequent. Furthermore, voting for a party and their package of policies has always seemed like a poor way to steer our communities.”

“I like some policies from the ‘left’, some from the ‘right’, so why can’t I have my say on the policies that affect me instead of having to settle? Thanks to the security that blockchain enables, there’s no reason we can’t be engaged with immediacy.

“Why are we waiting months or years to collectively make decisions on problems that exist right now?”

Skella in a MiVote promotional image.

Skella in a MiVote promotional image. Credit: MiVote

Is Australia ready for regular e-votes on major issues, and if so, when?

“Queensland is primed for electronic voting, and many other states will follow in the near future. Australia aside, we’re already in talks with nations in the developing world, and states within some of the most significant developed ones.

“Of course, our technology isn’t just for electoral and governmental applications either. Wherever the ‘vote’ is a sensitive one, where institutions want to promote accountability and transparency – ultimately improving trust with their staff or citizens – then utilising distributed ledger technology is a good fit.”

Your work with MiVote has been dubbed a success, but are there any key learnings you can take away from these votes to improve your service?

“MiVote has received tremendous support and acknowledgement, but it’s only just beginning. Next year people will be running for seats under the umbrella of MiVote’s genuinely democratic constitution, while inroads are made into more than 20 other countries – global expansion is on the very near horizon.

“From a technology perspective, what has been built for MiVote is very much a v1. We have strong ideas on how to improve our technology for them, and in turn, everyone who adopts it.”

Okay, so Horizon State is quicker, more convenient and far cheaper than traditional voting. For those of us who love the idea, what can we do to help make it happen?

“For those who see the economic benefit for taxpayers or the philosophical benefit of a more regular dialogue, or the societal benefits that being able to trust a result will instil, then please spread the word.

“Tell your friends about the benefits that blockchain enables. Write to your officials demanding they trial this technology for the betterment of our communities. A historic change awaits, one that means we can stop questioning the legitimacy of results, and get on with better governance.”

In a political environment that seems as turbulent and divisive as ever, Skella certainly paints an idyllic picture of the future – and it goes far beyond Horizon State.

As he says, spreading the word is the first step for anyone who values the importance of immediacy and transparency in democracy. Speak up, talk to friends, and discover what you can do to make a difference.

In the meantime, check out Horizon State and MiVote and consider getting involved.

About the author

Andrew is Techly’s Editor. Loves: weird gadgets and the Collingwood Football Club. Hates: olives and cardboard boxes.

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