At Sapphire Ventures, we’re very fortunate to be working in an industry that revolves around constant change and innovation. The companies we invest in affect technological change, process improvements and business efficiency, amongst other things. But it’s not every day that we get to be involved in a company with the potential to positively impact the lives of citizens by helping to advance the democratic process worldwide.
This is why I’m very excited about our investment in Scytl, the worldwide leader in secure election modernization, online voting and eGovernance solutions.
Scytl provides an end-to-end eDemocracy platform enabling all phases of an election — pre-election, election day and post-election — and the governance between elections. Its technology incorporates unique cryptographic protocols that ensure maximum security, transparency, accessibility and auditability.
Democracy is one of the core values of the modern civilized world. But it only works and continues to exist if people participate and join in.
Whilst in many non-democratic countries people protest in the streets, willing to risk their lives for the right to vote, in democratic countries of the developed world voter participation is mostly in decline.
The danger of low turnout is that it translates into reduced representation — the voice of protest voters becomes disproportionately loud, and thus those on the fringes of the political spectrum elect more representatives. Last year’s European elections and UK local elections are just a few examples of this. Especially amongst young voters, election turnout is extremely low and only worsening. Why is this?
There are many reasons, including overall disengagement, even disinterest, spurred by disbelief in the political system or its representatives. But there are also some very practical reasons, such as the inconvenience of casting a ballot.
The U.S. Census Bureau surveyed non-voters of the 2012 presidential election about why they decided not to vote. The survey showed that people had a busy or conflicting schedule (18.9%), were affected by illness or disability (14%), were out of town (8.6%), had transportation problems (3.3%) or found it difficult to get to their nearest polling place (2.7%). (Source: http://www.scytl.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/IDC-Scytl-Election-Modernization-Roadmaps.pdf).
So, if almost half of non-voters failed to vote because of inconvenience, illness or disability or other practical reasons, isn’t it time to think about innovating democracy?
Such innovation would make elections more accessible and convenient for citizens whilst also being more efficient, transparent, secure and auditable.
And here is where Scytl comes in.
Scytl’s solutions help organizations worldwide increase and improve democracy, citizen empowerment and public transparency via innovative online technology.
Scytl has customers in more than 38 countries and on all continents. The company provided its internet voting technology to the State of Gujarat, India during municipal elections in 2010; the State of Florida, USA for overseas voters during the 2008 presidential election; the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the overseas voters during the election for the French National Parliament in 2012; and the Canton of Neuchatel, Switzerland for citizen consultations, binding electoral processes and referenda each year since 2004. In 2014, Scytl provided Election Night Reporting for the European Parliament Elections across all 28 member states of the EU.
Scytl also helps young democracies with their solutions. For example it provided results consolidation technology during national elections in Libya supported by the UN in June 2014; electronic voting solutions during municipal and regional elections in Peru in October 2014; and several solutions during the census in Bosnia Herzegovina supported by the EU in April 2013, including election configuration, voter registration, voter list management, results consolidation and election night reporting.
For persons with disabilities, it is not a matter of convenience. Information technology can help overcome the barriers those citizens face when trying to exercise their right to vote. Scytl is in close participation with UNESCO and its initiative to empower persons with disabilities to participate in their communities and the democratic process. For instance, in the State of Victoria (Australia) Scytl provided its electronic poll-site voting solution for the 2010 Parliamentary elections, an effort primarily aimed at empowering Victoria’s visually-impaired voters to vote autonomously.
Independent of country and stage of democracy, and of convenience or necessity, enabling easier access through information technology should lead to higher participation amongst voters. Increased transparency, security and auditability at all stages of the election process — from campaign financing to online voting to results consolidation and reporting — should lead to higher acceptability of the election process and outcomes.
In addition, having a platform for a more direct interaction between constituents and politicians could lead to more ongoing conversations instead of one-off events every couple of years. Scytl, for example, offers solutions to cities that connect citizens to one another and their elected representatives; enable debates and sharing of opinions on various government or citizen initiatives and projects; promote public decision making with fully-enabled end-to-end security; and monitor social media.
Combined with government data being made accessible by companies such as Socrata, another recent Sapphire Ventures portfolio company, those conversations could be more fact-based and lead to a more inclusive and direct democracy.
While there are certainly challenges to election modernization, some being necessary changes to electoral laws and some being cultural, there is no doubt that the clear advantages of introducing information technology to the election process will outweigh the challenges over time.