Paul Allen Invests In Online Voting Firm - InformationWeek

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Government // Open Government

Paul Allen Invests In Online Voting Firm

E-voting firm Scytl receives $40 million from Paul Allen's Vulcan Capital to continue election modernization efforts. Defense Department among its customers.

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Online voting got a boost this week when Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen invested $40 million in e-voting company Scytl.

Barcelona-based Scytl specializes in secure electronic voting, election management, and election modernization. Since its founding in 2001, Scytl has managed more than 100,000 electoral events electronically all over the world, including the US, according to company officials. The firm's suite of products includes everything from training poll workers to holding elections online.

Scytl is backed by various investors, including Balderton Capital, Nauta Capital, and Spinnaker Invest. The new funding comes from Vulcan Capital's Silicon Valley-based growth equity fund, which focuses on making investments -- ranging from $10 million to $100 million -- in Internet and technology companies. Vulcan Capital is the multibillion-dollar investment arm of Vulcan Inc., founded by Allen.

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Abhishek Agrawal, who heads all growth equity investments for Vulcan Capital and will now join Scytl's board of directors, said Scytl is at the forefront of enabling online voting. "Scytl is playing a pivotal role in helping governments worldwide to further embrace technology-driven modernization in their election processes, an area which will continue to undergo massive transformation in the coming years," Agrawal said in a news release.

According to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), 14 countries have used or are using Internet voting, mostly to target specific categories of voters, such as expatriates, military personnel posted overseas, and people with disabilities. Estonia and the United Arab Emirates use online voting nationwide, and five other counties allow it in some parts. The US is among the countries that have piloted online voting and decided not to continue its use, said IFES, which is based in Washington, D.C.

Concerns over security have halted widespread adoption of online voting. Scytl said it's offering a way for governments to modernize their voting systems without compromising security. Scytl products incorporate cryptographic protocols and end-to-end encryption for privacy and confidentiality during the voting process.

In 2010, Scytl was selected by the US Defense Department to provide online ballot delivery and onscreen marking systems as part of the Federal Voting Assistance Program. The program was created to support overseas military and civilian voters for the 2010 election cycle and beyond. Nine states agreed to participate in the program: New York, Washington, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Indiana.

Scytl said it will use proceeds from the latest round of financing to fund its research-and-development efforts and strategic acquisitions. In the past two years Scytl has acquired two US firms specializing in election modernization. SOE Software is the creator of the e-Election Platform, which covers the full election cycle like pre-election, election day, and post-election, with tailored tasks for each cycle. The other firm, Maxim, provides voter registration technology.

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Elena Malykhina began her career at The Wall Street Journal, and her writing has appeared in various news media outlets, including Scientific American, Newsday, and the Associated Press. For several years, she was the online editor at Brandweek and later Adweek, where she ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Apprentice
4/23/2014 | 5:07:12 PM
Re: Not the only reason...
The biggest issue in elections is legitimacy. With literally hundreds of thousands of people involved in the elections process, the air of legitimacy instilled by such this melange of citizens is comforting.  

That's not to say that there cannot be a foolproof method of undertaking elections using technology, just that the systems currently in place are far from warm and fuzzy. And its probably getting worse not better.  The greater the appearnace of surrepticious infiltration by legitimate and rogue elements in online environments, the more online "anything" breeds uncertainty.

In some cases, such as corporate elections and the like - this may be tolerable becuase we expect the largest shareholders wealthy will control the process anyway.  

But when it comes to getting the government we all want, even if there are 25 dead people who vote in Chicago - I trust that the friends and neighbors in my local community - some capable and some not - who now manage the elections process - are far more trustworthy in conducting an election than some invisible black box.  

I willingly will sacrifice efficient murkiness for messy transparency.   
User Rank: Apprentice
4/11/2014 | 4:06:26 PM
Not the only reason...
One of the main issues with voting online isn't technilogical.  

The reason many democracies forbid voters from bringing cell phones into voting booths is because people are supposed to vote according to their own concience and without outside influence.  One of the issues with oniline voting is you lose control over that.  There is no way to make sure that, for instance, a husband isn't standing over the shoulder of his wife, telling her which way they must vote.

I, myself, head a project whose goal is to provide sophisticated online voting but also provides improved technology for paper and touchscreen voting in order to make running poling stations cheaper and easier.  Our approach is to use technology to improve and make accessible all popular methods of voting.  
Drew Conry-Murray
Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Ninja
4/10/2014 | 10:34:00 AM
Re: Online voting
This sentence from the article caught my eye: "Scytl products incorporate cryptographic protocols and end-to-end encryption for privacy and confidentiality during the voting process."

As the NSA revelations about crypto back doors and the current panic around Heartbleed demonstrate, it's really really hard to get tamper-proof cryptographic systems right. Even if the actual cryptography itself is solid, there are always systems around it, including the human element, where things can go wrong. I'm highly suspicious of Internet voting. Our current system isn't perfect, and will always have some measure of fraud, but it still seems better to me than moving it online.
User Rank: Author
4/9/2014 | 7:33:53 PM
Online voting
It's a fair question: If we can instruct our banks to send funds to another bank - via our smartphones, no less -- why can't send in our votes.  But everyone who's tried runs into the same reality: Voting is a messy, highly localized business, made up of civic volunteers, in communities that often don't have the resources to support  reliable e-voting.  A secure web-based voting system is the answer, but laws also need to be updated, and prtoections put in place so the digitally inclined don't have more voting poiwer than the digitally handicapped.
Randy Naramore
Randy Naramore,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/9/2014 | 2:42:24 PM
Re: online voting
First thoughts of online voting are scary but the way we vote now with paper ballots still has alot of fraud. Maybe with the use of OTPs the online way may not be too far fetched (BIG MAYBE). This option is still a long way off but I can definitely see it coming. Thoughts?
User Rank: Author
4/9/2014 | 12:34:08 PM
online voting
For the past several years, I've been wondering why we can progress to online voting and have to still do thing based on last century's technology. 
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