When Jamie Skella looked deeply into the way he was asked to vote as the citizen of a democratic country, there were many things that didn't quite add up.
"It seemed weird to me that we had been asked to vote on things so infrequently and elect a representative that didn't really represent us and don't have a conversation with us along the way," Skella told HuffPost Australia.
"The other issue that I had with it was that when it did come time to vote, all I was doing was voting on a package of policies, when in actual fact there were a whole lot of those polices that I wasn't informed well enough about.
"Unfortunately, one of the things I felt deeply about the left might be addressing and another things I felt deeply about might be something that the right was addressing and you are always stuck in this place that you have to choose between two different packages of policies that you might not necessarily agree with in its entirety."
So, with the aim to resolve these issues Skella co-founded Horizon State from his work with voting app MiVote. Skella wanted to find a way to make voting faster and more secure and trustworthy than traditional ballot boxes or internet voting and he found his answer with the emerging blockchain technology.
Before we look into what Horizon State is actually doing and how they are doing it, let's take a deeper look into what blockchain technology is.
What Is Blockchain, Anyway?
Blockchain is an emerging technology that changes the way we trade and transact with each other. One major change that comes with blockchain is the way that it digitises transactions of both currencies and commodities. Another important factor that defines blockchain is the way it establishes peer-to-peer trading. This means that digital currencies or commodities, can be transferred from one person to another without relying on a middleman like a bank or government to process the transaction for you.
Blockchain is in its early stages of development and will soon become something we use without really knowing. In terms of development, it's like we are back in 1994, when the internet or email was developing -- we don't really understand the full capabilities of blockchain yet, but eventually we will use it as easily as we use the internet now.
Sometimes it can be confusing to separate Bitcoin and blockchain but, it's important to remember that Bitcoin is simply the most mature example of a digital currency that uses blockchain technology. Bitcoin and blockchain are not the same thing -- Bitcoin just uses blockchain to move from person to person.
The blockchain is able to manage and organise a lot more than just money and the work Horizon State is doing is a perfect example of how blockchain can be used to make transactions with voting more transparent.
What Is Horizon State And What Do They Do?
So, back to Horizon State.
Horizon State uses blockchain technology to let people vote in a more democratic, decentralised way and this voting isn't merely politics related -- it has many applications that open up decision-making potential to individuals. One of the key issues Horizon State aims to combat is the growing centralisation of voting processes in Australia.
"There was a bit of a light bulb moment," Skella said. "Blockchain technology is an effective distributed database and it's distributed in the sense that it wouldn't just be mirrored or cloned like in the current cloud networks."
Horizon State has created a ballot box that is connected to blockchain technology, meaning that the box is secure and the result of any vote is locked forever, so people can rely in the trustworthiness of the result.
"We were able to create an unhackable ballot box, a tamper-proof ballot box ... so we set out over the course of four or five months to start up that ballot box that couldn't be fudged that couldn't be changed," Skella said.
So essentially, Horizon State is the company that sells their technology to other companies that wish to hold a vote on something. This could be any group from a government trying to open policy-making decisions to the people or an NGO wanting to establish how their contributors would best like their donated money spent.
"Horizon State and the technology that we provide is not ideologically wedded to any way of governing," Skella said.
"We will simply sell this technology to any government [or group] who can appreciate the bottom line gains and the efficiency improvements and obviously the security of the vote benefit which is possible for the first time in history. We are not politically natured, we are a technology company."
How Does Voting With Blockchain Tech Work?
The Horizon State platform is very flexible and can be modelled to fit into existing voting frameworks for example, fitting electric voting machines and e-voting machines with the technology that connects it to the blockchain.
When you actually cast your vote, the vote is sent to the blockchain as opposed to a centralised ballot calculator, meaning that the vote result is easily counted and unchangeable.
"We are developing ... the solution to be very, very flexible and could even allow it to be built into existing e-voting machines and fitting those electronic voting machines so they [voters] can cast their vote to a blockchain instead of a centralised core or store them on a device which we have seen in the U.S. and they were exploited," Skella explained.
This dynamic approach to voting means that participants aren't asked for a single binary response, but rather multiple choices on a topic to influence the way in which a leader is chosen or a policy is built.
Skella told HuffPost Australia that it's in this way that people become engaged in the decision making process, gives people a voice in a larger system and informs the people more, resulting in people truly feeling that their vote is valuable.
"What is happening is the creation of a direct democracy within our representative democracy."
How Will This Change Democracy And Why Should We Care?
Horizon State's approach to voting aims to decentralise the way that people contribute to high-level decision making. They are achieving this by making the voting process more secure and trustworthy by using blockchain technology. This means that each vote cannot be changed or altered, effectively eradicating corruption or vote-tampering.
"We historically had a paper ballot box which is relatively secure, but ultimately wide open to interference and tampers when it comes to result reporting and it is also inconvenient when it comes to contributing participation. Then you have got current online voting which is really, really convenient for everybody but it is really, really insecure, even less secure than a paper ballot box.
"For the first time in history we have reached this profound moment where we now have a perfectly secure ballot box ... ultimately what we are talking about is an incredibly positive and important step towards the end of corruption in our elections and other democratic processes."
Skella also explained that casting a vote to a blockchain means that the whole process is much faster and cheaper than traditional voting methods.
"Using the Australian [same-sex marriage] postal survey as an example, we would be able to conduct a survey of that kind for 2 or 3 million dollars instead of 120 million dollars. And then of course, you have that validity of the outcome."
Giving voters of any kind a voice is the cornerstone behind the Horizon State philosophy. Skella believes that people's opinions are diverse and that citizens of a democratic nation should have the chance to express these as freely and as regularly as possible.
"We have all been heavily polarised and we have all been told that we are part of the left and part of the right ... but we are not in fact binary creatures."