The challenging political environment in Venezuela reached a crisis point in December 2020, when Juan Guaidó (the internationally recognized leader) and the National Assembly challenged incumbent Nicolás Maduro’s presidency through a referendum: a popular consultation with its citizens. It was also an historic moment, as the call for change came from Venezuelans both inside and outside the country – since 2014, over five million Venezuelans have fled the country amid the violence and threats of the Maduro regime. Giving all these citizens a voice – and a vote – in a safe, secure, and auditable manner was the essential ingredient in challenging Maduro and his stranglehold on the country.
It was amidst this sensitive landscape that Boston-based mobile voting platform Voatz was selected by members of the Organizing Committee of the Popular Consultation (of Venezuela), on behalf of President Guaidó and the National Assembly, as the digital platform to conduct a free and fair referendum for Venezuelan voters between Dec 7th through Dec 12th, 2020.
How It Worked:
This was the first-of-its-kind undertaking, allowing Venezuelans to digitally participate in a citizen’s consultation (referendum) at home and overseas – a breakthrough in modern democracy. This effort’s overwhelming response and success will serve as a road map for citizens across the world seeking a similar democratic action.
The consultation platform was accessible through smartphone applications, web browser applications, and tablet applications and was also integrated with a third-party bot-based provider on Telegram. Participation was made convenient, accessible through the platform’s intuitive design and tutorials for those who needed additional help. The ballot asked three simple questions, allowing Venezuelans to safely and independently express support for President Guaidó and the National Assembly.
The Organizing Committee of the Popular Consultation tasked Voatz with making this a secure, accessible voting system that would inspire trust and confidence among Venezuelans. Eligible citizens were verified using Venezuelan national IDs and live selfies. Voatz also provided a secure API for special access to bots running on encrypted messaging apps such as Telegram, helped maintain voter anonymity, train voters, and poll workers, and facilitated a post-election risk-limiting audit using the blockchain.
Nearly 6.5 million people participated in the referendum, with more than 1.7 million of those processed digitally through the Voatz platform, which makes this the largest voting exercise to use a mobile application and run on blockchain technology. Voters participated from 60 countries worldwide; more than 50% of the voters used smartphones (Android – 42%, iPhone -14%). An independent audit was conducted sampling 10% of the ballots to confirm that votes were cast and counted as intended. 100% of the ovals matched, thereby providing a high degree of statistical assurance regarding the accuracy of the final results.
Given the sensitive nature of the project, Voatz was prepared to operate in the presence of cyber threats. The Voatz platform performed resiliently by identifying and blocking attacks as they occurred. Threats seen frequently in the field were broadly in the following categories – DNS tampering attempts, email spoofing, denial of service attacks, SMS blocking, man-in-the-middle attacks, device malware, suspicious mobile application, and unsafe wireless connections.
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