BlockTac Podcast #5- Online Voting System for the Bolivian National Chamber of Commerce


(Conversation in Spanish)

FG: Hello everyone. We are here today with Lorenzo Catalá, engineer and manager of the Bolivian National Chamber of Commerce.

LC: Hi Francisco, thanks for inviting me to this interview.

FG: Well, the reason for this talk is to explain the joint development carried out between the National Chamber of Commerce and BlockTac for the implementation of an online voting system for the election of positions on its Board of Directors. The COVID-19 pandemic posed an institutional challenge since it was necessary to facilitate secure access to a voting system in any region of the country, right, Lorenzo?

LC: Indeed, in fact, the challenge was threefold since:

– An online voting system had to be developed to allow the participation of companies throughout the country in the election to renew the Directory of the National Chamber of Commerce.

– We had to put in place a technical solution that would guarantee the casting of a vote: unique, anonymous, and auditable.

– And it was necessary to implement a solution that is safe and friendly in the interaction with the voter so that technology does not become a barrier but rather an incentive to mass participation.

FG: I must say that the initiative to develop a solution based on Blockchain technology and that would respond to those challenges was yours and as a consequence of the experience of the last year of jointly work on the implementation of different solutions to solve business problems through the Blockchain technology.

LC: It was so, and this allowed us to launch a joint team that was able to face those challenges despite the geographical distance and the time difference between the members of the technical team and respond to legal, technical, and audit requirements necessaries for the entire process.

FG: Indeed, I attest to the intensity of the work done by all the members of the team that was established. And I would like you to explain in a little more detail the particularities of this election.

LC: The particular challenges for our institution were several:

– Develop specific voting spaces for each of the five categories of business members that the Chamber has.

– Count the votes in accordance with the mechanism established by internal regulations, and reflect the results quickly and reliably.

– Explain in advance and in a simple way the steps that had to be followed during the electoral day to vote.

– Convince the companies that the solution would allow for greater voter participation and that the data would be reliable. It was not an easy task in an institution that carries a 130-year-old tradition of voting in person.

FG: Lorenzo, tell us how the working group was organized and how the people from the National Chamber of Commerce and BlockTac were integrated?

LC: The Chamber organized working teams in 3 areas:

– Communication area: that organized virtual gatherings with the candidates to make them known on social networks and was in charge of disseminating the procedures to participate in the election day and motivate engagement.

– Technology area: to adapt the internal infrastructure to the needs of the voting system, basically in terms of mail servers and security aspects.

– Coordination area: who interacted with the BlockTac team to be the bridge between the technical part and the Electoral Commission that directed the voting process.

The coordination with BlockTac was permanent and enriching because the solution was built working as a team. The professionals at BlockTac showed high efficiency and professionalism, in addition to an unparalleled commitment.

FG: Lorenzo, surely those who follow us are interested in knowing some more precise details about the solution design. These processes are usually criticized because some may think that not all the critical elements are considered and guarantees provided as these electoral processes require.

LC: Of course it does. We were the first interested in responding to all the demands that were put on us in critical aspects such as avoiding any possible fraud or manipulation of the vote and its results. And indeed they were fulfilled in the following way:

The first and simplest idea is that you cannot force a vote. Voters were instructed to participate in the process, but at no time was control of who voted and who did not. At the same time, a voter assistance system was designed that allowed addressing and solving any problem that might arise during the voting time.

Second, we made sure that only those voters who were certified to do so could vote. Those accreditations were registered in Blockchain, and could only be accessed by those who had that right. Furthermore, the system was designed in such a way that neither the identity of the voter nor the nature of their vote could be revealed. This could be done by generating random codes generated for each registered voter at the time of voting.

Third, we wanted to protect ourselves against any fraud attempt, applying the experience of Block tac digital seals to the candidacy ballots and to the voting rights of the accredited voters. Blockchain registration of ballots and voters protected us from the possible generation of false ballots or that voters could exercise their right more than once.

And, fourthly, we wanted the process to be transparent and auditable in all its accounts.

FG: Tell us, Lorenzo, how that objective was achieved.

LC: For the individual voter, at the end of their vote they were sent a certificate, also registered in Blockchain, of having successfully completed their vote. And, at the institutional level, mechanisms were established to check the progress of the vote, and the number of voters and ballots used, ensuring that all the figures matched exactly.

FG: Indeed, it was so, and I must point out that to the previous achievements was added that of generating an agile and simple system of interaction with the voter, and also for the members of the Chamber Committee responsible for auditing the process and the results. We would like you to tell us now how the implementation of the electoral process was in practice and how it developed on the day of the vote.

LC: It must be explained that in order to communicate the process and prepare for the election day, an intense training effort had to be carried out that included interaction with business candidates and society, receiving the concerns and suggestions of more than 10,000 members of the National Chamber of Commerce. And for the day of the vote, an information center was set up, prepared to guide voters in case of difficulties.

Then, on the day of the vote, we had an avalanche of voters. Participation was increased by 62% compared to the previous year and the number of voters grew in all categories, surpassing all historical statistics. There was an increase in participation 1.6 times higher than the average historically held in the Institution. And companies from all regions of Bolivia participated and we even managed to allow business representatives outside the country to vote.

FG: I see that, from what you are telling us, the objectives that we had originally set were fully achieved. Do you have information that you may share with us about the institutional or social impact, in the National Chamber of Commerce or in the country?

LC: Of course. First, note that in addition to the advantages of transparency and security, the costs associated with this type of election were substantially lower compared to those of a traditional ballot-based system. And then, to point out that the news of this electoral process had an important impact on Bolivian society. It even aroused the interest of the Plurinational Electoral Agency, which acted as an observer of the election day and highly valued the solution being implemented. The impact in the country media was enormous because Bolivia is immersed in a national electoral process that faces the difficulties posed by the pandemic in which we find ourselves. That the Bolivian businessmen have given an example of democracy and participation to the politicians, was a fact highlighted by the press and civil society.

FG: Well Lorenzo, thank you very much for your thorough explanation. I think that we have also fulfilled the objective of disclosing how this unique online voting process was implemented through the use of Blockchain technology and that many of our followers were interested in learning about it. It is fair to mention that this has only been a partial description of a highly complex system and with a large number of potential failure points, which were all considered and resolved…, but those are technical aspects that perhaps this is not a suitable place to cover them.

LC: Indeed, thanks also to the BlockTac team, and rest assured that we will continue working together to extend this system to other institutions in our country that have shown interest in its implementation.

FG: Thanks Lorenzo and thanks to all of you who have followed us and until next time.

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