14 December 2022
Democracy Technologies: Can you tell us a bit about Sequent?
Shai Bargil: Sequent is a start-up that developed an online voting platform for public and private sector elections. In the public sector, this means municipal, provincial, state, and federal levels. In the private sector, it’s organisations that hold elections, such as professional associations, trade unions, political parties, cooperatives, and so on. What is special about our solution is two things. First, we are based on a cryptographic voting protocol. The system is end-to-end verifiable, which means that it produces verifiable evidence that votes are cast and counted correctly. Second, we are currently the only ones for whom that system is open source and publicly vetted. The transparency combined with the end-to-end verifiability, is extremely important for public sector customers.
DT: What made you want to start the company?
Bargil: I’m an information technology engineer working in the Israeli startup ecosystem and am very passionate about political science & democracy. In 2018, I became very intrigued by the potential of blockchain and advanced cryptography to impact the future of digital democracy and started to investigate the field. I understood that there was a big gap between the present reality of the technology and the potential in the field. Part of that potential is the ability to capture citizens’ votes or voices in a trustworthy, reliable, and at the same time, cost-effective manner. I think this is one of the biggest challenges that we are currently facing in our democracies and so I began by narrowing my objectives down to online voting, and this is why I wanted to establish Sequent.
DT: What is the size of your current operations?
Shai Bargil: Right now, we have more than 25 clients and we’ve participated in over 30 elections with over 500,000 voters this year alone. Overall, our solution has served more than 2.5 million voters throughout the years, as an open source project. We currently work in Spain, Germany, Canada, and the US.
DT: How do you see this market growing in the coming years?
Bargil: Countries like France, Spain, Germany, Canada, South America, and Switzerland are countries we need to look at more in the next two to three years and see where they are going. This year, France conducted their first online voting process at a federal level. In 2023, Germany will hold the first national level online vote for the Social Security election. Spain is big in the private sector. I hope they will move to the public sector as well. Switzerland is developing its own system. If those countries are going to do that in the right manner and have success, I think we will see the entire continent of Europe moving in that direction.
DT: Do you see growth in online voting?
Bargil: Yes. I think those countries will move in the next two to three years toward more adoption of online voting. In Germany for example, we are already helping to draft the guidelines with the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). Countries are already talking about end-to-end verifiable voting systems and open source solutions for the public sector. We see similar activities happening in other countries, and if they are successful, more and more will follow. Additionally, it is worth looking at countries where they have a lot of people voting from home by postal voting, those are the immediate markets to move toward online because of the complexity and expensive costs of operating nation-wide postal voting. In Germany, I think it’s 47 percent. In the UK, it’s 26 or 28 percent. During COVID, Poland tried to deploy voting from home by mail, but it failed. Voting by mail is a nightmare, and election officials hate that. As the trend of more people working remotely from home continues, we’ll see more of a push toward online voting technology.
DT: What do you think is the primary appeal of your system?
Bargil: I think people all over the world are gradually losing trust and confidence in the electoral process. Many of these things are happening because they don’t have any confidence that their vote is being counted as they intended, that the election system works, or that the government will work according to their needs. When you vote on paper today, you have no ability to verify that your vote is counted correctly. This problem is solved by systems that are end-to-end verifiable. It doesn’t matter if it’s voting remotely, voting at a polling station using a voting machine, or even with a paper ballot. An end-to-end verifiable feature that allows voters to clearly understand that their vote is valid, included in the final tally, and counted correctly is imperative for democracies. I think governments will eventually have no choice but to adopt this technology for their citizens.