23 February 2023

Democracy Technologies: What are the main products Polyas provides? 

Jan Wegner: We are in the e-voting business, so our core product is an online voting system or online voting platform that ensures all the principles of a democratic election are secure and guaranteed. We offer both online and live voting. The online voting system is asynchronous and could replace mail-in voting, whereas the live voting tool is used during events. 

DT: What are recent company news or achievements that you made?

Jan Wegner: We held our first online voting summit in November 2022. We wanted to organise a virtual summit independent of our products and invite different people to speak about e-voting technology and how it is being applied in different sectors. Moving out a sole focus on our products to hosting an event that discussed e-voting as a topic more generally and allowed people to show and share their expertise was quite an achievement. 

Another big success is that we were directly involved in many, not directly political, but party elections in Germany. The CDU, the biggest German Democratic Party, used our voting systems for electing their head of party twice. Also, the parties involved in the current German political coalition used our systems to vote on the coalition contract. 

DT: Are there any new products or services you are considering introducing? Are you seeking expansion into other sectors?

Jan Wegner: Currently, we are still a fairly small company. We’re focusing on promoting and improving our two core products. In the electoral market, there is such a huge variety when it comes to rules and security. Our main focus is to invest more in our products to make them applicable to different markets and sectors. 

DT: That partially answers the question, but I’ll ask it directly: what are your business objectives?

Jan Wegner: Looking at the larger picture, our objective is to make e-voting the de facto third way of voting in the countries we operate in. We want to reach a point where e-voting is a real alternative to mail-in or in-person voting, and people can see the benefits of it.

DT: As far as challenges go, you mentioned one regarding legislative issues, legal issues, et cetera, at a certain scale. What are the biggest challenges you face with your clients when you’re hoping to implement this resource?

Jan Wegner: The uncertainty or lack of understanding regarding e-voting. The people who facilitate any voting procedure are under a lot of pressure to maintain the voters’ trust in the electoral process. People are sometimes less confident in e-voting because they don’t fully understand its advantages or risks. They are worried something will go wrong and they will have to rerun the election, which can badly undermine trust in the voting process. So we first need to help people understand the technological side of our product and build their confidence.

DT: What are the key success factors when launching an e-voting project like this?

Jan Wegner: This also comes back to trust. The challenge with this technology is that not everybody will grasp the mechanisms that make the voting system secure. So how do you build trust in the entire system for the people who are participating in the e-voting process?

Ideally, voters will implicitly trust e-voting like people trust pilots when they step on an airplane, but we are not there yet. We know that people who already have a positive or neutral image of the party/association running or introducing e-voting will be more likely to trust the technology, but people who do not have that connection will be warier. We need to build confidence for the whole system, so people see facilitators of e-voting processes as experts who have the technological understanding to guarantee safe voting. 

DT: Do you know if trust is also a big factor in user satisfaction after voting has finished? 

Jan Wegner: When we asked people in a study which factors contributed to a positive experience during online voting, 62% responded with “I saved a lot of time.” People appreciated the flexibility and efficiency that they could vote remotely and did not need paper for mailing ballots back and forth. Trust did not seem to matter that much.

DT: What are currently the most wanted applications, products, or services in the market? Are there different variations on the service that you’re offering? Do you see any wider market trends and technology? 

Jan Wegner: The pandemic hugely increased the demand for digital or hybrid voting systems. Many companies developed voting technologies of some kind, but not all were conscientious about securing a fair and democratic election. 

Now, we are at a point where more and more people want to implement e-voting systems in highly confidential elections. For that, you need an end-to-end verifiable online election system, secure voter identification mechanisms and cryptography to secure the confidentiality of the votes. These concepts are not necessarily a new trend but it is becoming more apparent that this will be the standard that most people will go for when selecting an e-voting system. 

DT: What are the growth areas for you, and what is your estimation of the market size in Europe in the next year?

Jan Wegner: Currently, e-voting is a niche market, and it’s hard to put a number to it. For us, political elections are like the Holy Grail, high risk and high reward. Besides that, we’re looking into a broad number of areas. There is not a single sector that is so significant we could make it our only focus.

We have software that can run an election from 25 up to 10 million voters. So we scale up our business both with small and large applications. We want to target elections within businesses, such as shareholder meetings or supervisory board meetings. Universities have also been a surprisingly big market for us because they run large-scale elections every year in which they elect, for example, the student government. 

DT: As far as the supply side goes for software services such as this, regarding competitors, what does Europe look like at the moment?

Jan Wegner: It’s a fairly fragmented market because of how many people entered when COVID-19 caused sudden, high demand. There are voting systems based on Microsoft Teams that are more about ease of use and not so much about safeguarding the confidentiality of the ballot. Then there are apps and companies that run virtual meeting tools and retroactively added the functionality of casting votes. 

However, when it comes to real e-voting companies, there are about five to ten big players. These big players can all apply to run significant elections such as political elections. For example, one of these companies will be running the German Social Security Elections in 2024.

DT: What is the process of identification you currently use for your software? 

Jan Wegner: We currently offer three methods. The least used is the electronic ID card. For example, Germans have had the option to use their ID card for online identification for more than ten years. However, only seven per cent of ID card holders have activated the function, and even fewer have ever used it. From a security standpoint, making that electronic ID mandatory would be ideal. At the same time, nobody would be able to cast their votes because they don’t use electronic IDs. 

For the second option, we supply voters with credentials, voter ID, a password and a second factor. We often mail identification information via the post, and during the voting process the voter will receive a text message or an e-mail and they can use those three credentials to log in. This is our most used option.  

The third option is single-sign-on, which we use for universities and other sectors that are more organised. As a voter, you’re already using your university’s platform to log in to do other things. We use that to carry you over into our systems and identify you based on how and where you were logged in. 

DT: What regulation or legislation should national and/or European lawmakers and policymakers be working on to make your job easier and support positive market development?

Jan Wegner: Building standards for e-voting can help build trust and make it easier for those who want to run an election to choose the right providers, software, and tools. Right now, people who run elections have a hard time making the right decision or calculating the risk they’re taking. With standards, they will have an easier time building trust with their voters because they can argue: “This is the system we’ve selected based on a standard defined by an independent entity, and we don’t have to rely on the individual provider to make sure this is the right thing.”

It is understandable that this is a longer process, it’s not feasible to jump from any e-voting to fully running national elections with e-voting technologies because that is not how to establish trust. Baby steps will help mature the market for developing the standards and building trust in e-voting. Lawmakers who see e-voting as a prospective or an option for the future should open up those trial runs and possibilities to experience it. This change will not happen if we only discuss e-voting in theory. 

Read more on e-voting:

Interview with Jacob Gyldenkærne, founder and CEO of Assembly Voting here.
Article about blockchain technology in e-voting here.

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