Mon 22 May 2017 9:56PM

We're working on creating an voting app for Star Voting (SRV)!

SW Sara Wolf Public Seen by 20

Startup Weekend Social Impact was an amazing opportunity and couldn't have gone better!

The event started off Friday with speeches and guidance from the startup community and then quickly progressed to the pitches. Each presenter got just 60 seconds to talk about what problem they were trying to solve, what their solution entailed and how to turn that into a viable business plan.

I pitched about our broken elections system and how Star Voting has the potential to basically solve vote splitting/the spoiler effect, strategic/dishonest voting, and the 2 party monopoly. (Star Voting=Score Runoff Voting=SRV.) I proposed our idea of creating an elections app and website that anyone can use to run their own elections or decision making process. The app would start off with a few questions to help the person running the election determine what kind of voting system they need: single winner or multi winner, 2 viable candidates, or more. As people click through the welcome page they get a user friendly platform that gets straight to the meat and potatoes, but at the same time offers small snippets of key information, for example that plurality voting only gives reliable outcomes if there are only 2 viable candidates. Users would have everything they need to run an election for student government, for private sector decision making or promotions or for NGOs and non-profits or any other election you could think of. Voters could vote online with their phones, laptops, or with paper ballots.

Our plan is to offer a user friendly and free election service that gives users good representative outcomes and an educational experience in the process. More information would be offered and available for all voters and elections officials too. Our first goal would be to get Star Voting (SRV) our there and being used by potential voters so that when this goes to the ballot, it will have familiarity and name recognition. Hopefully a good percentage of users would go away understanding why we need Star Voting!

There would also be a "premium" option available that users would pay extra for. This would offer some extra functions such as analytics, a highly secure option, automatic auditing of close results, and even an option to create a quiz that voters would need to pass before voting for decisions that require an educated electorate. Revenue from the app would go to cover expenses and then generate funding that would go back to the Equal Vote non-profit to be used on getting ballot measures passed! If we can generate funding by offering something rather than just asking for help that would be AMAZING!!!

The pitch was a success! Audience members were each given three post-it notes to vote on proposals and ours was selected to recruit a team. We ended up with a team of 8 audience members who wanted to work with us; programmers, business management folks, creatives, and government oriented folks. Our team was amazing and worked tirelessly over the next 20 hours creating a template for the website, a business plan overview, and a presentation to bring back to the Startup Weekend Judges at the end of the event.

If you'd like to get involved in bringing this idea to fruition please let me know! We're going to make it happen and get Star Voting to bring real democracy to the world ASAP.


Jeremy Macaluso Tue 23 May 2017 2:05AM

Would it be possible to help from California?


Aaron Wolf Tue 23 May 2017 3:43AM

I urge you to use a free/libre/open license! Make sure it's GPL-compatible. Here's the full list of options: https://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.en.html#GPLCompatibleLicenses

I recommend the AGPLv3+ (i.e. Affero GPL v3 or later) which is the most protective of freedoms (it requires that anyone who uses the program and provides it for others to use, including via a website or other internet connection, provide the source for their version under the same terms to protect the freedoms for everyone).

Not sure if the scope of what you are doing is just a demo app so people get the concept, but if you want to make this really usable for actual voting of consequence, the best thing would be to develop a patch for Helios that adds the ability to do STAR voting. Besides it then being usable along with everything else that Helios offers (good balance of security and anonymity, built for the best-in-class approaches to online voting), you could get them to merge it and make it available to all orgs that use Helios already! See https://github.com/benadida/helios-server and https://heliosvoting.org/

I don't think adding STAR voting to Helios would actually be too difficult if you have programmers who know Python and JavaScript.

Besides just directly contributing to Helios, it's possible, of course, to fork their project and use it to build on, thus gaining all the important security etc that they already developed.


Sara Wolf Tue 23 May 2017 8:47AM

Yeah, we want it to be free and open sourced, but also a protected idea so that we can turn this into a viable app/website that is widely used and includes an educational component, and that can also generate income with the premium model that would go back into the non-profit to help fund voting system reform efforts and actual govt. elections.

The stuff you are talking about and a lot of this project are way out of my department. I'm design team! We need to collaborate and recruit the right people to do this right! ASAP!


Aaron Wolf Tue 23 May 2017 2:53PM

also a protected idea

I don't know what this means but it sounds like common way of thinking that is also based on misguided and misunderstood concepts. If you mean "protected" as in not let others exploit the work and lock it down, then you definitely want AGPL (as I recommended). If by "protected" you mean "restricted", then it's a counterproductive idea and must be dropped.

the premium model

That sounds like being not free and open. There are ways to figure out funding without sabotaging the actual public good itself.

We need to collaborate and recruit the right people

Okay, well, I'm a relative expert on licensing and free/libre/open issues. I'm on the Open Definition committee of the Open Knowledge Foundation and co-founder of an in-progress funding platform for free/libre/open public goods. I'm on board to advise on these aspects.

Do not ruin your non-profit mission by getting infected by standard silicon valley startup for-profit culture and their ideas about "protecting" (i.e. restricting) your model. The last way to get anyone to use STAR voting is to make it costly or hard to use or artificially restrict software that should be free and open to all. Get the most use possible, and you'll have the widest audience interested in funding the work to maintain and improve the product.

And don't reinvent wheels. Unless you have a good reason, use Helios since they already do most of what you need besides the voting system. Don't make a new product just because you want to do a "startup", do what actually is best for making STAR voting succeed (which may involve a new project/startup, but jumping to assuming that is a careless decision).

For perspective, Loomio is a free/libre/open project with a donation-based model that includes premium support services as one funding source. This platform is AGPL (the license I recommend), and it uses web standards and works well on mobile etc. You could even add STAR voting to Loomio, but I'm not sure they'd accept the patch (although you could even fork Loomio, but I don't think that makes sense). Loomio is also a worker co-op. This is at least in the sort of direction you should consider.

I'm happy to answer questions on these things.

The primary decision in terms of using or contributing to existing projects is whether you want a real voting system that orgs could use (base that on Helios) or just an educational demo that isn't secure enough for real legal consequential voting. (Of course, public elections like for real government positions cannot use web or mobile app options at all, so that's a different matter). FWIW, my non-profit will be happy to use a STAR voting web app if it's based on Helios (or just is Helios where you contribute STAR voting feature). It must remain fully free/libre/open though. Proprietary terms are unacceptable.


Sara Wolf Wed 24 May 2017 2:04AM

If you mean "protected" as in not let others exploit the work and lock it down, then you definitely want AGPL (as I recommended).

Yes, this one.


Aaron Wolf Wed 24 May 2017 2:45AM

Great. Here's the deal: any other license other than AGPL allows this loophole: "oh, we aren't violating the license by using the software in this proprietary fashion on our web service — see, we didn't distribute the software to anyone else, we're just running it for ourselves on our own computers (but we let the general public use our running instance by connecting to our computers over a network)". The A in AGPL basically says "letting others use the software over a network counts as conveying, so you still have to provide the source upon request!"

Now, if you make a web service (which I think is a good idea, and that's how Helios works, which I still encourage you to consider), there's no further issues. If you want to build a native "app" instead of a website, then Apple are assholes and block GPL or AGPL code from their app store. So, if you want to compromise and publish an "app" through the Apple App Store, then you need to have contributors accept a Contributor License Agreement that says the non-profit org is itself permitted an exception to the AGPL in order to publish under other terms for the App Store.

That Apple sabotages free/libre/open protections is probably the most atrocious thing they do as a company. Google is awful in tons of ways, but they don't block users of Android from installing apps outside of the Play store…


Sara Wolf Sat 27 May 2017 9:12AM

I created a Loomio group for the Star Voting App Project. If you'd like to help we'd love to have you. @jeremymacaluso