What is the Project?
Horizon State is an Australian company with a blockchain-based voting ecosystem offering secure, cost-effective campaign operations for a range of election types and voting parameters. The company intends to build three core products: a secure voting structure, a platform for electoral related information allowing voters to access campaign-related material and inform themselves about important issues, and an analytics toolset providing insights into the efficacy of individual campaigns as well as voter behavior. The broader impact of this system, should the project prove successful, promises a number of benefits to voters, administrators, and quite possibly, the democratic process itself in many countries around the world.
Development of Horizon State’s product began in summer 2016, when co-founder Jamie Skella was working with MiVote, an Australian non-profit focused on improving the functioning of democratic processes. Inspired to invigorate and transform electoral politics through the relatively revolutionary idea of having representatives actually reflect the will of their constituents, MiVote regularly solicits the views of its members on a range of issues. As noted on its website, MiVote’s party positions on different issues are not predetermined, but develop as a direct result of the views expressed by its members. Adding blockchain capability was a natural extension of MiVote’s efforts to increase transparency and confidence in its polling efforts. Jamie Skella led these efforts and the result was the initial elaboration of a tool that would become a core element of Horizon State as an independent entity.
Horizon State’s core technology has already been used to conduct three blockchain-based, nationwide polls in Australia. While these initial uses demonstrate the advanced nature of the protocol and the scale of activity it is capable of processing, Horizon State considers itself not yet ready to handle a federal, national-level election. This is largely due to scaling limitations with the Ethereum blockchain itself. Anticipated upgrades to the Ethereum network planned for 2018, whether the planned plasma upgrade or the incorporation of Raiden networks, offer potential pathways for Horizon State to develop the capabilities of processing larger electoral campaigns.
The issue of processing larger, and more numerous, campaigns is central to Horizon State’s development, for the company intends to span the gamut of electoral environments, from national elections to trade unions surveying their members. Recognizing that municipal councils will require different features than corporations holding annual general meetings, Horizon State’s tools are adaptable to a range of vote types and parameters, whether binary yes/no or A/B outcomes, proportionate voting, or the assignation of voting rights to proxies. Incorporating ranked choice voting is also on the development roadmap.
Importantly, Horizon State imagines itself as considerably more than a tool to facilitate the compiling of votes on the blockchain, and is equally intent upon creating a platform for candidates to express their positions, and for voters to acquire knowledge and understanding about issues. Specifically, and not unlike the MiVote project from where elements of the Horizon State project emerged, Horizon State is interested in increasing both the degree and nature of voter participation in the democratic and electoral processes. As the company’s whitepaper states, “Voting, in essence, is the final act in the personal decision making process,” a strong statement affirming Horizon State’s intention to impact the entire electoral process and the view that the actual act of voting is hardly the decisive component of an individual’s participation in the democratic system. While allowing voters to securely and confidently vote via smartphone, computer, or tablet meaningfully improves accessibility, it is in the realm of offering new and engaging ways of educating and informing voters, what Horizon State calls its Decision Platform, that the more profoundly transformative potential of the project rests.
In particular, Horizon State intends for its platform to become a repository for immersive, interactive exposure with a range of electoral information that can be evaluated at one’s leisure and with the device or format of one’s choice, rather than hurriedly in a polling station. In terms of new content delivery formats, ideas include potentially incorporating chatbots into the information dissemination stage and allowing voice user interfaces such as Google Home or Amazon Alexa to interact with voters. But even simple text, if the platform can establish itself as a trusted source offering multiple perspectives on a wide range of measures, will be a significant improvement for multitudes of voters. A core appeal of the platform is that voters will eventually be rewarded with Horizon State’s HST tokens for engaging with electoral material. This will strongly incentivize users to avail themselves of opportunities to learn about a range of issues, thereby directly contributing to creating a more informed electorate.
Horizon State also views its platform as an open, extensible one where external developers will be able to create and deploy products and services creating a richer environment through the introduction of decentralized applications (Dapps) with particular communication, decision-making, analytic, or other capacities. Future iterations of the platform may include opportunities for voters to earn additional HST by agreeing to participate in focus groups or studies. Those HST, could be redeemed for access to additional features, or a voter could donate them to their preferred campaign as a form of fundraising.
Inseparable from Horizon State’s arguments that its platform can usher in a new era of democratic participation are its arguments for the substantial cost savings enabled by its approach. Generally speaking, Horizon State thinks its solutions will reduce the costs of most electoral campaigns by a factor of 10. The whitepaper includes several estimates of the cost-savings its platform can provide, such as comparisons of Australian federal elections, where cost per voter has been estimated at around $15, for a total of $227 million per campaign. Horizon State estimates its costs to operate a similar vote at around $0.50, a price expected to decline as Ethereum scaling solutions are implemented and network fees decrease.
Given the fixed supply of HST tokens (discussed below), the issue of potential increases to the prices of election campaigns as the platform becomes more active and token prices increase is an important concern. What appears to be affordable today could quickly become less so under certain circumstances. To guard against this, Horizon State will price individual electoral campaigns in local currencies, allowing clients to avoid exposure to token price fluctuations. Prices are also likely to vary by client(i.e. an environmental non-profit may pay less per poll than a member of the S&P 500) and the complexity of campaigns.
If Horizon State can delivery security, ease of organization, and price savings, the project will find a warm reception amongst both public and private audiences. Further, the potential of offering individuals easy access to reliable campaign related information–a feature that potentially varies in value and importance according to both region and topic but in every case is a positive one–offers a meaningful prospect of altering the ways individuals relate to and engage with the electoral process, whether in their roles as citizens, shareholders, union members or non-profit members.
Finally, while considering Horizon State in the same week where a new study led by a Stanford professor’s convincingly argued that much if not all of the $6.4 billion spent attempting to reach out to and sway voters during the 2016 federal elections was effectively wasted, largely because the spending was directed at channels such as television ads and mailers that are almost universally ignored, it is difficult not to argue that an effort such as Horizon State’s is sorely overdue. The idea that even a fraction of the sums spent on traditional elections could be allocated to formats promising even the most modest positive impacts in terms of educating voters and elevating the larger discourse around our democracies is a decidedly intriguing one.
What is the Token Being Sold?
Horizon State’s HST token is an ERC-20 token called the “Decision Token.” Its use case will be for payments within the Horizon State system. Initially, organizations and institutions sponsoring a campaign will pay for that campaign with tokens acquired either on a cryptocurrency exchange or through a portal on the company’s site. As the system matures the HST will be used for additional services on the platform, such as analytics and fundraising.
Total token supply for the HST is fixed at 1 billion tokens, with 60% available in the token sale and Horizon State to retain 40%. Of those, 28% will be allocated to company reserves, with 8%, 2%, and 2% for staff, advisors, and bounties, respectively. The total funding goal for the ICO is $30 million USD, which would give Horizon State a $50 million market capitalization. ICO funds will be allocated 55% to platform development, 20% to business operations, 15% to marketing, with the balance for legal and compliance, as well as a modest reserve.
State of the Technology?
While the formal blockchain-based voting element of Horizon State’s project is already functioning, the company nevertheless considers its status to be that of an MVP and plans to revisit its architecture following the ICO. That said, Horizon State’s printed materials spend virtually no time at all on their blockchain technology. While the absence of technical discussions may understandably be viewed as a substantial deficiency by certain audiences, this could potentially be attributed to the relatively advanced state of the technology, where a working model exists and the most pressing technical problems appear to have been addressed. For those who are curious, an illustration of how blockchain voting can work is found in this video from FollowMyVote, a Horizon State competitor, provides a solid overview.
This interpretation of the the centrality of the voter information aspect of its overall project is further reinforced in considering Horizon State’s roadmap, which is focused almost exclusively on developments related to its Decision Platform and larger ecosystem beyond the voting process. Specific objectives over the three years following the ICO focus on expanding the multi-layered platform of educational, administrative (such as campaign management and outreach), and analytical tools supporting the actual voting process, including AI systems, and messaging and communications tools. Additional planned capabilities include creating avenues for voters to organize around particular issues and interests, as well as incorporating campaign fundraising tools. could further enrich the platform’s appeal and capabilities.
Risks and Opportunities
Despite the increasing number of blockchain startups and token sales in recent months, the particular sub-sector of blockchain-based voting-focused projects remains one with relatively few entrants. While there are a handful of early-stage companies in the sector–Boulé, Settlemint, Voatz, FollowmyVote are several–Horizon State appears to have a considerable advance on each of those. Three related points appear to give Horizon State its current solid advantage over the competition.
One is simply the group’s progress in developing an actual working product.
Second, the presence of a working product has allowed Horizon State to begin to engage with clients from a range of public, private, and nonprofit settings. In addition to working with MiVote, announced partnerships include SAP next-gen, and Centre for the Future, with negotiations ongoing with a diverse group of non-profits, municipalities, and corporate partners.
Finally, while its peer companies remain focused on creating a working prototype, Horizon State has begun to develop its vision of creating an ecosystem that can fundamentally shift the way voters inform themselves and relate to the democratic process more broadly. While this approach will likely be emulated by other companies, Horizon State’s advance could be enough, at the very least, to ensure it a considerable stake in what will almost surely become a sizeable market. In this regard, amongst the largest risks the company faces is that it fails to capitalize on its advanced position relative to its peers and competitors before their own projects mature into commercial readiness. While a key challenge will be the task of attracting outside developers, one could imagine a considerable appeal for groups seeking to provide unique products and tools on its platform. Perhaps more interesting will be to observe the reactions of the communities of traditional political “experts” and pundits, who arguably face more risks than opportunities from Horizon State’s larger vision of transforming the way voters engage with the democratic system.
Who is the Team Behind the Project?
Horizon State is led by an Australian team with considerable industry and technology experience. Co-founder and Chief Product Officer Jamie Skella has a background in UX design and directed the development of MiVote’s original blockchain voting product. Previously, he worked at Tatt’s Group, where his colleagues included Dan Crane, who possesses a strong technology background and now represents another member of Horizon State’s leadership team. Other members include Jason Theron, a consultant from New Zealand with considerable experience in distributed systems. Horizon State’s second Co-founder, Nimo Naamani who is functioning as the group’s CTO, has extensive product and software development experience. Finally, CFO Daniel Vertes has a decade of experience in similar positions.
Equally interesting is the advisory board Horizon State has assembled. Adam Grenier, a MiVote board member, occupies a top marketing role with Uber, while Daniel Gasteiger, formerly at UBS, is a blockchain advisor to both Zurich and the United Nations. Oren Alazraki, is a successful corporate leader in the IT sector, including at Datacom, with 5,600 employees and $1.2 billion in revenue. Dr. Jane Thompson, formerly Senior Social Sector Specialist at the Asian Development Bank in Manila, as well as judge at the Blockchain for-good hackathon and a member of the Devex Strategic Impact Advisory Council is another advisory board member. Finally, two academics working, respectively, on law and society and questions of democracy, John Flood and Marta Poblet, complete the board. The addition of academics to the tech and business experience comprising the leadership team and board reinforces in yet another way how Horizon State’s ambitions extend far beyond a mere voting
Commentary and Conclusions
In the broadest sense, blockchain-based voting systems have enormous potential to improve the security and functioning of existing electoral systems in many parts of the world while reducing costs and improving access. Too many global citizens inhabit regions of the world suffering from electoral processes that leave participants uncertain whether the announced results accurately reflect the actual tally of votes cast. Many other regions struggle with the nearly prohibitive financial and logistical challenges of regularly organizing electoral campaigns. In important ways Horizon State appears to be well on its way to establishing a leadership role in the space while taking substantial steps towards addressing each of the above issues. The significance and potential impacts of these achievements will be interesting to observe, one could imagine that as elections become less costly, easier to organize, and more confidence inspiring citizens could began to demand more frequent opportunities to express themselves. Responsible governments and politicians would surely welcome such feedback.
Of ultimately far greater significance than the above points is that virtually the entire world could benefit from tools promising increased access to a more open, thoughtful, and sophisticated engagement with the actual issues facing our democracies and the planet. An integral component of this would be more complete, accurate, and contextualized information about electoral issues and the stances of parties and candidates, ideally presented in a manner promoting thought, reflection, and reasoned consideration of different views rather than the too-prevalent efforts to promote outrage and vitriol. Horizon State appears to have a rich, promising pool of ideas about ways to engage with this third challenge. Whether or not the company ultimately emerges as the definitive ecosystem for a potentially transformed manner of citizen engagement with the electoral process, Horizon State appears to be establishing a very high bar in terms of the steps that can be taken to address this opportunity, effectively challenging competitors to create more than just a technological solution to the act of casting a vote. In this sense, one might argue that the company has already made a meaningful contribution to improving the functioning of the world’s democratic systems.
|Team openness||Fully transparent|
|Blockchain Developer||Jamie Skella|
|Technical White Paper||Not available|
|Available Project Code||Not available|
|Role of token||Access rights|
|Token supply||1 billion|
|Distributed in ICO||600 million|
|Emission rate||No new coins created|
|Consensus method||Proof of Work|
|Sale period||Oct 16th, 2017 to Oct 30th, 2017|
|First price||proportional to participation|
|Investment Round||First public offering|
|Token distribution date||4 weeks after crowdsale|
|Min investment goal||$1 million|
|Max investment cap||$60 million|
|How are funds held||Smart contract|
|Minimal Viable Product||Functioning|
|Bonus schedule||20% descending to 0|