Vocdoni is a digital voting system built using decentralized tech. It meets the highest standards of security, auditability, and accessibility required for public and private governance while remaining versatile and cost-effective.
Bellpuig is a town of around 5,000 people, in the county of Urgell in Catalonia, Spain. The mountainous region boasts striking natural scenery and beautiful Renaissance religious architecture, including the tomb of Catalan statesmen Ramón de Cardona.
Bellpuig Mayor Jordi Estiarte reached out to Vocdoni with the goal of digitalizing his town’s voting processes as part of an election promise to increase direct citizen participation.
Institutional integration is key to further acceptance and implementation. Bellpuig Council’s partnership with Vocdoni validates the demand for guaranteed, universally verifiable and censorship-resistant electronic voting. It is a sure sign that mainstream understanding of the potential value of utilizing decentralized technologies like blockchain to securely and transparently conduct public governance is increasing. However, institutional and regulatory progress is slow.
“The world is heading in this direction, so we’ve got to keep up. My children are usually the ones who help me, but this time around, I went to the town hall to see if I could manage by myself. The truth is, I found it really simple using the QR code reader. It was smooth sailing all the way,” one voter claimed.
It is very interesting to see how small local administrations are the ones breaking new ground by digitalizing their institutions, while larger ones with better resources and greater economic power are holding back and being left behind on these issues. This represents a significant step forward towards democratizing citizen participation, and hopefully, it will encourage more municipalities to follow suit! Looking to the future, we strive to help lead the implementation of long-term change in larger governmental structures to effect the most difference.
Voting with Vocdoni
All 3,458 citizens eligible to vote – those over-16 – received a document in the post explaining the public consultation. It also contained an individualized QR code that enabled them to vote remotely 24/7 after scanning it and introducing their access details. Residents needing support or those without electronic devices, such as the elderly, could otherwise vote in person, using the same QR code, at a polling station set up inside the town hall. This ensured that no one would be excluded from the civic right to democracy.
“It came as a pleasant surprise, as I think that, as a citizen, being consulted on matters such as the construction of a crematorium is quite important and positive. I suppose that having a crematorium probably comes with a whole new set of issues that I’m quite unfamiliar with. But I was pleased to be consulted and given a chance to let my voice be heard.” said Dolors Capdevila, town neighbor.
1095 residents exercised their right to vote in this governance process (31.67% of eligible voters) – an unprecedentedly high turnout for a non-binding local referendum. There were 632 ‘Yes’ votes, 436 ‘No’ votes, and 27 blank ballots.
Digital governance in Bellpuig
Estiarte explained that their decision to implement online voting for this public consultation was to ensure the highest turnout possible:
“We chose digital voting to reinforce the mechanisms behind the right to vote, making it as easy as possible for the residents to share their views on a relevant project for Bellpuig and the region.”
Although the council initially transitioned to an online consultation due to the pandemic, the mayor said they swiftly realized all the benefits it had to offer.
“We thought that this was the direction where consultations would be headed anyway, whatever their nature… Citizens can make their voice heard in the comfort of their homes or their workplace. Even if they’re abroad travelling, they can still exercise their right to vote from across the globe.
If we want democracy to become consolidated, for it truly to be representative, and for citizens to feel useful, we’ve got to change with the times, and making it easier for people to vote is always a good thing for any democratic process, regardless of its scale.”
Several residents echoed Mayor Estiarte’s sentiments:
“I think it makes things so much easier than there might be some inhabitants who aren’t living here at the moment or are away. As it’s something that also affects them, it’s a great way for everyone to exercise their right to vote. The young people who can’t be bothered have no valid excuse as everyone has a mobile phone nowadays and it shouldn’t be a problem for them,” one reflected.
“As residents, the only way we can make our voices heard is by voting. The best thing we can do is to share our input, particularly regarding things being done in town put forth by the town council or a private company,” another expressed.
Local politics in action
According to Spanish law, only the central government is permitted to call referendums. However, local authorities are allowed to hold non-binding polls on certain topics. It is within this legal scope that Estiarte called for a non-binding referendum on the construction of a new funeral parlor in the town. He compromised to proceed according to the results of the vote, irrespective of the turnout, with the legal nuance that he could not formally state that it was part of his council’s decision-making process.
The Vocdoni team assisted the municipal council in holding the referendum between April 21st and May 5th, 2022, on the future of the town’s funeral services. Residents were asked to vote ‘Yes’, ‘No’, or ‘Abstain’ to the construction of a new funeral parlor, ceremony hall, and cremation chamber at a site in the northern industrial area of Bellpuig proposed by local business Funeral Management and Services.
“It’s a project that has sparked some controversy in town. It’s a building that could be controversial in many aspects and could divide the citizens. The governing body decided to hold the consultation considering the alternative. The proposal was to build a funeral facility on industrial land, which is not allowed by the current urban development plan. It’s true that this urban development plan could be amended to allow for this type of infrastructure on industrial land, which is clearly the most suitable place for it.
Certainly, an alternative to the consultation was for a councillor or the government to come to an understanding with a company in an office one afternoon and simply decide to go ahead with this amendment. Well, as the governing body, we simply felt more comfortable holding the consultation,” the mayor explained.
This pioneering referendum, a classic example of local politics in action, is the first-ever 100% digital consultation held by a public institution in Spain. It demonstrates the tangible value of accessible, transparent, and secure digital governance for democracy and society.
Voting systems need to be capable of hybrid voting channels in order to scale: the combination of in-person voting using electronic voting booths at distributed polling stations, similar to paper voting, and remote online voting is a must for ensuring inclusivity to those who aren’t tech-savvy. In addition, blockchain-secured systems running on Ethereum must be gasless to scale decentralized voting technology to the mainstream, otherwise, they are simply not cost-effective.
This is all part of Vocdoni’s vision, and we want to bring that vision to Web3. The situation at present, where DAOs that control hundreds of millions have an extremely low governance turnout, is dystopic. UX is king when it comes to voter participation. This is why we embedded some major UX assumptions in our voting tech, despite it coming at a significant cost in terms of tech complexity and years of development. As well, we are making our voting system available through an API, so that third parties can customize it to meet the specific governance needs of different groups.
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