S14 E21: Rafael Cordon on Saving Elections in Guatemala with Bitcoin

In the fall of 2023, Rafael Cordon saved the integrity of the 2023 general elections from Guatemala by leveraging the power of OpenTimestamps on Bitcoin. This might be a big statement, but using Bitcoin’s immutable blockchain as a tool to timestamp is something that more governments should do. And this is certainly a use case that will further legitimize Bitcoin as an invention in the following years.

Simple Proof, Rafael Cordon’s start-up, is a company that deals with irrefutable truth to counter forgeries. Not campaign promises, not institutional bias and commissions that investigate voting ballots. In the fall of 2023, amidst allegations of election fraud, Rafael Cordon used OpenTimestamps to prove that the tally sheets were submitted at correct times and therefore allegations of submitting votes outside of the allocated time were false.

OpenTimestamps has been around for about a decade now. Created by former Bitcoin Core developer and applied cryptography consultant Peter Todd, it makes use of the Bitcoin blockchain to prove that certain pieces of information existed at a certain point in time. Timestamps are basically small amounts of data which get embedded in the blockchain through a transaction, and then the information gets verified against this ledger of immutable truth.

Most famously, Peter Todd used OpenTimestamps in May 2017 to “carbon date” the entire Internet Archive (better known to users as the Wayback Machine, which currently features more than 1 billion files) in only one Bitcoin transaction. The protocol has previously been used for preventing intellectual property theft, or to present irrefutable evidence to courts.

However, Rafael Cordon’s Simple Proof took it to the next level by securing more than 125.000 documents related to the presidential elections in Guatemala – then even released a 17-minute documentary titled “Immutable Democracy” to explain the process (directed by Javier Borrayo).

For the reasons presented, I was thrilled to have Rafael Cordon on the show in order to ask him questions about Simple Proof, OpenTimestamps, and what the future reserves for these cool Bitcoin projects. Since ordinal inscriptions are the peak of the popularity, I thought it was interesting to focus on a non-monetary use case that is less divisive among bitcoiners.

Rafael Cordon’s Simple Proof: Upholding the Integrity of Digital Information in Guatemala’s 2023 Elections

Rafael Cordon introduced me to Simple Proof’s mission: to uphold the integrity of digital information using the Bitcoin blockchain for timestamping. He shared their recent collaboration with the Guatemalan government to create an immutable backup of digital records of vote tally sheets. This innovative approach protects against misinformation and document alteration, ensuring the integrity of the election process.

OpenTimestamps: A Protocol for Truth

The concept of timestamping on the Bitcoin blockchain was created by Peter Todd through the protocol called OpenTimestamps. Rafael explained how OpenTimestamps allows anyone to timestamp documents on the Bitcoin blockchain by generating a Merkle tree to store the root hash. Simple Proof worked closely with Peter Todd, who advised them on using Open Timestamps for their system.

Ensuring Fair Elections with Bitcoin’s Blockchain

Our conversation delved into the use of Open Timestamps to ensure fair elections. Rafael shared how Simple Proof showed the Guatemalan government the value of generating an immutable record of election information. He clarified that Simple Proof does not count votes but timestamps the information, allowing individual citizens to verify the existence of the tally sheets used for data entry.

The Power of Transparency and Certainty

We discussed the importance of transparency and certainty in elections and how blockchain-based timestamping can provide a secure and unalterable record of when digital information was created. Rafael emphasized that this technology can be applied not only to elections but also to other areas such as intellectual property, the justice system, and digital evidence.

The Challenges and Future of Timestamping

We also touched on the challenges posed by advancements in AI technology, which can generate fake information that is difficult to distinguish from genuine content. Rafael Cordon suggested that a combination of timestamping, PGP, and digital signatures can help certify the truth and combat misinformation. Looking ahead, Simple Proof’s roadmap includes incorporating PGP and digital signatures into their solution.

Bitcoin and Blockchain Technology in the Public Sector

Our conversation revolved around the potential uses of Bitcoin and blockchain technology in the public sector. Rafael highlighted how approaching Bitcoin as an unalterable source of truth or information can help open doors for its adoption in government. He emphasized the importance of using Bitcoin to safeguard digital information, particularly in the public sector.

NFTs, Open Timestamps, and Digital Art

The discussion then shifted to the concept of NFTs and their use in proving the authenticity and ownership of digital art. Rafael explained that while NFTs have the additional property of transferring ownership, Simple Proof’s focus is on upholding the integrity of public information.

The Impact of Regulatory Clarity on Bitcoin Adoption

Rafael Cordon and I discussed the importance of regulatory clarity and transparency in the adoption of Bitcoin by large corporations. Rafael challenged anyone to find a compliance department in a non-cryptocurrency company that supports Bitcoin, highlighting the general skepticism and preference for government-approved assets.

The Power of Democracy and Transparency

We discussed the importance of being able to remove leaders from power through democratic processes. Rafael agreed, stating that their project aims to provide more guardrails for transparency in the democratic process.

Online Voting: A Boomer Story

I shared my initial enthusiasm for online voting, believing it could transform our democracy into a direct democracy. However, after conducting research for my bachelor thesis in 2014, I quickly realized the drawbacks of this idea.

Exploring New Developments in the Bitcoin Space

I mentioned my interest in exploring various projects related to Bitcoin, such as the Liana wallet, which allows users to lock their coins for multiple years. Rafael shared his Twitter handle, @rafa_cordon, for anyone who wants to reach out to him.

My conversation with Rafael Cordon was enlightening, shedding light on the potential of Bitcoin’s blockchain technology in upholding the integrity of digital information. I encourage everyone to check out the documentary at film.simpleproof.com to learn more about their work.

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While listening to Rafael Cordon, use these time stamps:

The use case of Bitcoin in Guatemalan elections (00:01:12) Rafael Cordon discusses the use of Bitcoin in the Guatemalan elections to prevent fraud and uphold the integrity of digital information.

Introduction to OpenTimeStamps and its protocol (00:03:39) Rafael explains the OpenTimeStamps protocol created by Peter Todd, which enables anyone to timestamp documents on the Bitcoin blockchain and store a hash using a Merkle tree.

Simple Proof’s integration with the Guatemalan election system (00:08:47) Rafael describes how Simple Proof integrates with the preliminary result transmission system in the Guatemalan elections to timestamp the vote tally sheets on the Bitcoin blockchain, providing a way to verify the authenticity of the documents.

Bitcoin and tampering with voting information (00:12:37) The discussion revolves around how Bitcoin can be used to prove the authenticity of voting information and debunk claims of tampering.

Timestamping in elections and its benefits (00:14:00) The conversation focuses on the benefits of using timestamping in elections, including cost savings, transparency, and the ability to reorganize elections if needed.

Other potential uses of timestamping (00:15:19) Rafael Cordon and Vlad discuss the potential applications of timestamping beyond elections, such as intellectual property, the justice system, and digital evidence.

Government Adoption of Bitcoin and Cloud Technologies (00:23:33) Rafael Cordon explains how governments initially resisted adopting Bitcoin and cloud technologies, but later realized the benefits of using them for unalterable information and data storage.

Using Bitcoin to Safeguard Digital Information (00:24:55) Rafael Cordon suggests that using Bitcoin as a means to safeguard digital information can lead to a broader adoption of Bitcoin as a form of money.

NFTs and Open Timestamps for Provenance (00:26:31) We debate the use of NFTs and open timestamps to prove the authenticity and provenance of digital assets, such as artwork, and the potential for tracking the number of creations by famous artists.

The response to the article about Bitcoin’s use in elections in Guatemala (00:35:36) Vlad and Rafael discuss the response from the Bitcoin community after an article was published detailing Bitcoin’s role in the elections in Guatemala.

Carlino’s ambitious ideas for Bitcoin adoption in Central America (00:37:19) Vlad and Rafael Cordon talk about Carlino’s vision of using Bitcoin to bring together Central American countries under a unified currency.

The Bitcoin scene in Guatemala and grassroots adoption (00:42:39) Rafael describes the Bitcoin community in Guatemala, which includes startups addressing remittance use cases and the Bitcoin Lake experiment in Lake Atitlán. The speakers also express their preference for grassroots adoption over government imposition.

The clarity of regulations for large corporations (00:47:11) Discussion on the importance of legal interpretation and regulatory clarity for large corporations in adopting new technologies like Bitcoin.

Startups and their flexibility with regulations (00:48:11) Exploration of how startups have more room to maneuver and take risks due to the absence of specific laws regulating new technologies.

The impact of regulatory clarity on large corporations (00:49:37) The significance of regulatory clarity in encouraging large corporations to adopt new technologies, with the example of El Salvador’s legal recognition of Bitcoin.

The Utopian Vision of Online Voting (00:59:10) Vlad Costea describes his initial enthusiasm for online voting and the belief that it would transform a broken representative democracy into a utopian direct democracy.

Underutilized Technology and Consultancy Services (01:00:29) Vlad and Rafael Cordon discuss the underutilization of open timestamps technology and how people can contact Simple Proof for consultancy services.

The Power of OpenTimestamps (01:01:23) Vlad and Rafael highlight the significance of open timestamps and its potential consequences when used correctly.

Vlad Costea

I'm here for the freedom, censorship-resistance, and unconfiscatability. What about you?

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