Thursday, March 01, 2007

Estonia's e-voting Elections

As Estonia is approaching parliamentary elections on Sunday 4 March, it is becoming the first country in the world to use electronic voting over the Internet in national elections. Since the web ballots opened this Monday, more than three percent of the electorate have cast their votes using the Internet. Although this is not more than some 30,000 voters, the introduction of web voting in national elections must be considered a great success.

Estonia is not new to electronic voting. The first proposals were raised already in 2001, but then the President vetoed the decision. Thus, it was not until the 2005 local elections that the system was put to the test. Then, not more than 9,000 people used the Internet for voting. Now, when three days remain till the elections, more than three times the number of voters have chosen electronic voting. For practical reasons though, voting was limited to 26-28 February, presumably coinciding with the time allowed for general preliminary voting. Of these votes, the electronic ones constituted some 19%, which is an impressive figure.

What about practicalities then? It is really quite simple. You need access to the web, a national identification card, and a card reader the cost of 6-7 euro. Then you are set to vote. As many Estonians already are used to filing their income tax declarations in this way, many voters already have everything needed for casting their votes on the Internet.

Then, what if you regret your choice come election day? The principle is simple. Electronic votes are considered preliminary votes, and you simply go to your polling station, withdraw your preliminary - electronic - vote and then cast your vote as usual. It is as easy as that. The question is how many people actually will do that. Experiences of preliminary voting show that only a fraction of votes cast ahead of elections are altered on election day. So, as the system will work nicely when a solid majority is expected, it will probably be questioned when it comes to close elections. Also, as with all preliminary procedures of this kind, allegations of election fraud might possibly be raised. Still, Estonians trust their preliminary voting system - electronic or not.

So, why is it that a small country on the Baltic Sea becomes the first country in the world to allow electronic voting in national elections? Estonia is considered the world's most web-dense country. For young people, using the Internet for daily chores has become a habit. As for e-voting, this is also the group expected to use this opportunity the most - at least judging from the 2005 local elections, when most e-voters were under the age of 35. Whether e-voting will influence election results remains to be seen. The election campaign remains very tough until the last moment, and one should not preclude the possibility that e-voters might miss out on political events in the days remaining till the Sunday elections.


Estonia in World Media (Rus) said...

Nice overview.

You are right in saying that about 19% or so of the voters participated in the preliminary elections, but only a portion of them over internet. The rest went to polling stations or voted abroad in the embassies. Number actually reported is only about 3%, still better than 1% in 2005.

I have to say that Estonia is indeed most internet dense in the Eastern Europe, but Scandinavian countries are still ahead of us by large margine. Not so long time ago broadband penetration was about 13% of homes in Estonia and at least 22% in Finland.

And thank you for your kind words at my place.

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Эстония в мировых СМИ,

Your are quite correct in pointing this out, and adding figures to my overview.

Yes, the share of electronic votes is a mere 3%. That is quite correct.

However, as I understood it, 19% of the preliminary votes were electronic. This should not be confused with the share of preliminary votes as compared to the total number of votes.

Actually, the real share of electronic votes is determined only on Sunday, depending on the percentage of the overall electorate that participates in the elections.

Have I mistaken myself about this? If my figures are wrong, I would be very grateful if you corrected them. Also, it would be very interesting with your comments on the election results next week. I would look forward to this.



rami said...

Glad I read about the e-voting! I am actually quoting you on it in my thesis..

you know there's alot of debate on the fact that internet can bring democracy back to its direct athenian roots.

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Rami,

I am happy that you have taken interest in my blog, and that you even find things I write about interesting enough to include in your thesis. e-voting is really quite interesting, and there should be some analyses from the previous local elections in Estonia, if you would be interested.