Estonia eager to lead world in e-voting

  • 2005-06-15
  • By Ksenia Repson
TALLINN - Parliament's constitutional committee has introduced amendments to a bill that would put Estonia on the forefront of online elections, making the Baltic state the first country in the world where voters wouldn't have to leave home to cast their election ballots.

The bill, which would implement e-voting for the October 2005 local elections and national Parliamentary elections in 2007, was being discussed in its second reading on June 15 as The Baltic Times went to press. If ratified, the legislation will be adopted in its third reading.

"I think that we have not yet sufficiently deliberated all the problems related to the arrangement of electronic voting. [Online elections] must follow the principle of uniformity and guarantee the reliability of personal identification," President Arnold Ruutel said after refusing to promulgate the local government election act that was adopted by Parliament last month.

In Ruutel's resolution, published on his official Web site, he said the act had to be deliberated further so that it conformed with Estonia's constitution.

However, according to the president's press secretary, Ruutel could also see some positive aspects to online elections. The implementation of e-voting, he said, would offer an open opportunity to increase the electoral turn out, thus enhancing the legitimacy of state power.

What's more, the president stressed the necessity of discussing how to avoid illegal online election propaganda, which could strategically influence the will of the voters "at the wrong time and in the wrong place."

In response to the previous draft, which contained a provision giving citizens the right to electronically change their vote, Ruutel retorted that "this imperfection" violated the constitution.

"Such a provision contradicts the principle that local government council elections must be uniform, as stipulated in Subsection 1, Article 156 of the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia," the president wrote, adding that a person could vote only once, and each vote had to have the same weight.

During the legislation's first reading, the constitutional committee turned down a proposal by the People's Union not to legislate e-voting at all. A suggestion by Janno Reiljan, a party member, to allow e-voting only at polling stations was also rejected, along with Centrist Evelyn Sepp's motion to postpone the bill until 2006.

In its general description of e-voting, the National Election Committee ensured that personal identification security would be a priority. Using digital signatures and ID-cards, committee representatives said, the system should face no technical obstacles.

As of June 14, there were 779,057 Estonians 's at home and abroad 's with standard issue ID cards. By the October elections, this number should approach 800,000, meaning that most of Estonia's eligible voters would be covered.

According to the election committee, Internet voting is as secure as a traditional polling, as it is based on a so-called "envelope method" where voters create an "inner envelope" with an encrypted number of candidates and an "outer envelope" that is signed digitally using the ID-card PIN-code. However, in order for this to work, a special ID-card reader must be connected to the voter's PC.

As complicated as it may sound, an online voting trial was successfully conducted in Tallinn in January of this year. During the public poll, concerning the location of the War of Independence Victory Monument, nearly 14 percent of participants chose to vote online. o