Without leaving home, Estonians submit their electronic vote

  • 2005-10-12
  • By Kairi Kurm
TALLINN - For the first time in history, citizens voted in the local government elections without leaving their home 's in fact, they could do it at the office or even a coffee shop for that matter. All the mobile voter needed was an ID card and a PC hooked up to the Internet.
By the evening of Oct. 12, the final day of voting, 9,317 people had successfully cast their vote electronically. And Prime Minister Andrus Ansip was one of them.

"I decided to vote electronically in order to try the new thing. E-voting gives a good opportunity to plan my schedule better, since I am not in my hometown on the day of election," said Ansip. "The whole voting process took just a few minutes and it was very simple and comfortable."

Estonia's newest leap into the information age did not come easy. President Arnold Ruutel vetoed legislation on the system twice, though he was eventually overruled by the Constitutional Court. The president was primarily concerned with the ability of online voters to change their vote.

Tarvi Martens, manager of the e-voting project, told The Baltic Times that several countries had tried some sort of online voting. Yet previous attempts were conducted at polling-station computers, she said, and did not take place at the national level. In Switzerland, national polls are conducted through the Internet, but not throughout the whole country, and voters' passwords are sent by post.

"In Estonia passwords come with the ID card, e-voting is conducted throughout the entire country, and the results are taken into account. In this way, it is unprecedented," said Martens.

The IT solution for casting votes cost about 4 million kroons (255,600 euros). In the future, the same software can be used for conducting national polls.

E-voting may also be implemented for the next national parliamentary elections in 2007.

Politically, the People's Union had been the only party against e-voting. Tiit Tammsaar, the party's deputy head, told The Baltic Times that e-voting was not quite in accordance with the constitution.

"Normally during elections a voter goes into a polling booth, stands there alone and makes a decision by himself. How do we ensure that during e-voting, even with an ID card, a boss does not stand next to the voter? Or an even simpler case 's'You don't know how to handle this, let me help you,"' said Tammsaar.

He said he suspected that other countries would have tried e-voting long ago if they found it confidential.

According to TV 3, some incidents of fraud were reported in northeastern Estonia. ID cards were being collected from employees of the Narva Bussiveod bus company and the water company Narva Vesi in order to be illegally used for e-voting under another name.

Incidents with collecting ID cards were also reported in Kohtla-Jarve.

Justice Minister Rein Land warned people not to give their ID cards to others, especially with the PIN codes, which represent a digital signature.

E-voting's creators considered such scenarios during development. As a result, they provided for the opportunity to "re-vote" as much as necessary during the pre-election period, after which all previous votes will be deleted (exactly what President Ruutel objected to).

A voter who was illegitimately influenced can cast the vote anew once the "dubious influence" is gone. Should the person go on voting throughout the advance polling days, the electronically cast ballot will be deleted.

The aim of e-voting is to bring more people to the polls. Martens said that other countries could also implement an online system if they had a population register and ID cards.

Estonia currently has one of the highest mobile penetration rates in the EU, as well as one of the highest levels of online banking users in the world.