Thumbs up for mobile voting

  • 2007-10-03
  • By Joel Alas

TALLINN - The country that hosted the world's first Internet election could soon hold the first mobile phone election, under plans put forward by the Reform Party on Sept. 27.
The proposal could see Estonians use their mobiles to cast votes in the next round of municipal elections, scheduled for 2009.
Estonians can already use a special SIM chip in their mobile phone that acts as a mini-identification card. Around 1,000 people currently have an ID-SIM and use it for banking and as a digital signature.
But is mobile phone voting necessary and desirable, or is it simply a gimmick to boost Estonia's reputation as a tech-savvy nation?

Hannes Astok, a Reform Party parliamentarian, said the idea was not trivial. He said it would help include young people and those abroad who may otherwise avoid voting.
"In the last general election, 6 percent of votes were made via the Internet. So you can't say it's just for technology's sake, it's the real need of the people," said Astok, who formerly headed the E-Governance Academy.

But the proposed system will not be entirely mobile. Voters would still need to log into a website via a computer and enter several passwords. An SMS message would then be sent to their phone, asking voters to confirm their identity by replying.
Although the system still needs computer access, it improves on the current e-voting method which requires users to insert their national ID card into a special card reader attached to their computers - a piece of technology many people lack.
"We have learned that a lot of people do not have an ID card reader, and this give the possibility to use a mobile phone as a validator instead," Astok said.
Experts said the system is secure because the SMS messages are encrypted. Stolen or lost mobiles are also safe from tampering, as the system requires users to enter at least two passwords before their identity is confirmed.

Tarvi Martens, head of Sertifitseerimiskeskus, the private company that administers Estonia's ID card system, said a mobile voting system was ready to implement.
"Technically it's quite straightforward. You need a change of SIM cards and a new contract with one of the mobile operators. You then get private keys and pins. Aside from the visual part of an ID card, it's the same electronic information," Martens said.
The concept remains a proposal. It requires the support of Reform's coalition partners, IRL and the Social Democrats. But Astok said both parties were open to the idea.