First e-elections to be held in 2002

  • 2001-03-08
  • BNS
TALLINN - The first Internet voting to be held in Estonia will be organized Tallinn during the next local municipal elections. Justice Minister Mart Rask and Chairman of the Tallinn City Council Rein Voog agreed at their meeting on Feb. 27 to have an Internet voting option during the local elections, scheduled for 2002.

It is hoped that the success of these "e-elections" in Tallinn will give Estonia the necessary confidence to also use the Internet in general elections.

"Every measure that promotes electoral activity is a triumph for democracy," Voog underlined.

Rask said that people will benefit by Internet voting only if they can use the option at home or in the workplace. "Estonia has a real opportunity to be among the world's leading countries for the number of Internet connections per thousand inhabitants. We must turn our smallness into an advantage.

The justice minister will present the necessary legal amendments permitting e-elections to the government at the beginning of April. The elections to local councils will take place in the fall of 2002. At the end of January, Prime Minister Mart Laar praised the idea of being able to elect both Parliament and local government councils via the Internet in the future.

"The idea of Internet elections cannot be regarded as an aim in itself, but as a means to helping to create equal and additional possibilities for the development of democracy," he said.

Laar cautioned that electronic voting should not replace classical polling, but that it should be one system applicable during the preliminary voting period.

Sociologist Juhan Kivirahk has said that e-elections would probably give more votes to those political forces where younger people dominate their electorate, such as the Reform Party and the Pro Patria Union.

Surveys show that 32 percent of residents aged 15 to 74 have used the Internet in the past six months. Of these, 27 percent used it at home and 50 percent at work.

Estonia may also become the world's first country with an Internet polling option in a referendum for EU membership.

Prime Minister Mart Laar, who met with Rein Voog last week, said that advantage should be taken of the opportunities the Internet has to offer during any EU referendum.

"At the moment, the question only lies with the mapping out of current technical possibilities and subsequently in the application of the necessary technology," Laar said.

The Justice Ministry, which is busy with the legislative aspects of the preparations for e-elections, must, among other things, prepare a referendum bill making it possible to vote via the Internet in an EU referendum.

Estonian politicians have not yet agreed on the date when a referendum on EU membership can be held. The Pro Patria Union has suggested that it could take place as early as next year Ð before Estonia signs its accession agreement.