euro|topics-Wahlmonitor

9.4.2019 | Von:
Maris Hellrand

More and more Estonians voting online

Estonia is known as the digital pioneer of the EU – also when it comes to elections. A growing number of Estonians are voting online and this is having an impact on election results.

Estonia is the only European country where voters can decide where they give their vote: online or at a polling stationEstonia is the only European country where voters can decide where they give their vote: online or at a polling station. (© picture-alliance/AP)

Estonia is the only country in the EU where voters will be able to cast their ballot online in the European elections in May. In the country's parliamentary elections on 3 March, 28 percent of the electorate made use of this option - the highest percentage since e-voting was first introduced in 2005.

Despite fears that e-voting wouldn't be secure, not a single case of election manipulation has been detected so far. The Estonian National Electoral Committee has assured citizens that the electronic voting process is completely secure and democratic. In an interview with tagesschau.de, Tõnu Tammer of Estonia's Information System Authority said the system was at least as secure as analogue voting: "Just as analogue ballot papers are enclosed in two envelopes, digital votes are double-coded. The system and its procedures are available as protocols - so you can check that your vote hasn't been hacked."

The voters of the liberal Estonian Reform Party were those who made most use of the online voting system. In the parliamentary elections the party received 40 percent of all e-votes and secured 29 percent of the overall vote. It was apparently the most effective party in terms of appealing to the growing number of online voters, with the result that after three years in the opposition it surprisingly emerged as the strongest party. Polls for the European elections also point to growing support for the Reform Party.

E-voters mainly young city dwellers

The explanation for the Reform Party's success with electronic voting lies in its voter base - young, mobile, enterprising, urban. By contrast, the Centre Party, led by Prime Minister Jüri Ratas, has criticised e-voting for years because its voter base feels less at home in the digital world. This approach, however, has also led to its losing votes among online voters, prompting the daily paper Õhtuleht to comment: "Only a short time ago the Centre Party's stance on e-voting was dominated by conspiracy theories. Who knows, the party may have come to power sooner if it hadn't robbed itself of e-votes with this attitude."

Paradoxically, the loudest criticism of the electronic voting system comes from the right-wing populist Ekre. Paradoxical because Ekre secured 13.5 percent of the votes cast online - the highest percentage after the Reform Party. Nonetheless Martin Helme, one of the party's leading figures, was harshly critical of the online voting: The e-vote is a disgrace. It lacks any credibility. We are simply told that we must believe - but I don't just believe, I want to observe and check," he said in an interview with public radio broadcaster Eesti Rahvusringhääling.

Electoral Committee promoting e-voting for European elections

The Estonian Greens Secretary General, Joonas Laks, commented on the issue saying that "44 percent of the voters have cast their vote using software the functioning of which they don't completely understand." The electoral committee's spokesperson Kristi Kirsberg responded by pointing out that the procedure had been monitored by foreign election observers, and added: "Also ahead of the European elections, all those interested in learning about the system are welcome to attend a special training course on e-vote monitoring on 22 April."

IT expert Agu Kivimägi wrote the following in the daily Postimees: "E-voting is very convenient and once you try it out you won't want to vote any other way. Online elections are like a high tower that we have built, visible from afar and admired by other states." Communications expert Raul Rebane also predicted on Eesti Rahvusringhääling that by 2025 e-voting would be the most popular voting method: "When it comes to online voting Estonia is 15 to 20 years ahead of other countries."

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