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Estonia election: i-voting comes of age in the world’s ‘digital republic’ with record ballots

For the first time since Internet voting was introduced in Estonia, more digital votes have been cast in this month’s general election than physical paper ballots. 

The Baltic nation introduced i-voting in 2005 as part of a drive to push e-government and digital services at all levels of society, meaning residents can open a bank account, sign documents, file taxes, or get a prescription — amongst other things – over the Internet.

The only service that’s limited is filing for a divorce, and the high levels of participation in the election reflects the trust the public has in the integrity of Internet voting. 

“All of our elections: local, national parliament, and European elections, have i-voting components, and now when digital votes have overtaken traditional votes it speaks volumes about our trust,” said Erika Piirmets, a digital transformation adviser at e-Estonia.

“We do have political parties who are against i-voting, and we have a discussion happening now in Estonia about this. We have to be aware of concerns, and share more information and be even more transparent to show how safe the system is,” she told Euronews Next. 

Other countries have tried to introduce their own versions of Internet voting, like in Canada and Switzerland, but with limited success. Piirmets reckons Estonia has been a stand-out success because of the strong electronic identity systems that everyone uses, which is one of the building blocks of i-voting.

How do you vote on the internet in Estonia?

Casting a ballot through Internet voting in Estonia can be done from a computer, with eligible voters using an ID card and card reader, as well as PIN codes for security. 

Once voters have cast their ballot ahead of the election, they can always change their mind by voting in person on election day with a physical paper ballot which cancels out the previous i-vote. 

Voters first have to download a voting application, then put their ID card into the reader and verify their voting and district eligibility. 

Once logged on, they’ll a list of candidates and they select the preferred one. They have to put in a PIN code to verify the vote with their digital signature, and that’s the process complete. 

Why has i-voting been so popular in Estonia?

One reason perhaps why i-voting has been so popular and successful in Estonia is that it introduced digital systems at a time when there was less thought given to systems security and integrity. So, over the years, with not a single proven case of i-voter fraud, Estonian voters have become very used to it. 

“We rolled out the services so early on that people weren’t possibly aware of the different security issues that would come with it,” explained Piirmets.

“Right now if we would be in the same situation and trying to make i-voting available, I think there would be more resistance because people would be more aware now that these systems could be vulnerable to attack,” she added. 

A natural digital divide

With another election complete, are there any patterns emerging about who uses i-voting and who doesn’t? Is there a digital divide in Estonia along age or native-language lines?

E-Estonia says there is still definitely a divide with both i-voting and digital service in general, but no clear pattern that older people, for example, shun technology. 

“People have their personal preferences, how they want to consume digital service, and we can’t draw only one profile of who is a voter,” said Piirmets. 

Estonian authorities haven’t yet released information about any possible attempted attacks on the i-voting system during the 2023 election cycle.

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