Twenty Years of Elections in Estonia after Restoration of Independence: from Depositing the Vote to Electronic Voting
20 years ago, in 1992, Estonia regained independence, and the constitutional referendum as well as the elections to the VII Riigikogu were held. Voting has never been exclusively limited to election day.
Over the time new voting methods have been constantly introduced and while some of these methods – like depositing the vote in the polling station before the election day or voting by proxy – have been eventually rejected, many have persisted, and in 2011 elections to the Riigikogu already 43.1% of participating voters voted before the election day by various alternative means.
A landmark decision was made by the parliament in 2002, when Internet voting was introduced for the first time. First implemented in 2005, it has evolved to be the second most popular voting method in Estonia, with 24.3% of participating voters choosing to vote over the Internet in 2011. Internet voting enables people to vote irrespective of the time (within the 10–4 day period before the election day) or place, making it the most flexible voting method of all.
This doesn’t mean that Internet voting is the perfect method since the voter must first overcome several technological obstacles and – most crucially – have trust in the e-voting system. Security issues of I-voting as well as the intricacies of managing the I-voting system remain a debated subject.
It is thus not surprising that I-voting continues to evolve. At the time of writing the article, several new amendments to Acts on elections (186 SE) are discussed in the Riigikogu. The most important new feature for the voter would be the ability to ensure that his/her vote sent to the I-voting system has not been compromised. To achieve this, the voter will be able to verify the vote, using a smartphone application that takes a picture of a QR code supplied by the voting application on the computer. After that the phone app automatically checks whether the code matches the one provided from the central I-voting server. In the case of mismatch, the voter can vote again either by using a different computer or casting a paper ballot.