Estonia held parliamentary elections on Sunday, in which a record number of Estonians cast their ballots through the internet. This was Estonia’s fifth election where e-voting was an option and the second national-level poll to allow it. The almost 25 percent of voters who used the internet shows that there is an increasing level of […]
Via Election Updates, comes this story out of Virginia,
Many county and state election officials often lament of low voter turnout, but Surry County, Va. is anticipating 100 percent voter turnout for an upcoming Republican Primary — or a zero percent turnout. A quirk in redistricting means that the county will have to open a polling place for one voter for the upcoming primary. It will cost the county approximately $2,000 to open the polling place for the day and even if the lone voter shows up in the early moments of election day, the county must keep the location open till polls officially close across the state. Registrar Lucille Epps said she contacted the Virginia Board of Elections to ask if the lone voter could be sent to the next closest precinct but was told that was not possible.
Paul Gronke astutely adds:
This is a fun and silly story that Mindy Moretti dug up, but there is a very good reason beyond cost that the voter should be sent to another precinct–privacy! Obviously, Registrar Epps can not report returns for this precinct, but notice that the Registrar CAN’T REPORT PRECINCT LEVEL RETURNS FOR THE OTHER PRECINCTS EITHER, because a simple calculation will reveal the single voter’s choices.
This is a good point, and I wonder about it in a few other contexts. In Norway, for example, the country will be piloting an internet voting system for ten municipalities in their upcoming September local elections. If internet turnout matches that of Estonia’s first trial with i-voting, i-voters would be somewhere around 2 percent. Combine that with the low number of people per municipality, and the low number who vote in local elections, and it’s somewhat possible that you could have an extremely small number of internet voters per area. Maintaining transparency requires the government to post who voted via each method (paper ballot, early voting, internet) as well as the results for each method, so there could be a theoretical risk of being able to identify internet voters’ decisions. In most cases this isn’t that big of a risk, but it’s just a reminder of the many things that have to be considered when developing such a complex system.
The OSCE/ODIHR has just released its assessment of February’s Riigikogu elections. The report devotes considerable discussion to Estonia’s internet voting system, which I’ve previously talked about. Also in the report is a discussion of the state of minority Russians in Estonia. Although technically twenty-six percent of the population, Russians are underrepresented in politial life. In fact, only ten percent of the previous parliaments’ MPs belonged to any minority at all. Furthermore, strict citizenship laws that requre Estonian lanaguage skills mean a large portion of Russians are not even allowed to vote.
Political parties made varying degrees of effort to include persons belonging to national minorities on their candidate lists and to reach out to Russian-speaking voters. One party that explicitly identified itself along ethnic lines did not meet the five per cent threshold. Estonia’s public broadcaster aired some election debates in Russian on TV and radio, while political parties and some individual candidates issued campaign materials in both Estonian and Russian. Issues related to national minorities did not feature prominently in the campaign.
Prior to the elections, the Estonian Cooperation Assembly/Roundtable of Nationalities, a network of civil society organizations, issued an appeal to election contestants and the public to take a more constructive approach to Estonia’s ethnic and linguistic diversity.
Estonia’s party system has been extremely unstable since its independence. Russians initially formed ethnic parties such as the Estonian United People’s Party and managed to gain some representation in parliament. In the last decade, however, ethnic Russian voters started to move their support to non-ethnic, mainstream parties such as the Centre Party and Reform Party. While the latter two haven’t made their platforms extremely Russian friendly – Reform favors stricter citizenship laws than exist now – they have both included significantly more ethnic Russians on their party lists. It’s interesting that mainstream elites have wanted, and been able, to recruit ethnic Russians into their parties. I’m guessing – although open to being corrected – that poor organization and performance of the ethnic parties allowed this to happen. It probably also doesn’t hurt that there are so many ethnic Russians in the country (lots of votes!). It’s my general observation that once ethnic parties become institutionalized, it’s rare for their voters to move to a different party. Estonia might provide a great research design for anybody looking at the impact of strong ethnic parties as the country now has a time series change regarding their salience.
I have a new post over at ElectionGuide.org detailing the upcoming election in Estonia. It’s a basic rundown of the election that discusses, among other things, Estonia’s innovative Internet voting system. I think it’s a fair question to ask if anybody really needs internet voting, and if the potential costs are really worth anything gained. Regardless of the answer to that, I believe Estonia has done an impressive job of making their system as secure and safe as can be. Take, for example, their solution to the problem of vote buying. The privacy of a voting booth, if executed correctly, can destroy much of the potential for vote buying. This is because it makes it difficult for a vote-buyer to verify how a ballot was actually cast. (Yes there are ways around this, that’s why I said “if executed correctly”). This protection would be lost with the ability to vote from anywhere at anytime. Estonia, however, has found a solution to this.
To address this problem, Estonian officials came up with an innovative solution: an elector can cast as many internet votes as they like in the allotted timeframe, but only the last vote will count. In addition, an elector may still cast a paper ballot on election day, which will void all previous votes cast through the internet. This setup destroys the incentive for a vote buyer to purchase a vote, as they have no guarantee that the voter cannot simply change it at a later time
I would also add that this goes above and beyond the state of Washington, which votes entirely by mail, and is theoretically subject to the same level of vote buying.