Estonia: e-voting background

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Estonia has been one of the countries championing e-voting over the last decade. This was a government top-down policy in line with an overall pro e-society orientation which has been firmly maintained by the government and well accepted by the Estonian society.

There are many reasons why Estonian politics have been an excellent test scenario for e-voting. To start with, the country’s limited population, which ensures a controlled investment and data volumes that have to be managed in any e-voting deployment. The stability of Estonian politics, with the same prime minister serving for almost a decade, has also been an advantage in maintaining a steady line regarding many issues, including the strategic choice of exercising e-voting at every electoral opportunity.

Since its launch in 2005, e-voting with binding results has been carried out six times in Estonia: in the local elections in October 2005, the parliamentary elections in March 2007, the European Parliament elections in June 2009, the local elections in October 2009, the parliamentary elections in March 2011, the local elections in October 2013 and most recently the European Parliament elections in May 2014.

During this time Estonia has received praise for its innovative electoral practices as well as considerable security related criticism (system could be hacked to cast fake votes or servers attacked to alter totals) focusing mainly on the country’s two most recent e-voting implementations: the local authority election of 2013 and the 2014 EU Parliament election.

One can claim the Estonians developed their e-voting system ‘in-house’. The government commissioned the technology competencies and services of Cybernetica AS, a purely Estonian company previously state owned. In 2005 the company was privatized, almost at the same time as the e-voting pilots began. Cybernetica is not an e-voting dedicated company and positions itself in the wider ICT security spectrum, providing applications to other fields far and beyond the electoral innovation arena. The company has also developed the country’s electronic ID infrastructure which has served as the basis for the development of the e-voting platform used. The issues and security criticisms would all have been a ‘family-matter’ if the system had been used for Estonian elections alone. But the use of the same e-voting system for the 2014 EU Parliament elections caused certain concerns that need to be thoroughly addressed. We will do so in the two upcoming posts which will also be dedicated to Estonia’s e-voting experience.