The fifth rule in e-voting trust: securing global acceptance

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It is important to document international experience when it comes to e-voting. The 2014 European Parliament election in Estonia is a case study that brought up yet another issue, that of global trust towards any e-voting deployment.

Based on the premise of stakeholder acceptance of any electoral process we have established a minimum set of rules that have to apply when it comes to e-voting trust.  However when examining the most recent Estonian example we came across an additional form of trust, that of international stakeholders.

The European Parliament is a supranational institution. EU country members elect their national EMPs who will later become the group members of European Political Parties. Since EU policies are supported or opposed by the EU parliamentary groups, these policies will have a direct effect on European citizens. In that sense when it comes to EU parliament elections every national electorate have a stake on the outcome of the vote of all the rest EU country members. The argument is: “if we are going to be affected by the decisions of your representatives then you have to put robust processes in place in order to elect them.” More or less the same argument was made by the Britons after the Estonians had lost face about the robustness of their e-voting system over the 2013 election.

Since there were expert reports of formally invited observers who contested the security mechanisms of the 2013 Estonian e-voting deployment, it was no surprise when the subsequent 2014 election raised non-Estonian voices over the appropriateness of using the Estonian e-voting system for the 2014 EU Parliament ballot. What was good enough for Estonians didn’t really look good in the eyes of the rest of the world.

So what is the issue when it comes to global trust in e-voting practices?  In case of Estonia there is nothing wrong with its democracy or its citizenship for that matter. So it all comes down to the Government’s decision to trust Cybernetica as their sole e-voting vendor. The Estonian state sector may have a long lasting relationship with Cybernetica, being a state owned company for a long time before being privatized. But Cybernetica is practically unknown to the rest of the world, for its electoral applications at least, since it is not a dedicated e-voting technology supplier but rather extends its expertise to a series of security technology applications, mainly in the naval industry, although that didn’t really prove helpful around the sea of political disbelief.

Cybernetica cannot claim that its system was developed following some specific international technical directive about e-voting.  The European Union has not yet adopted the Swiss Federal example where standards are set and e-voting suppliers have to conform accordingly when servicing any particular member state; we may see that in the future. So as it seems when there are no political issues, global trust in e-voting relies on well founded technical performance. In the absence of globally accepted technical e-voting standards excellence becomes the absolute performance measure, but yet again one has to aim high to achieve excellence while Cybernetica seems quite content only catering for Estonian e-voting demand.  In view of future e-voting deployments with an international effect, Governments around the world will have to consider e-voting suppliers with a strategic international orientation, in an effort to secure their e-ballot and its global acceptance.