Vote buying and vote selling are some of the earliest known forms of electoral fraud. The reason why it’s been so pervasive througout time is simple, any time a voter can prove how he voted, the door for this kind of fraud opens.
Although manual voting has seen its fair share of vote buying/selling throughout the history of elections, it is Internet voting –which has only been successfully implemented in a handful of nations– that is receiving most attention in this regard. Critics say remote online voting creates the perfect conditions for such a malpractice, and in our opinion, they have a valid point. After all, how could you prove that the voter who cast the ballot online did so without being bought? How do you know he didn’t profit economically from this most important democratic duty?
Today, there is no easy answer to those questions. However, Estonia -the only country having successfully conducted legally binding national elections using Internet voting- has been able to mitigate the possible effects of this form of fraud by building its system on a few basic premises:
Optional I-voting: Casting an electronic vote remotely is optional for all Estonian citizens -the entire electoral system is based on a paper system. I-voting is just an additional method to enfranchise citizens and it is not conceived as a substitute to its traditional manual voting system.
Early voting: Internet voting is one of the many options Estonians have to cast a ballot in advance. Voters can also go to any polling station and cast a ballot in person during early voting. The window to vote online lasts 7 consecutive days and ends three days before election day.
Multiple voting: Voters can cast multiple votes. The latest of all e-votes will be counted as the valid one. And having voted online -once or many times-, the citizen will always have the right to vote in person on election day, cancelling all previous votes.
Paper dominance: A vote cast in a precinct will always supersede any electronic vote. So, any I-vote bought or sold can easily be invalidated on election day by casting a manual vote. This defeats the purpose of buying a vote.
Harsh penalties to fraudsters: Vote buying or selling is penalized harshly.
Together, these measures eliminate the incentives for those considering buying or selling votes. By allowing voters to cast multiple I-votes and letting the voter to invalidate all those votes by casting a vote in person on election day, the price of each I-vote is lowered considerably, if not completely. Also, the buyer has no guarantee that the I-vote purchased is valid, so there is no incentive to acquire it.
Since the Estonian system was put into place, the percentage of I-votes cancelled by a paper ballot has decreased – from 0.32% in 2005 to 0.04% in 2014 (see the official stats here). Also, the number of multiple I-votes cast went from 4% to 2% of the I-votes counted. That means that every time people feel less compelled to vote several times. If vote selling were an industry, the numbers would look much different. Based on this evidence, it is hard to imagine that vote buying or vote selling have any serious impact in Estonian elections.
“Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net