Election Universe

Estonia, the unstoppable leader in online voting

Estonia, the unstoppable leader in online voting
July 01 2019, 13:02

A significant 43.75% of Estonian voters who participated in the latest EU Elections cast their ballot online, a new record for Internet voting. The Baltic country keeps dominating the global statistics with its online voting as a secure and convenient option among voters.

In May 2004 the European Union had its most significant single expansion after eight Eastern European countries (alongside Malta and Cyprus) joined the EU. Estonia was one of them.

During these 15 years, Estonia not only joined the European Union but became a global leader in e-government and digital transformation. “Fifteen years in the EU has brought us a whole new quality of life,” recently wrote Siim Kallas, Second Vice-President of the Riigikogu (Estonian parliament.) The Baltic state has introduced an advanced national ID system, which citizens use not only to access and manage personal, health, and tax records, but also to vote online.

A potent combination of technology and political will

According to the Estonian government’s director of state information systems, Andrus Kaarelson, his country’s rapid digital development is not solely due to its technology. “Technology is just an enabler. There has to be the political will to make the change happen,” said Kaarelson at the 2019 Digital Government Conference earlier this year in London.

Likewise, Tarvi Martens, Chairman of the Estonian Electronic Voting Committee explained it takes two things to introduce internet voting in a country, “first, an electronic identity infrastructure (ID card or mobile ID). Second, it takes political will. You must make a start, at least at a research level. Introducing a new voting method is a broad, society-embracing topic and might take a long time. Just have in mind that at some point internet voting will be inevitable.”

Estonia’s 1.3 million citizens can vote on the Internet since 2005 when online voting was first introduced. It is the first -and only- nation to offer legally binding general elections over the Internet.

A persistent record-breaking leader on e-voting

Estonians have gone to the polls twice this year, and with each election, online voting reports have improved. Over 880,000 Estonian voters have cast their vote through Internet since 2005. For instance, in the 2019 Parliamentary Elections (February-March), 44% of participant voters cast their ballots online (28% of the electorate,) a significant increase from the 30.5% online votes registered in 2015.

In the May European Parliamentary elections, the country elected six new MEPs (and a tentative seventh for when the UK will leave the EU). According to ERR’s Estonian online news, the country’s turnout totaled 37.6%, which exceeded by one point the turnout for the previous EP elections in 2014.

One exciting feature is that after eleven elections, most of the early voters in Estonia (70%) keep choosing the online voting option. Voters who take advantage of exercising their right online, during the seven-day window of early voting, are mainly those between the ages of 25 and 45, those living further away from polling stations, people with a disability who rather vote from home, and citizens travelling or residing out of the country, as stated by the Electronic Voting Committee.

Furthermore, public trust in the process has been critical to its success. The Estonian society has adapted to constant innovation and high-tech national infrastructure, including the development of a reliable cybersecurity system and robust election technology solutions. Tonu Tammer from the government agency in charge of the security of Estonia’s computer networks said, “trust is the paramount factor in making sure that Internet-based voting takes place.”

Estonia keeps demonstrating its global leadership in online voting. And the Smartmatic-Cybernetica Centre for Excellence Internet Voting is proud of being part of the team developing and continually improving the Estonian i-voting platform.