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Should e-voting experience of Estonia be copied?

Märt Põder

Although electronic voting has been used 13 times in various elections in Estonia since 2005, the legal, procedural and technical problems are far from solved, but have rather backfired in political situation getting more complicated.

Electronic voting is hard to observe because one can't directly see into computers. In case of Estonia, the cryptographic measures to verify the processes are only partially implemented, but as voters have to download a voting application that implements a protocol with a public specification, observers/voters can obtain a special insight into processes by implementing their own tools to cast and verify the votes.

Engaging in that kind of participative observation with special tools in 2023 parliamentary elections in Estonia it appeared that the official voting software implemented the process that was not following the specification up to the point of diverging from requirements set in laws and subordinate regulative acts. In addition to couple of vote containers that were processed ignoring the requirements, in the end it appeared that arguably all 312 181 electronic votes cast with official voting application had invalid digital signatures and failed to specify electoral district in vote text.

In paper ballot elections these kinds of ballots would have been declared invalid without hesitation, but electoral complaints filed about such electronic votes were dismissed without explanation of why ballots clearly not conforming to legal requirements were counted. This has resulted in a parliament where 22 of 101 representatives have arguably gained their mandate based on invalid ballots, but moreover this indicates that after about 20 years of electronic voting in Estonia, in order to run the elections huge amounts of legal and technical make-believe is needed.

If manageable in small scale pilots and elections with low importance, this is hardly a case with 51% of the voters in parliamentary elections casting their votes online -- during times of political polarisation raising to unprecedented heights.