Estonia sets new e-voting record
Estonians were called to the polls in March to choose a new parliament. The election saw a record turnout with the highest number of voters since 1992 – even though many people did not even show up at the ballot box. More than half of the votes were cast online. Welcome to e-Estonia!
by ALEXANDER WELSCHER
Estonia is a digital nation and the parliamentary election on 5 March once more proved it. A stunning 51% of the votes were cast online – making Estonia the first country in the world where electronic votes outscored physical paper ballots. In total, more than 313,000 voters opted for an e-vote, compared to over 301,000 voters who went to a polling station, according to data from the Election Commission in Tallinn. This set new records for both online and paper voting, and also brought the turnout to a new high – never before had so many people exercised their right to vote in a Riigikogu election. Estonia has long been seen as a pioneer in digitizing the democratic process and was the first country to allow online voting in political elections. While it is internationally considered controversial due to security concerns, e-voting has gained wide acceptance in Estonia. The number of citizens taking advantage of the undeniably convenient option of voting on their own electronic device has gradually increased since it was first introduced in 2005. Back then, only 1.9% of the votes were cast online at the local government election. Now the number has reached 50.98%. The many e-voters also included President Alar Karis and Prime Minister Kaja Kallas. The Estonian head of state submitted his digital ballot at a free internet point at Kiidjärvi Library in Põlva County. “Everyone is free to decide how they want to vote in the elections. I trust the e-state and e-voting as much as I trust all other e-services, from the bank to the tax office. My appeal is simple: go and vote!”, Karis wrote on Facebook after casting his e-vote. Similarly, Kallas also underlined how vital it is for every Estonian citizen to make use of their democratic right to vote. Personally, the Estonian Prime Minister and chairwoman of the liberal Reform party has favoured e-voting for many years now, casting her vote digitally via her laptop at a bookstore in Tallinn. “At the last election, I went to a polling station, which seemed so weird, because I had not done that for years”, she told Estonian Television after making her choice online in front of a crowd of onlooking reporters.
Many voters of Kallas’ party traditionally also prefer e-voting, which became a game changer this time round. When the e-vote results were announced, the election results were flipped on their head and pushed the Reform party far ahead to a resounding victory. Among the reasons for this were especially Kallas’ strong stance on national security and her support for Ukraine.
Voting experience, scepticism and the German factor
However, not all Estonians are fans of e-voting – some voters prefer the traditional voting experience over the quick and easy online option. “Voting at home via the internet is a little boring. When you do it here, you feel that you are really doing it – you somehow have a better feeling”, said saleswoman Tanja (38) to the Baltic Business Quarterly at a polling station in a shopping centre in Tallinn. Several other respondents of various ages and genders also said they prefer the “old-fashioned way” of voting on paper. Some voters and couples who came to vote with their children said they wanted to show to their offspring how an election works in real life. However, in general they had nothing against e-voting – unlike several respondents who expressed doubts about the security and functional reliability of the internet voting process that has also become politicized. One political party – the right-wing populist Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) – had discouraged its voters from using online voting and later also officially disputed the results. But its repeated effort to annul them failed.