Majority of Estonian parties say no to e-elections

Sad news broke off in Estonia yesterday, as the second reading of the e-elections legislation at the Parliament was halted, according to news from Baltic News Service:

Estonian parliament fails to reach agreement on e-election

TALLINN, May 03, BNS – Estonian lawmakers on Tuesday on the strength of ruling coalition deputies’ votes broke off a second reading of a bill specifying the implementation of e-elections.

The People’s Union’s proposal to suspend the reading was supported by 52 MPs from the coalition parties Reform, Center and People’s Union, and the group of Social Liberals. Thirty-one mostly opposition lawmakers voted against the motion.

People’s Union and Social Liberal lawmakers said the bill sought to introduce online voting in an undemocratic and unconstitutional way as e-election secures neither secrecy nor uniformity of voting. They also found that allowing online voting would increase the risk of vote-buying.

Sven Mikser from the group of Social Liberals argued that although the technical system can be made fairly secure e-election does not guarantee what he called human security. In his words, parties can make the amendment serve their own interests.

Reformist Kristiina Ojuland, speaking on behalf of the standing Constitutional Committee, pointed out that IT specialists have unequivocally stated the system is secure and people’s votes will in any case remain secret.

“Even if someone tried to influence a citizen, he still has the opportunity and the right to change his vote by voting again either online or on the election day in the electoral committee,” she noted.

Furthermore, allowing online voting is not going to deprive a citizen of the possibility of turning up at a polling station and casting his vote in the conventional way, Ojuland added.

The chairman of the Constitutional Committee, Urmas Reinsalu from Res Publica, underscored that the possibility of vote-buying exists in both the present system and e-election.

He pointed out that e-election was enacted already during the previous parliament’s tenure in 2002 and the bill would only introduce some technical corrections into the law.

The central electoral commission that devised the online voting system has earlier said it can be applied both in the Oct. 16 local polls as well as in following elections.

The first trial run of the e-election system was during a public opinion poll in Tallinn in January. The system worked without glitches during the trial and the auditors who analyzed it found no shortcomings.

Online voting would take place on the Web site of the central electoral commission and the possibility would be available to ID card holders.

One of the best comments (as noticed by Linnar Viik) was an explanation given by one parliament member, who said that “no, electronic elections are definately not secure, just because in physics the second law of thermodynamics and entropy exist and there are no such things as absolutely secure systems.” If somebody can explain how thermodynamics and e-voting are related, feel free to do so.

It seems one of the key issues in denying Internet-based voting is actually the wish to keep young and more educated people from voting and participating in the society. As long as the voting is done only on paper, young people who have lived all of their adult life online behind the computers, the election turnout will keep decreasing and represent only older non computer literate citizens. Just what the politicians want.

This is just one step on Estonian spiral down the stairs of being an innovator in development of citizen-oriented IT services and technology. During the last years neither the recent governments nor the parliament have done much in this field, still being blinded by the glory of innovations from 5 years back. But as we all know, 5 years of standing still in IT means a lot.