Constitutionality of Remote Internet Voting: The Estonian Perspective

Author:Ülle Madise - Priit Vinkel
Position:Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Tartu - Assistant, University of Tartu. Advisor, Elections Department of the Chancellery of Riigikogu

1. Introduction - 2. Description of the concept of Estonian I-voting - 2.1. Electronic Population Register - 2.2. ID card and m-ID - 2.3. System architecture - 2.4. Measures used to ensure voting secrecy - 2.5. ‘Virtual voting booth’ - 3. Analysis of the constitutionality of Internet voting - 3.1. A teleological interpretation of the principle of secrecy - 3.2. Increase of turnout - 3.3.... (see full summary)

Ülle Madise Priit Vinkel
Professor of Constitutional Law Assistant, University of Tartu
University of Tartu Advisor, Elections Department
of the Chancellery of Riigikogu
Constitutionality of Remote
Internet Voting:
The Estonian Perspective
1. Introduction
Estonia has used remote Internet-based voting in ve elections: twice each in municipal and Riigikogu
(parliamentary) elections and once in European Parliament elections. The number of ‘I-voters’ has grown
sharply from less than 10,000 in 2005’s municipal elections to over 140,000 in the 2011 parliamentary elec-
tions. The latter account for 24.3% of all votes cast and 56.4% of the advance votes. Initially, no individual
complaints claiming unconstitutionality of I-voting were led in court. In 2011, the situation has changed:
critical public debate has re-emerged, followed by several complaints.
Only Estonia, Switzerland, Norway and a few other countries allow legally binding remote I-voting,
though some countries are on their way toward its countrywide use. The list of countries that have aban-
doned the use of e-voting in various forms is much longer, including the US, Germany, Finland, and the
Netherlands.*1 France, for example, tries to keep alive the tradition of voting only at the polling station, as
this ritualises citizenship*2, but has allowed proxy voting and recently remote I-voting from abroad. The
reasons for allowing or giving up on I-voting are different, but constitutional questions of whether fair and
free voting can be secured in the case of remote I-voting have always been raised.
We are facing the pressure of the information society*3: people require e-services, yet, on the other
hand, cyber-threats are more serious than ever before.*4 Social changes have already forced countries to
allow remote postal or proxy voting.*5 We have to admit that holding on to old traditions (one single elec-
1 See the database for the Competence Center for Electronic Voting and Participation, at German
constitutional court decision to declare the use of voting machines unconstitutional: BVerfG, 2 BvC 3/07 vom 3.3.2009,
Absatz-Nr. (1-163). Available at (9.10.2011). The
core of the decision in German:
Der Grundsatz der Öffentlichkeit der Wahl aus Art. 38 in Verbindung mit Art. 20 Abs. 1 und Abs. 2 GG gebietet, dass
alle wesentlichen Schritte der Wahl öffentlicher Überprüfbarkeit unterliegen, soweit nicht andere verfassungsrechtliche
Belange eine Ausnahme rechtfertigen.
Beim Einsatz elektronischer Wahlgeräte müssen die wesentlichen Schritte der Wahlhandlung und der Ergebnisermit-
tlung vom Bürger zuverlässig und ohne besondere Sachkenntnis überprüft werden können.
2 L. Monnoyer-Smith. How I-voting technology challenges traditional concepts of citizenship: An analysis of French voting
rituals. – R. Krimmer (ed.). Electronic Voting 2006: 2nd International Workshop Co-organised by the Council of Europe,
ESF TED, IFIP WG 8.6, and E-Voting.CC. Bonn: Gesellschaft für Informatik 2006, pp. 63–64.
3 W. Drechsler. Dispatch from the Future. – The Washington Post, 5.11.2006.
4 J. Farwell, R. Rohozinski. Stuxnet and the Future of Cyber War. – Survival 2011 (53) 1, pp. 23–40.
5 See, e.g., the thorough overview of remote postal voting in N. Kersting. Briefwahl im Internationalen Vergleich. – Öster-
reichische Zeitschrift für Politikwissenschaft 2004 (33) 3, pp. 325–328.

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