Online Voting

Definition

Online voting – or e-voting (electronic voting) – makes use of the Internet in order to cast a democratic vote. Online voting can be used in representative democratic systems in order to increase voter turnout in local, state or national elections or it can be part of democratic innovations like referendums. Moreover online voting is increasingly used within political organizations. Estonia is the most prominent example of a nation using online voting in parliamentary elections. It was the first country to use online voting in a national election in 2007 and has since incorporated online voting as an optional voting mechanism (besides regular paper ballot voting).

The concept of Liquid Democracy created around the German Pirate Party is an example of a democratic innovation employing online voting. Different online platforms use the principles of Liquid Democracy by giving users the options to collectively write texts in wikis. Online voting is employed to express approval of alternative text versions. Liquid Democracy also makes use of delegated voting, making votes transferrable to other, trusted people. Delegated voting (or proxy voting, absentee voting), a mechanism originally used to enable those who are unable to physically move to the ballot (because of sickness, old age etc.) to cast their vote through others, is currently expanding due to the possiblity of online voting.

Other methods employing online voting are Wikivote, Deebase, and Electronic Direct Democracy.

Problems and Purpose

The overall purpose of online voting is to increase political participation. The use in elections in representative democracies aimes at countering democratic fatigue and apathy. Taking Estonia as an example, there are indicaters – however weak – that online voting might indeed have a positive effect on voter turnout, which has steadily increased at each national election from 58% in pre-online voting (2003) to currently 64.2% (2015). Increasing political participation is also the goal of democratic innovations and new participatory mechanisms in political organizations. Liquid democracy is mainly employed within Pirate Parties as a means to democratize party structures and create new horizontal, participatory political organizations. The idea that online voting can increase political participation is also at the heart of many technotopias of the 1990s, which invisioned an inclusive cyberdemocracy through the means of digital referendums. 

History

Predecessors of online voting can be identified in the use of voting machines, which date back to the late 19th centruy in England and the US. The controversies surrounding online voting today are mirrored in the controversies surrounding this early use of voting machines. In the 1980s developments around the term teledemocracy made voting possible making use of tv sets via teletext. The discussion about electronic voting picked up momentum in the early 1990s through the increasingly popular access to the internet and the rapid development of the world wide web. The USA and Switzerland, relying on their experience in direct democracy, voting machines and postal voting, were among the forerunners of developing online voting. Somewhat surprisingly, Estonia was the first country to employ online voting in national pariamentary elections in 2007.

Analysis and Lessons Learned

Online voting is confronted with some harsh criticism. Online voting heavily compromises the secret ballot, one of the major priniciples of Western type democracies. If voting processes do not make use of public voting booths but rather take place in private homes, pressure of more dominant household members (mostly men) could be exerted on weaker ones. These worries, however, also affect postal voting. Online voting also opens possibilities for election fraud by governments or other bodies. While developers of online voting systems have generated intricate security systems, none of them can rule out fraud entirely. Once again, this is also true for paper ballot elections. The electronic mediation of elections, however, opens new possibilities for large scale fraud as voting results could theoretically be changed with a few mouse clicks.

One proposed solution to the security of online voting are end to end auditable voting systems which make use of encryption technology to enable a voter to verify that their vote has been tallied correctly, whilst ensuring absolute privacy with nobody else able to access their vote.

 

External Links

Serdült, Uwe, et al. (2015) Fifteen Years of Internet Voting in Switzerland. Paper presented at Second International Conference on eDemocracy & eGovernment (ICEDEG), 8-15 April 2015, Quito, Ecuador. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283878260_Fifteen_Years_of_Inte...

 

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