One thing is clear, digital solutions provide us freedom and flexibility. In all ways possible.
Apparently, life has played cards in a way so that I have never been physically in Estonia during the time of any elections. This time is no different. My long-awaited vacation turned out to happen during another local election. Considering which country to fly to I did not have to spend my time thinking about whether there are any Estonian Embassies nearby. My “polling station” could be wherever I would open my MacBook. This time it happened to be the beautiful city of Paphos in the Republic of Cyprus.
But let’s talk about the biggest benefits of i-voting itself: low costs, flexibility, no contact with anybody (extremely essential during the new wave of the pandemic), inclusiveness. Estonia introduced i-voting already 16 years ago. The number of people participating in the election by using an i-voting application has risen each time. Last time, in the year 2019 during the European Parliament elections more than 46% of people cast their vote online.
During these local elections, we had a new record amount of votes cast online- 275 587, an increase of almost 30,000. There was a 6-days period to cast a vote online this year – but in case the voter needed to change their choice electronically, they had a chance to do it any time during the election week until Saturday evening. From the 2021 elections, voters could also change their i-vote by voting on a paper at a polling station on Sunday, the election day. Almost 2,000 people cancelled their e-vote with a paper ballot and there were 23,600 repeat voters this year. It’s very difficult to conclude the reasons behind it.
I have been asked a lot, why do around 50% of people still go to the polling stations in person. Speaking of the results of my investigations to figure out the main reasons- some people still feel elections are so special that they want to physically visit a polling station and also show their kids that it is necessary to vote. Some people, who vote for the first time, also want to have their in-person voting first experience and some have traditions that are not easy to change.
But let’s also hear what the expert has to say about the last local elections?
“These elections set new records of Internet voting usage in multiple ways. First, a new record of a nominal number of Internet votes was cast. Second, an increase of 15 percentage points in i-vote usage share nationwide compared to the last local elections of 2017 was recorded. Third, the 50% usage threshold was broken in multiple counties for the first time in local elections. For example, in Harju county, the biggest county in the country in terms of population size, that surrounds the capital Tallinn, 55% of voters voted over the Internet and a new record of 57% of Internet votes were cast on Hiiumaa, the second biggest island in Estonia.
Somewhat unexpectedly the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic did not produce such a large increase in overall i-vote share, but it did continue the growth trend of Internet voting usage recorded almost in every election since the introduction of this voting mode in 2005. While we will get more precise data on voter perceptions and behaviour in the coming weeks it seems that regardless of the pandemic and the social disruption it has brought, as well as the social media-induced political turmoil around elections globally the Estonian voters do trust the Internet voting and have accepted it as a normal way of voting, and in large population segment even accepting this as the central mode of voting. Past survey evidence has shown that on average 70% of eligible voters trust Estonian Internet voting and this share has been stable at that high level for the past four years, ” shared Mihkel Solvak, Director of the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, University of Tartu.
So here I am, sitting on the balcony, enjoying a stunning sunrise and designing the future of the city I live in. Because I can – no matter my current location or time-zone. This is exactly how elections should be organised – being convenient, fast and efficient. With no need to wait in a queue- but casting your vote wherever you need to be inspired by.
digital transformation adviser at the e-estonia briefing centre