E-voting: 10 years on (8)
E-voters come from all income sectors and walks of life, the latest study by the University of Tartu shows. More than 30 percent of the electorate is now casting its vote online and there is no "typical e-voter" say the researchers.
The study conducted by Kristjan Vassil and Mihkel Solvak, two political scientists at the University of Tartu, confirms that e-voting has proven its worth in Estonia in the ten years it has been used. Research further shows that different population groups embrace the innovative technological voting solution in equal measure.
E-voting was first enabled in 2005. The opportunity to cast an electronical vote in the comfort of one's own home was seized by 9,800 people, the majority of whom were well-educated, well-to-do, middle-aged men.
The situation was much the same during the 2007 general election and 2009 EU elections. Back then, e-voting was often seen as a toy of the elites and a maker of winners. "People got the impression that e-voting was more beneficial to some parties than others," Solvak said.
However, the data that he and Vassil have amassed, shows that such fears were unfounded. "E-voters were indeed a very specific group of people back then, but their votes did not weigh the scales in favor of a certain party. It's simply that the part of the electorate that would always vote for the Reform Party, changed the way it cast its vote," Solvak explained. "They would actually go and vote for this particular party anyway, e-voting or no e-voting. But they had been given the opportunity, so they took it."
According to Solvak, the change came about during the 2009 local elections, to which the educated wealthy male hypothesis no longer applies.
"E-voting entered the masses and we suddenly lost the ability to predict who would e-vote. We can no longer say that there is a "typical e-voter". Each constituent, regardless of his or her gender, income, education, ethnicity or even computer literacy has the same statistical probability of being an e-voter," Solvak said.
However, the researchers say that the likelihood of casting one's vote online is connected to how far a person lives from the polling station. Although Estonia is covered rather well - around 70 percent live within an half an hour walk radius of a polling station - those who do live half an hour away, are much more likely to vote electronically.
During the last local elections, every third voter cast their vote online. That number must be compared to every 50th back in 2005.
Vassil said that e-voting is something that "sticks": once someone has cast an e-vote, he or she is very unlikely to make a trip to the polling station during the next elections.
Solvak added that they also noticed how knowing that the vote can be verified increases the people's trust in the reliability of the system. The verification option was piloted during the 2014 EU elections. "Very few people actually verify their vote, but the simple knowledge that it can be done and there is a way to check if your vote was counted just like you intended it to, creates trust," he said.