RIA: Speeding up election information system development increases costs

State's Information System Authority (RIA).
State's Information System Authority (RIA). Source: Nelli Pello/RIA

If the government want to hold a plebiscite on marriage next spring the State Information System Agency (RIA) has said it needs more funding to complete the work on the new electoral system or to redevelop the old one.

Two years ago, it was agreed digital voter lists would be introduced at the October 2021 local elections allowing voters to vote in any polling station in their district and to avoid duplication. RIA's work on the new system is going according to plan, but if a vote is held in the spring it will need to be sped up.

Head of RIA's election information systems development department Alo Einla said they are trying to find out what would need to be done faster than originally planned. 

"There are roughly two types of work. There are functionalities related to the referendum so that it can take place and it is, so to speak, basic work. To have firewalls in place and everything related to the technical maintenance of the information system. They must be done in any case," Einla said.

He said if April 25 is the date of the vote, the system itself should be completed by February so that training and security tests can take place. He said there would be greater certainty that everything would work if the referendum was postponed until the end of May.

"There are bad and very bad choices about what stays and what doesn't," he said.

Scrapping current schedule would increase costs

The State Information System Agency has received a total of €1,338,041 for the construction of the new election information system VIS3 in three stages with 85 percent of the funding coming from the European Union. 

Head of the State Electoral Service Arne Koitmäe said from the beginning funding was planned on a project basis.

To complete the system in time for a spring vote, the project based approach would need to be scrapped and money allocated from the state budget as there would not be time to apply for more EU funding. "That way the developments can be completed and funded more quickly," he said.

Alo Einla said if the current development schedule is suspended or changed this will have an effect on the project's entire budget. The State Electoral Service, RIA and a private company taken on to help are still calculating the costs but Einla estimates it will cost between €2-3 million.

Theoretically, the old system can be used instead

At the government's press conference on Thursdsay, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) said that a referendum will definitely take place technical problems will be addressed. Minister of Finance Martin Helme (EKRE) agrees and wants the vote in April.

"The referendum is a very simple matter," Helme confirmed. "You need a list of eligible voters and a ballot paper with a 'yes' box and a 'no' box. If necessary, we'll do it on paper. The functioning of democracy does not depend on whether some new plugin we have is functional."

In order for a referendum to take place with paper lists, the law needs to be amended. The old election information system, VIS2, must then be dusted off and updated. 

Arne Koitmäe said that there is a referendum module attached to the old system, but it was completed more than 10 years ago and has never been used.

"It would need a thorough overhaul. And before that overhaul, it actually needs an analysis of the state of this module to see what needs to be changed," Koitmäe said.

As this analysis is still being carried out, Koitmäe cannot say how much it would cost to develop the old system or how long it would take.

"Putting this old information system into operation may not take less time than implementing the new information system," he said.

He said that if the old information system is to be redeveloped, it will be necessary to carry out work on two election information systems at the same time as the new system is still needed for the October 2021 elections.

The referendum was scheduled to take place in October 2021, alongside the local elections, because EKRE said it cost less to hold two elections at once. Each separate election costs an estimated €2 million.

There will now be two different votes and additional maintenance costs for the election systems.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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