While the state's electoral body said last week that a planned referendum on the definition of marriage could not go ahead on April 25, now a date of April 18 – a week earlier – has been agreed as possible. The difference is extra funding has been found to get the electronic-only voting system the referendum will use ready for February testing, bringing the date forward.
Following meetings with the three coalition parties' leadership, the State Information System Authority (RIA) and IT firm Nortal, bringing the vote – variously referred to as a referendum or a plebiscite (two different Estonian terms used – ed.) forward to April 18 became feasible, provided funds were forthcoming, the National Electoral Committee (VKK) says.
Oliver Kask, VKK chair, said that the program should be ready for testing in early February.
Kask said: "In that case, we can hope that this referendum will be viable for the second half of April. This is our initial assessment; naturally, the deadline is very tight, and depends in part on the ability of the Ministry of the Interior and foreign missions to send information leaflets to [overseas] voters on time and how well the data exchange with the population register manages to interface. But our initial estimate is that this date (of April 18 – ed.) is realistic."
The deadline does not leave much scope for accounting for any bugs in testing, however, he added.
RIA: We have been working on the assumption that the extra funds will be found
Margus Arm, RIA's deputy director, told ERR that having met with all parties, including Nortal, the VKK and the relevant ministries, the goal of an April vote was in place.
Arm said: "It is clearly not possible to carry this out at the expense of RIA's internal resources alone, but the exact budget is currently unknown. RIA and our partners are working on the basis that additional costs will be found and this will give us the confidence to focus on development."
Developing the system to be used in the vote, known as VIS3, writing up code, auditing, security and risk assessments are all needed, he said.
Oliver Kask added that early February was a feasible deadline for a secure system from Nortal.
There is, however, no plan B for the logistics of the vote – the current VIS2 system also uses paper votes (for instance in the last general election – ed.), making it not viable, ERR reports.
Oliver Kask had informed Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) hat VIS3 would not be ready for April 25 due to the requisite funds not being available in the 2021 state budget, which is still at debate and voting phase at the Riigikogu; the coalition parties submitted a bill, via EKRE MP Kalle Grünthal, Wednesday to hold the referendum on April 18, however.
Kask: Two referendums at same time possible
Oliver Kask says that while it is not possible to ask two questions in one referendum – two variants of a question on the issue of marriage definition had been proposed by the coalition earlier – two referendums are possible.
Kask said: "Formally, this is possible, where there would be two different referendums at the same time, which also means that separate voter information sheets are sent to voters, the actions are duplicated. In this sense, it would not be formally a single referendum, but a multiple one."
Kask said that doing so would put greater demands on the information system, however.
The proposed (by Prime Minister Jüri Ratas – ed.) question in the planned referendum/plebiscite is at present: "Should marriage remain a union between a man and a woman in Estonia?"
Only Estonian citizens may participate in the vote, and the extent to which a result is binding is not clear, with many legal experts pointing out amending the Constitution is not a simple process.
The Estonian Constitution makes no mention of marriage, though the Family Law Act defines it as between one man and one woman in its opening paragraph.
Editor: Andrew Whyte