IT minister: Smartphone camera verification would cut out voter fraud

IT and foreign trade minister Raul Siem (EKRE)
IT and foreign trade minister Raul Siem (EKRE) Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Voter verification should be conducted in future using voters' own smartphone cameras, IT and foreign trade minister Raul Siem (EKRE) says, in order to avoid electoral fraud, and the current, ID-card-based system abandoned.

"Electronic identification would be done on the same basis, a person would conduct a so-called face recognition action on their computer or phone screen, and this is identified by a person's document," Siem said, adding that the process would be overseen by a human being.

"We've all heard the speculation where ID cards have been used by other people," Siem said, noting that his proposed system would get round potential manipulation or voter fraud.

Close to half 2019 Riigikogu election votes cast electronically

A total of 247,232 people cast their votes electronically in the March 2019 general election – nearly half the total vote – an election which saw the Conservative People's Party of Estonia's (EKRE) number of seats nearly triple, from seven to 19.

A total of 565,028 votes were cast, using all methods, out of an eligible electorate of 887,419 (63.7 percent turnout).

Up until now, advanced voting periods involve electronic and postal voting (the former can be changed ahead of election day), and on polling day itself, an official will check the voter's document and issue a ballot paper against a signature.

Siem: Tech already exists and is used by banks, notaries

Siem says that e-elections could and should follow this principle.

The proposal would not be hard to implement, Siem added, given the high-res cameras modern smartphones and other devices now have.

"I am extremely optimistic that we will be able to implement this change by the time of the [planned marriage definition] referendum [in spring]," Siem went on.

Marriage referendum will be e-voting only

The vote on marriage, referred to in two different Estonian words translating as referendum and plebiscite respectively, is currently set for April 18 following an increase in funding for the technological development needed for an e-elections only system.

The referendum/plebiscite is only open to Estonian citizens, but residents of Estonia are generally eligible to vote in next autumn's local elections.

As for solutions in ID verification once the individual has taken a snap of themselves on their phone, Siem said there are several of these, including in Estonia. Veriff would be one example.

E-elections in the past have required an ID Card and its password, which can be used either via a card reader or the Mobile ID smartphone solution.

Veriff chief: Should cost about two euros per individual

Remote verification in the way Siem has proposed has, however, been used by banks and notaries, ERR reports.

Kaarel Kotkas, head of Veriff, said that one individual remote verification using this method would cost around a couple of euros, and is something the company is accustomed to doing already.

EKRE has in the past hit out at e-voting, calling it potentially fraudulent. It's founder and former leader Mart Helme recently stepped down as interior minister after accusing the U.S. elections of the same thing.

At the same time, the planned marriage referendum is an EKRE policy, which it managed to get on to the coalition agreement signed with Center and Isamaa in April 2019.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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