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Letter from a reader: In favor of paper ballots in e-Estonia

Members of the Estonian Electoral Committee counting paper ballots after the second round of voting in the Riigikogu.
Members of the Estonian Electoral Committee counting paper ballots after the second round of voting in the Riigikogu. Source: (Siim Lõvi/ERR)

Reader Virgo Kruve submitted a letter to ERR on Monday evening, following the first round of presidential elections in the Riigikogu, defending the continued use of seemingly relatively antiquated paper ballots in the presidential elections of a country famous precisely for its well-established use of electronic voting in local and parliamentary elections.

As we saw in the first round of presidential elections yesterday, the Riigikogu has not made the switch to e-voting for secret ballots. In a democracy, the standard still remains on paper. I will highlight the principal advantages voting on paper has over electronic voting.

1. In a polling place, voting takes place in sight of election officials and this eliminates influencing of the voter. Similarly, MPs were free in their decisions, as officials made sure there were no people interfering in the voting booth.

In electronic elections, the voting booth is anywhere with an internet connection and a voter can be convinced or threatened into casting their vote, and so the freedom to vote is not guaranteed.

2. Voting via paper ballot in a polling division is secret until the end. Nobody sees the choice made on the ballot by the voter. Likewise the collecting of ballots into the ballot box, their removal from the box and their being counted are all publicly viewable and can be photographed.

Officials in the Riigikogu showed [everyone present] that the box was empty before the vote. With electronic voting, one must blindly believe that voting software is honest, that the opportunity to vote for a candidate is indeed provided (i.e. that a bribed programmer has not obstructed this) and that vote-tallying software has likewise been honestly programmed. With electronic voting, access to the ballot box (the creation of servers, passwords), voting software (its misuse would allow the addition of false votes) as well as the tallying of votes are all secret.

3. The counting of votes cast at a polling division is publicly observable and thus the formation of the results is guaranteed to be honest. Voters remain anonymous throughout the process. The counting of electronic votes is a difficult balance between blind faith in the software used in voting and the people using it.

Current laws do not provide for the possibility of recounting votes delivered electronically. Recounts, however, allow for mistakes made in the ascertaining of election results to be corrected. In Estonia, e-votes are never tallied after the first time.

4. Votes being counted in a polling division means that the results are publicly revealed, based upon which the minutes of the election results are drawn up. With electronic voting, the software must be trusted to have correctly calculated the results and was not programmed to give one candidate’s votes to another candidate.

5. A vote cast on paper is cheaper than a vote cast electronically. The printing of paper ballots entails a smaller expense than the addition of some additional opportunities to electronic voting software.

6. Based on all of the above, it is entirely justified that the parliament itself does not use electronic voting for secret ballots and uses paper in order to ensure the freedom of voters and the secrecy of the vote. The ability to see the people conducting the process and repeat processes outweighs the possible mistakes that electronic voting couldn't even remedy.

The elite is always smarter than the average person, and on Toompea Hill they showed that voting by paper remains contemporary.

Editor: Editor: Aili Sarapik

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