Expert: Estonia's new e-voting record came as no surprise

Online voting in the 2023 Riigikogu elections on Saturday evening. March 4, 2023.
Online voting in the 2023 Riigikogu elections on Saturday evening. March 4, 2023. Source: Aili Vahtla/ERR

The record-breaking online vote at Estonia's Riiigikogu election this weekend did not come as a surprise, said e-voting expert Priit Vinkel on Tuesday.

Estonia introduced voting at elections in 2005 and, for the first time this year, more than 50 percent of voters cast a digital ballot. Approximately, 313,000 e-votes were recorded compared to 301,000 paper votes.

Vinkel, a senior expert of Smart Governance at the e-Governance Academy, said the trend has been moving this way for years as the number of users has crept up.

"I would not say it was a surprise because the gradual rate of users of internet voters has been highly logical over the years," he told ERR News.

"We see a constant rise and it's becoming normal to choose between these two large groups — voting over the internet or on paper. So, I wouldn't say that it was a surprise.

Priit Vinkel. Source: ERR

"For me, this threshold of 50 percent is just a measure, nothing else. It shows a lot of people have the freedom to choose, and the method they actually use is not so important."

Asked how online and paper voters differ, he said it is hard to tell as there are "fortunately" very few differences between the groups.

"Social demographic indicators are not important at all anymore," he said speaking about studies carried out to look at the issue.

However, one thing does stand out: trust.

"What we see, the main difference between the internet voter and the paper voter is trust in internet voting and usually trust in the government and whole e-governance system as such," Vinkel said.

Asked if turnout is likely to continue rising in future elections, he said: "It's really hard to know".

"But I wouldn't expect a very large rise in the coming years because this equilibrium is more of less there. Maybe a couple of percentage points higher, last time [2019], in comparison, it was 47 percent now its 51 percent. Voting on paper has also been made quite accessible, so I think that it is important that people already find it quite easy to choose the way they want to vote," he said.  

Another reason why it is hard to predict is the impact of the new turnout methodology which added 85,000 extra people to the voting lists, the expert explained.

Asked if allowing people to vote from their phone, which is likely to be introduced next year, will have any impact, Vinkel said he did not think so — at least not on its own.


"I would not say voting is hindered in any way now or that there are some kind of problems with accessibility. I think the biggest change will be when there is a legal solution to allow Smart-ID [authentication]. Currently, you can only use Mobile-ID and ID card", he said. "But if Smart-ID is allowed next time around, this would be a game changer most likely."

Vinkel, who is the former head of the Estonian State Electoral Office, also wanted to highlight that e-voting is "actually, technically verifiable".

"It is mathematically possible to make sure that all the votes that came in are actually the same votes that went to the count. It can also be checked that nothing was taken away or added," Vinkel said, adding the digital signature used to confirm a vote is very secure and lots of checks have been built into the system.

EKRE, which is skeptical of e-voting and transparency around it, is calling into question the validity of the results released on Sunday. An obligatory recount on Monday gave the same result.

EKRE encourages its supporters to submit paper votes. The party received a 27 percent share of all the e-votes cast, one of the lowest. Overall, the party performed worse than expected.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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