Microsoft-only Estonian Internet Voting: Troubling Reports (updated)

It’s proving difficult to get first-hand information on the Estonian elections that closed yesterday. As previously reported, Estonia has raced to become the first country to hold a parliamentary election with a legally binding Internet voting channel.


Wired News have filed the most detailed report on Estonian Internet voting. There are some interesting quotes such as a member of Estonia’s National Electoral Commission saying that their goal is to boost participation whilst simultaneously admitting that nobody has proved that e-voting actually can achieve this.


A troubling quote:


“You trust your money with the internet, and you won’t trust your vote? I don’t think so,” said Tarvi Martens, project manager for the country’s e-voting project.



Surely Mr Martens should, of all people, know that e-voting is a fundamentally different problem to e-commerce; very troubling – it’s either ignorance or a he’s being deliberately misleading.


As reported by Wired News the system requires a card reader which much be purchased or received as part of certain banking services. Voting can only be done through Internet Explorer which means that voters must be running Microsoft Windows. This is extraordinary – you can only vote online if running a particular browser and operating system, how democratic is that?


Indeed, according to a BBC News report and FOCUS Information Agency report, only about 3% of eligible voters used e-voting with overall turnout being roughly 30%. EuroNews, in a brief report, contrasts Estonia’s Internet voting with socio-economic problems in the country, indeed is Internet voting the best way to spend tax-payers’ money?


Deutsche Welle has a report on the Estonian elections from a German perspective noting that OSCE “views the on-line development, with skepticism, with many officials doubting the level of protection and security of information.”


In reply to quotes that are generally positive about e-voting, Deutsche Welle have a zinger from the German Ministry of Internal Affairs:


“I-Voting, for judicial and technical reasons, does not do justice to the special requirements of political elections in Germany at the moment,” says Annette Ziesig of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.



Precisely, in fact Internet voting and e-voting in general does not and cannot meet the special requirements of political elections for any country that wants to meet international standards for free and fair elections as set out in the UN and Council of Europe declarations on human rights.


UPDATE: Margus has posted a comment pointing to pages on the Estonian e-voting website which indicate that voting is possible from Windows, Linux and MacOS. It looks like Wired News mis-reported the situation, my reading of the Estonian site is that you can only use Internet Explorer on Windows but Firefox on other platforms is ok.


Comments from the previous version of this blog:

actually linux and mac are supported.
also firefox for windows
17:55:47 GMT 04-03-2007 margus

Thank you!

I was surprised that the Estonians would make an Internet Explorer only system – thank you for that link. I will update my blog post right now.
20:31:21 GMT 04-03-2007 Jason Kitcat

more clarification

see this post here by someone in the know:
22:36:24 GMT 04-03-2007 rayc

Having actually voted electronically these elections, i find the US-originating critique somewhat annoying.

First of all, every last US critic states they are not familiar with the local system. And they are the experts?
Then there is much talk about the elections not being fair and free.

Which elections are? There have been cases worldwide where people have been told to use their camera phones to take a snapshot of their ballots, etc. If a group wishes to apply pressure to voters such a way is found regardless of the election type.

In the same manner booth voting, mail voting and e-voting all feature some risk of vote tampering. Whether it is by means of accessing voter computers, stealing absentee ballots, buying local votecounting officials or tampering with mailed ballots, it is all possible.

So the critics dislike e-voting because it is as unsafe as the regular one? So let’s dump e-banking as well and pray that the bank branch employee doesn’t forge your signature?
11:56:19 GMT 05-03-2007 Fred

Waving the flag


Thanks for your comment (and thanks to Ray for the link about Estonia).

I am based in the UK and I am a dual British/Canadian citizen, this and many other background details are in the ‘about’ section of this site.

So I’m not a US critic but you’re right, I don’t have on-the-ground knowledge of the Estonian system, hence the first sentence of my blog post saying how difficult it was to get information. Nevertheless I get asked about the Estonian system and governments will use the Estonian experience as justification for their own experiments so I feel it is worthwhile commenting on my blog.

No election is perfect and to my knowledge I have never said so. When criticising e-voting I acknowledge the limitations of our existing paper-based systems and accept that they have room for improvement. While all methods of voting has some risk, the scale of undetectable fraud or error possible with e-voting is far greater than possible with any other method.

One million postal votes could not be stolen undetectably, logistically it’s too hard to move that much paper yet with e-voting those kinds of numbers are logistically entirely plausible. Note that banking is a very different problem to e-voting as it isn’t anonymous.

My criticism of e-voting is that it is much, much more unsafe than regular secret Australian paper ballots. E-voting is also more expensive, complicated, prone to error and less accountable and auditable to citizens.
22:43:50 GMT 05-03-2007 Jason Kitcat