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Last Updated: Friday, 14 October 2005, 17:35 GMT 18:35 UK
Estonia forges ahead with e-vote
By Laura Sheeter
BBC News, Tallinn

Voters in Estonia are going to the polls on Sunday in local elections but, for the first time, nearly all of them have already had the chance to cast their vote if they want to via the internet.

Estonian ID cards
Estonia hopes to have 20% of voting done online in future
About 800,000 Estonians, or 80% of those on the electoral roll, have access to a new e-voting system, the largest run by any European Union country.

It has been made possible because most Estonians now carry a national identity card equipped with a computer-readable microchip and it is these cards which they use to get access to the online ballot.

All a voter needs is a computer, an electronic card reader, their ID card and its PIN number, and they can vote from anywhere in the world.

E-votes could only be cast during three days of advance voting for these elections. On election day itself people have to go to polling stations and fill in a paper ballot.

However, there has been massive publicity about the new system - Prime Minister Andrus Ansip voted online from his office on Monday.

The number of ballots actually cast online was only about 9,500, or less than 1% of all voters, but those running the Estonian e-voting project hope that 20% of votes cast in future elections will be registered in this way.

'Quicker and cheaper'

This, the largest-scale e-voting scheme run by any EU country, is being keenly watched across Europe.

Children in Estonia using the net
New EU member Estonia has taken to the internet with gusto
Online voting has been promoted as a quicker, cheaper way of collecting and counting ballots. Those concerned about falling turnout in elections hope that the convenience of not having to go to a polling station will encourage more people to take part.

E-voting systems, in which people use online machines in polling stations or register to get an e-vote password, have been tried on a smaller scale in many European countries, including in some local elections in the UK and Ireland.

But there are worries about security.

In Switzerland, where it is already an established part of local referendums, voters get their passwords to access the ballot through the post.

The Estonians saytheir system avoids such problems because people already have their micro-chipped ID cards and know the PIN codes to use them. But there are still fears that an online ballot makes it far easier to influence elections.

However safe the technology, if people do not go to a polling station, you cannot tell who is using whose ID card or if a voter is being put under pressure when they cast their ballot.

To tackle that problem, the Estonian election allows multiple online votes to be cast, with each subsequent vote cancelling out the previous one.

And the system still gives supremacy to paper ballots, so anyone who voted online can also go to a polling station on Sunday and vote in the traditional way, cancelling out the vote they cast online.


SEE ALSO
Estonia opens politics to the web
07 May 04 |  Technology
Estonia embraces web without wires
05 May 04 |  Technology
Country profile: Estonia
01 May 04 |  Country profiles

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