"E-stonians" E-Vote

by Julie Ray

But only 3 in 10 confident in honesty of elections


PRINCETON, NJ -- Estonian voters made election history earlier this week, and didn't even need to leave home to do it. Election officials say 3% of the country's 940,000 registered voters logged on to cast their e-votes in the world's first national parliamentary election to allow remote Internet voting. Estonia's e-voting system was open for three days of advance voting before traditional polling stations open on Sunday.

France, Switzerland, Canada, and other nations have tested or are testing remote Internet voting on much smaller scales, but Estonia is the first country to use it in a binding national election open to all voters. Estonians may see this simply as an extension of their e-society. Often referred to as "E-stonia," the small former Soviet republic has developed broadband access on par with many Western countries, and has emerged as a model for e-government.

Gallup's 2006 World Poll results in Estonia reflect widespread adoption of technology: 60% of Estonians say they have a computer in their homes and 52% say they have Internet access at home. Rural Estonians are somewhat less likely to have a computer and Internet access, but a majority of rural residents (55%) have computers in their homes, and nearly half (46%) have Internet access. These percentages are by far the highest reported in any former Soviet country Gallup surveyed. In Belarus and Ukraine, for example, only 25% of residents have computers in their homes and fewer than one in six have Internet access. Only Estonia's Baltic neighbors even come close.

Supporters of online voting tout its convenience and cost-effectiveness, and its potential to increase voter participation, while its critics cite the potential for voter fraud and coercion, security problems, and monitoring difficulties. Estonian officials are confident, based on the e-voting system's trial run in 2005 local elections, that their system is structured to allay such concerns.

As other world governments such as Great Britain await the verdict on the success or failure of Estonia's pioneer election, it remains to be seen whether Estonians will view this as a boon or a bust. Experts expect Estonia to maintain the status quo in this parliamentary election, with the main coalition parties that head the current government retaining power. But a more intriguing result might be the effect e-voting may have on confidence in the country's electoral process. Last year, only 31% of Estonians expressed confidence in the honesty of the country's elections, a percentage not radically different from its less-wired Baltic neighbors.

Survey Methods 

Results are based on face-to-face interviews conducted during late June and mid-July 2006 with a randomly selected sample of 1,003 Estonian residents, aged 15 and older. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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