Thursday, October 23, 2008

2007: first country allows online voting in national election

On March 4, 2007 Estonia became the world's first country to allow voters in a national parliamentary election to cast their ballots over the Internet. Estonia has gained a reputation for computer literacy since it left the Soviet Union in 1991 and allowed Internet voting in local elections in 2005.

The nationwide e-voting system was tried out a month earier. One test involved the chance to choose the "king of the forest," with voters picking one animal from among 10 candidates, including moose, deer and boars.

To vote, Estonians put their state-issued identification card, which has an electronic chip on it, into a reader attached to a computer and then enter two passwords. The readers sell for between 100 and 200 krooni, or $8.40 to $16.80, and more than one million chip-enabled ID cards have been issued in this country of 1.3 million people.

Estonians already use ID cards to produce digital "signatures" to conduct business online without the need to sign paper documents.

One of the most common explanations as to why Estonians have taken to new technology "is that everything had to be done new here," after independence, said Jaan Tallinn, a senior programmer involved in the development of Skype. "There were no legacies to deal with, like with bank checks, which were already obsolete. So companies could create new systems and people just used them."

Estonian banks have offered online banking services since 1997, and every move by the private sector has been matched with laws to support e-commerce and e-services, including access to government information. Estonians can also use cellphones to pay for parking or buy bus tickets using wireless Internet points scattered across the country.

Security issues related to voting on the Internet raised few concerns. "E-voting is not so difficult to think about here," Jann Murumets, a computer systems and security specialist, said. "We are used to using the Internet for business and for almost 10 years we have been using the Internet for banking."

But the winner of the "king of the forest" vote remained a mystery, because no count was done following the tests. "In the end, only the animals in the forest know," said Arne Koitmae, an official with the state electoral commission. (info from The International Herald Tribune)

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