Estonia and I-Voting by Estonians

There is an interesting article in tomorrow’s Washington Post about Internet voting in Estonia. Much of what they talk about I blogged on when I was in Estonia, but here is an interesting excerpt (but do read the whole thing, it is very interesting).

It is no accident that the first e-elections took place in Estonia. The Baltic Sea nation of 1.4 million tucked hard against Russia had reclaimed its independence when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 — and it never looked back. Eager to differentiate itself from Russia and other countries in the region, Estonia positioned itself as a technological trailblazer. It quickly became a leader in e-everything, with citizens paying parking fees via cellphones and submitting tax declarations online.

Online elections were a natural next step. Estonia already had in place some of the practical elements for e-voting. Citizens must carry chip-based ID cards that include digital signatures, allowing them to be unambiguously identified online after logging in to vote. Although the country’s rate of Internet use is not terribly high — about 60 percent, compared with 70 percent in the United States — it has a strong e-banking system, which increases trust in the Internet for important transactions. (In my experience, Estonia’s Internet banking is more advanced, more customer-friendly and safer than that of the United States.)

Still, e-voting has not been unanimously accepted here. The country’s Reform Party, representing the most e-literate voters — often younger and more urban — has favored the innovation, as has the nationalist and pro-market Fatherland Party, whose leaders think the effort provides great global PR for the country. But parties drawing support from older and poorer voters hurt by the post-Soviet changes, such as the Center Party and People’s Union Party, have opposed e-voting. The digital divide is alive and well here.