Estonia and the Internet Revolution
Estonia (nowadays considered E-stonia), a small country historically known for medieval castles and pristine islands, had 25% of all electoral votes come from online. Not only that, this track record of online voting has seemed to prove itself very successful as they use the web to reach more of the population with their e-services. From when they first implemented online voting in 2005 to the Parliamentary Election in 2011, 1 in 4 people now use the internet to cast their votes. This leads me to thinking about overall voter participation. According to this thesis by a Georgetown University Graduate Student (Washington, DC) it shows that by lowering information and communication costs, political participation gets boosted. So why hasn’t America implemented online voting?
According to the State of California website, it states:
For security reasons, California law prohibits casting a ballot over the Internet. This also means that county elections officials cannot accept marked ballots sent via email from military and overseas voters. If you are a voter as defined by the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, you may return your voted ballot to your county elections office only by mail or fax.
So in order to understand the infrastructure needed to implement online voting, let’s take a look at this little Baltic country located just south of the Gulf of Finland.
Setting the Infrastructure
As a country, Estonia has integrated technology and the internet into so much of their daily lives that a lot of their culture revolves around it. According to BBC, in schools, children start learning computer programming at the age of 7. This had a lot to do with the help of a government-backed technology investment body, called the Tiger Leap Foundation, which helped get all Estonian schools online by 1998. This project was drafted by Toomas Ilves (at the time, Estonia’s Ambassador to the U.S.) alongside the Estonian minister of education in 1995 to get children more familiar with the internet and technology at younger ages.
The E-Stonian Rockstar
Under the leadership of President Toomas Ilves, who since 2006 serves as the 4th president of Estonia, the country has turned into one of the most wired and technologically-advanced countries in the world. They are a small country that stands amongst giants, and rightfully so. On top of the adoption of technology education in all the schools, there’s free wi-fi everywhere, and everyone over the age of 15 has a mandatory ID/Driver’s License with a SIM card that gives them access to the information central to their lives. Another very important piece of information is the fact that Estonia has a proportional representation voting system, rather than a winner-take-all system like the United States. Research has found that electoral fraud seems to pop up more frequently in winner-take-all systems — since there’s more at stake for the candidates (sources unavailable).
Mobilization at a City Level
With all that said, online voting can be implemented, but the right infrastructure needs to be created in order to do so. We need to start showing those around us that the internet can help mobilize people to solve problems, maybe not now at a national level, but at a city level. If we don’t show everyone how vital technology is to change, it’s going to be a much slower journey to implementing Technology as a mandatory course across our educational systems.
Estonia emerged as a country trying to recover after decades of occupation by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Similarly to other contemporaries, Estonia had political, governmental, social, and economic systems that were all Soviet, that needed to be restructured after Estonia regained its independence on August 20, 1991. Even being 10-20 years behind technology at the time, they now are one of the leaders in technological innovation. Maybe they got lucky trying to emerge during the beginning of the internet era… Either way, they’re taking the reins when it comes to e-government. We might as well take notes.