Can Elections go Online?—The Success of Estonia and the Challenges that Remain 

The world has almost found comfort online. The Internet has already transformed many markets. People in the current times no longer need to travel to far off places to buy commodities. Things come to people, all because of the online technology. Nowadays, from money to relationships, everything is manageable online. 

However, today, India really doesn’t have an online voting system. The choice of hitting a button hasn’t really translated into the electoral system. Even though India doesn’t have it, Estonia does have it. It has had an online voting system for over a decade now, with no serious security concerns. One of the key reasons for the success of the Estonian voting system has been the electronic IDs issued for the citizens in 2002. These ID cards, which are of the size of a credit card, come embedded with a chip and are secured by multiple pass codes. These electronic and mobile IDs are currently carried by 1.2 million Estonians (or 94% of the country’s population) and help Estonians file their tax returns and apply for jobs.  

For the voting purposethe user simply needs to download an app when they are ready to vote and access the online voting system. To verify the identity of these users, they have to plug their electronic ID cards into a USB card reader or enter their phone number to use their mobile ID. After this, they immediately have to enter a personal identification number (PIN). This kind of system, cross-checks the entire biometric data to ensure that a legitimate person is trying to cast his/her vote. 

Not only has it increased the polling count by 30%, but has also made the voting process relatively easy and convenient. With the digital ID, voters can also vote multiple times within the voting hours, with only the final vote being counted. This protects the citizens against any sort of forced voting through assault or blackmail. 

However, the major possible loophole that could have attacked this system of voting was a cyber threat. It is quite possible that cyber threats (a virus, a malware) infuses itself into the device through which the user is trying to access the voting process. So, even though physical threats are done away with, a probability of cyber threats is very high. 

However, Estonia has taken steps to prevent this too. The system allows voters to use their devices to connect to the electoral servers via different set of tools and services, which is followed by a verification process. To ensure anonymity in this process, the results are encrypted so that no government official is able to see whom the individual has voted. Only the person himself can check his vote. 

However, even after witnessing the success of the Estonian voting system, many countries are still apprehensive of adopting it. There are many issues which still concern policymakers and voters. Some people still hold the view that digitizing this election process would trivialize the importance of taking a decision and going out to vote. People still feel that the right to cast vote is something for which countless people have shed their blood and shouldn’t be reduced to an online systemIt seems as if, in a world where everything is available on fingertips, going to a polling booth to vote is undeniably a task. However, for some people, it functions as task worth cherishing. So, they argue that making the process of voting online may render it an easy task and therefore, may reduce the importance of the process. Another challenge of the online voting system is maintaining confidentiality. Voting requires a sort of secrecy. However, achieving this is extremely difficult as the online platform always registers some kind of digital footprint. 

Another challenge which comes during the possible conduction of online elections is hacking. Recently, hacking has come to be associated with elections. With the stories of Russian interference in the US Elections coming into picture, the skepticism towards the electoral process has also become debatable. In such a scenario, to expect that the voters will rely on such a platform which is highly vulnerable to hacking is far too optimistic. Even worse is the fact that hackers may not even have to gain access to the official voting system. Merely launching a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, in which the system becomes flooded with the internet traffic to such an extent that legitimate attempts to access it, fail, can eventually hamper the online voting process.  

However, hacking is just one example of external manipulation. Manipulation in voting could also occur internally through fraud voter identities. Voter fraud occurs even today, where voters are transported from state to state and multiple votes are cast. Doing this through an online system could be easier. All one would need is, multiple user information and one single person could cast votes multiple times.  

Lastly, it is important to understand that in order to implement an e-voting system, there should be a complete internet penetration in the country which is not easy to achieve in big, yet developing countries like India and Brazil. Even though these problems are serious, they are not impossible to overcome. In fact, to say that these cases make e-elections unfeasible would simply mean laziness and a lack of will. Estonia serves as an example that there can be various novel ways through which the government of a country can improve the e-voting scenario. One can only wait to see improvements in India taking place too. 

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This article is a part of the ‘Of Tugs and Tussles: General Election 2019’ feature series where we focus on quality content written and chosen to focus on specific areas surrounding elections. Find a link to other articles of this feature series here: Analysing the Modi Government– Gift or Gimmick?

Want to know what Indian people think of online voting? Click here:



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