Working group: Risks of online voting outweigh its benefits
Online voting should not be introduced in general elections as its risks are greater than its benefits. This is the opinion of the working group that the Ministry of Justice appointed to examine the possibilities to introduce online voting in Finland.
According to the working group, an online voting system is technically feasible, but technology is not yet at a sufficiently high level to meet all the requirements. There are problems for example in the reconciliation of verifiability and election secrecy.
Verifiability means that a voter should be able to ensure that his or her vote is counted as cast. The voter should receive some kind of proof of this. At the same time, election secrecy requires that the voting system must not produce any receipt that could be used to pressure voters or sell votes.
The risks identified in the feasibility study of online voting conducted by the working group include extensive manipulation of election results, electoral interference through denial-of-service attacks, and large-scale breaching of election secrecy.
The working group emphasises that the greatest risk relates to the loss of public confidence. Spreading of false information and rumours could be enough to shake citizens’ confidence. When votes are cast on paper, they can be concretely counted and recounted, when at least any suspicion of the election results having been manipulated can be easily removed.
In online voting, a separate recount of votes which would enable detection and correction of any mistakes having occurred in the vote count is not possible. When an online voting system is used, the information produced by the system needs to be trusted.
Little effect on voter turnout
In public discussion, online voting has been presented as a key to increasing voter turnout. The working group estimates, however, that the effect would be rather insignificant. Experiences and studies from countries using online voting show that enabling online voting would probably not increase voting turnout in any significant manner.
The working group estimates that the costs for an online voting system would be around EUR 32 million, if the system was used for 15 years. Online voting might benefit the most those who live far from polling stations, such as expatriate Finns, and certain groups of people with disabilities, whose independent voting would become easier thanks to the online option.
New methods of participation through digitalisation
The working group states that international experiences and best practices relating to the digitalisation of elections should be closely monitored also in future. Cooperation between the Nordic election organisations should be developed, as the reliability of elections is a top priority in all Nordic countries.
The working group draws attention to the fact that the development and digitalisation of elections and participation includes much more than just online voting. Digitalisation may help reform the methods of participation and devise them so that they are as easy to use as possible for citizens with different backgrounds.
Participation could be enhanced for example by creating new electronic tools for the use of local authorities. Different participation tools make the decision-making processes more visible to the citizens and provide opportunities for discussion.
Inquiries: Johanna Suurpää, chair of the working group, Director, Ministry of Justice, tel. +358 295 50534, Heini Huotarinen, secretary of the working group, Ministerial Adviser, tel. +358 2951 50127, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Online voting in Finland. A feasibility study 2017. (in Finnish)