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Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag

Information on the project

E-voting – alternative forms of voting and how to make them secure

Thematic area: Technology, society, innovation
Analytical approach: Monitoring
Topic initiative: Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment
Status: ongoing
Current project phase: Literature screening
Duration: 2021 till 2022

Background and centrals aspects of the topic

Electronic voting, e. g. voting online via home PC or smartphone, aims at creating a complementary option to conventional voting by ballot paper or postal voting. Comparable to postal voting, online voting can make it easier for voter groups to participate in elections – especially for those who encounter access barriers in conventional voting procedures, i. a. people with physical disabilities, older adults or people who are living abroad temporarily or permanently. Recent research also suggests that with the option of e-voting, the turn-out of non-voters and occasional voters might increase. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the required social distancing involved, online voting has gained additional importance.

Besides the advantages of online voting, however, an increased risk of manipulation of elections is assumed, which might result in problems regarding trust and acceptance. Moreover, some fear that online voting might lead to a trivialisation of the act of voting and violate important principles of political elections, such as the principle that elections should be subject to public scrutiny throughout the electoral process.

In approx. 15 countries worldwide, online voting systems have already been or are being used in local, regional or even national political elections. The prospects of using electronic voting systems (or e-voting) were first discussed in Germany about 20 years ago. However, with the ruling of the German Federal Constitutional Court in 2009 and the recommendation of the »Study Commission on the Internet and Digital Society« in 2013, the use of online elections and voting computers have largely disappeared from the political agenda. In the view of the Federal Constitutional Court, the principle of public scrutiny throughout the electoral process – which also includes the regularity and transparency of the voting processes – was not sufficiently fulfilled when voting computers were used for the first time in the 2005 Bundestag elections. To this day, concerns about e-voting procedures have predominated. But at the same time, according to surveys, online elections have met with a positive response from the German population.

Objectives and approach

The study is intended to provide an overview of the pros and cons of e-voting compared to conventional voting procedures by way of personal voting in a polling station or postal voting. Aspects such as trust or acceptance, voter turn-out and participation as well as the societal significance of elections – which may vary in individual countries for historical reasons – will be analysed. The core of the study consists of three to four case studies on countries that have tested or continuously use online voting systems in local, regional or national elections (e. g. Estonia, Norway, Switzerland, USA). These case studies will present which practical framework conditions for voting on the Internet are applied (e. g. options for registration for e-voting, technical access requirements, finality and correction options for voting) and how the introduction of e-voting options affects the political system of the respective country (e. g. voter turn-out, participation of previous non-voters or infrequent voters, increase in the significance of current political events for the election result). In addition, it will be analysed which legal, economic and societal conditions have favoured the introduction of e-voting in the respective country. Attention will also be paid to the technologies used and their special characteristics, for example with regard to protection against manipulation and usability. Finally, the case studies will be compared and evaluated and the transferability of the findings to Germany will be assessed.

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