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Estonia To Allow Cellular Voting

Estonia, the remarkably wired and internet savvy Baltic state, has just passed a law making voting in the 2011 national elections possible by cellphone. Special identification chips, freely available from the government, will allow cell phone voters to be properly vetted. Proponents of the law claim it will increase participation and reduce lines at voting precincts.

It’s a clever idea, and if they can pull off the security, it heralds an interesting new direction for democratic participation. Still, something in my gut makes me feel uneasy. The horror stories of American voting “irregularities” are bad enough; Estonia, a country targeted by sophisticated (Russian?) hackers before, will be transmitting votes through an even more unreliable kind of system, albeit smaller in scale. This may not even be a concern over hacking. What is to stop me from stealing a cellphone and casting a false ballot?
It certainly seem easier than stealing someone’s driver’s license/voter registration and impersonating them/signing a sworn statement before an election official.

I also worry cellular voting could be careless, an instant poll-the-audience kind of decision instead of reflective democratic discourse. Then again, we already tolerate careless voting. Most poeple are fine with straight-ticket party ballots, only come to the polls for major elections and feed themselves on talkradio and tv ads.

In contrast, voting by cellphone may help ingrain democratic decision-making into everyday life, making people more responsive and committed to common goals than before. Then perhaps national elections would spark the same interest as PTA meetings and bowling leagues. This may be a stretch, but if it’s not, then “eStonia” (as its jokingly called) is developing a polis for the 21st Century.

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3 Responses to “Estonia To Allow Cellular Voting”

  1. Bryan Says:

    For ease, I am framing my comments in the structure of the American political system. My fears go in the opposite direction of yours. Increasing the ease of voting decreases the necessary representative aspects of republican government. There are purposeful barriers in the American system to prevent the direct whims of the public from influencing policy. Primarily, there is a recognition that the average citizen has neither the time, nor the expertise to make complex policy decisions. Thus, a citizen ‘hires’ a legislator to represent his ideas and opinions in a smaller legislature. That legislator, because he should (I say should, not does) not engage in another job, has the time and inclination to fully research issues before making policy decisions. Limiting the impact of voting increases the stability and power of a legislative body. On the other hand, providing very cheap and very fast methods of voting makes it more likely that policy decisions be made by instantaneous polls of the country. Looking at the Gallup polls in the lead up to the 2008 Federal election it becomes evident why this is dangerous; public opinion changes much too quickly. This type of polling is a slippery slope to a country being run by Ryan Seacrest urging votes on American Idol.

  2. michael Says:

    something to follow, to see where it leads- I like it!

  3. Internet & Democracy Blog » Alabama Considers Overseas E-Voting Says:

    […] alone. Regardless, so long as the system can be reasonably hack-proof — I still worry about Estonia, though Switzerland had some positive test results — this is a positive step toward making […]