Remote voting has the potential to increase electoral participation because it provides voters with more mechanisms to express their vote. The act of voting may be particularly challenging for some specific groups, such as those who live far from their assigned polling station, or who are in another country on a temporary or permanent basis. Students abroad, people on holiday, and professionals in a mission belong to this category. A similar situation occurs for those that do not have a fixed abode or that find themselves in prison or in hospital on Election Day. Moreover, people with disabilities may have serious problems to travel to the polling place. All these groups can benefit from remote voting mechanisms allowing them to vote from home or from a more convenient location than a distant polling station.
Non-electronic mechanisms to vote remotely are available in most EU countries, with voting by mail being the most common. For example, Italians residing abroad can vote by post in European and legislative elections. In Spain, voting by post is available also for people who live in the country but that are absent from their place of residence on Election Day. In addition, people abroad can also deposit their vote at the consular offices. Voting by proxy is implemented in six EU countries. For instance, in France people who expect to be away from the country or who cannot travel to the polling station (for example due to disability or illness) can designate another elector in the same electoral district to vote on their behalf.
Estonia implemented internet voting in 2005 and it is the only EU country in which this option is available today. Online voting was available for French living abroad for the 2012 legislative elections but it was not used in 2017. Internet voting has been used for other types of elections such as the primaries of the European Green Party, the French centre-right primary, the elections of student representatives in Austria and the public consultation on the reform of the Diagonal Avenue in the municipality of Barcelona.
Despite the potential benefits of remote voting, it can also entail some downsides, and special provisions may need to be made to ensure that it offers the same guarantees as voting in person. The guarantees that every voting process should provide include preventing that a person steals another’s identity to vote, ensuring that people vote freely and without coercion, maintaining vote secrecy, preventing repeat voting, and avoiding the suppression or modification of votes.
In order to investigate the benefits and weaknesses of the different remote voting options and to identify best practices that can lead to a successful implementation, Open Evidence is preparing, in consortium with RAND Europe, a study on ‘the benefits and drawbacks of remote voting solutions to support the preparation of a best practice guide for the use of digital tools to facilitate the exercise of EU citizens’ political rights’. This study has been commissioned by the European Commission and will last until May. In the context of this project, an online survey will be launched in the coming weeks with the aim of collecting experiences and attitudes related to remote voting from a wide range of stakeholders.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the European Commission
- ACE Network database http://aceproject.org/epic-en
- Italian Law 459 of 27 December 2001 Provisions governing the right to vote of Italian citizens resident abroad
- Spanish Organic Law on the General Electoral Regime (LOREG) 5/1985, June 19th
- French Ministry of Interior https://www.interieur.gouv.fr/Elections/Comment-voter/Le-vote-par-procuration
- Estonian Riigikogu Election Act (Passed 12.06.2002)
- European Greens https://europeangreens.eu/news/green-primary-easy
- Primaire ouverte de la droite et du centre http://www.primaire2016.org/
- Robert Krimmer, R.; Andreas Ehringfeld, A. & Traxl, M. (2010). ‘The Use of E-Voting in the Austrian Federation of Students Elections 2009’. Electronic Voting 2010, EVOTE 2010, 4th International Conference, Bregenz, Austria
- Ajuntament de Barcelona (2010). Informe consulta ciutadana de la Diagonal.