The European Commission Directorate-General Justice and Consumers has published a new study, prepared by Open Evidence together with RAND Europe, on the practice and implementation of remote voting solutions in the EU. Given the current global context with COVID-19 outbreak, governments will have to either delay and re-schedule the initially planned elections or consider remote voting solutions and procedures to protect voters and election commissioners from spreading the virus at the polling stations. This report examines the extent to which remote voting solutions are employed in the European Member States, analysing the main benefits and drawbacks related to them. This project feeds into wider-ranging projects on the role of internet tools in stimulating democratic participation and how digital tools can contribute to the stronger and longer-term engagement of citizens.
Results show the main benefit related to remote voting is the fact that it can facilitate the act of voting for several groups of citizens such as those who live in remote areas or abroad, those suffering from some health conditions, those who cannot leave the place in which they are residing, or those who are travelling on Election Day. The options available for eligible voters to use to cast their ballot remotely vary from one EU country to another. When voting from abroad, the most common voting options in the EU are voting in person and voting by post. From within countries, the most common methods of remote voting available in EU countries are voting in mobile or special polling stations and voting in another electoral district.
Other voting methods are less common, voting by proxy is available in just six Member States, and Estonia is the only EU country that has fully implemented internet voting. Moreover, the design and administration of these voting methods also differ in practice across countries, in some cases markedly. The result is that in European Parliament elections citizens across the EU have different levels of access to methods by which they can cast their vote. Each voting method also carries unique challenges, including financial and administrative consequences for the Member States or for particular hosting institutions and challenges with observing election processes or auditing results. Similarly, remote voting solutions which take place in an uncontrolled environment may present higher risks of fraud, coercion, family voting, or other compromises to the integrity of the vote.
The study also found little evidence that particular remote voting solutions affect overall turnout. In practice, the impact on the turnout of any particular voting method will depend also on other factors, such as features of the electoral system, other available voting methods and public engagement with the political system. Despite several early Internet voting trials or pilot projects in the EU in the early 2000s and 2010s, only Estonia has fully implemented it in practice. Nonetheless, there has seemingly been renewed interest in a few countries in exploring internet voting solutions in the coming years, including active debates or planned trials in a number of countries.
The primary research for this study was conducted from October 2017 – July 2018, and the analysis concluded before the 2019 European elections, which were not taken into account. Although the information contained was correct at that time to the knowledge of the research team, changes affecting remote voting options may have been proposed or come into effect during the span or directly after publishing this study.
The complete report can be accessed in the following link.