[Are the French ready for online voting?

In France, there are several ways to vote: at a polling station, online and by proxy (1). Today, in very specific cases, alternatives to travel to the polling station are used. Online voting, during consular and parliamentary elections for the French abroad, is one (2).

Online voting is widely adopted

The second round of parliamentary elections was held on 15 and 16 April 2023 in the 2nd, 8th and 9th constituencies for French people living outside France. Analysis of the results available on the France Diplomatie web portal shows a strong adoption of online voting.

A phenomenon that also confirms a trend. Indeed, during the parliamentary elections of June 2022, in all 11 constituencies representing almost one and a half million registered voters, the percentage of online voting reached a maximum of 75%. Possibly 'enhanced' by the Covid period, online voting nevertheless appears to be an increasingly popular method of expressing one's electoral choice. Practical, convenient (3), it allows voters to vote from any location, at any time, even early, and without having to go to a polling station. Note that for now, the various experiments have not shown that online voting increases turnout, but this could change over time.

But many questions and concerns remain

However, online voting raises many questions and concerns, such as system transparency, errors and malfunctions, or even hacking and cyber attacks.

Currently, the transparency of electronic voting systems concerns in particular public access to basic information, documents (source code, reports, etc.) and test observation, but in general, electronic voting requires a paradox between anonymity on the one hand and of transparency On the other hand. That the ballot falls into a transparent box is not due to chance. So how can we verify that online voting is a completely clear and secure system?

On the other hand, the “secrecy of the vote”, i.e. the confidentiality and anonymity at the ballot box which prevent the risk of voting under duress, cannot be verified by online voting. Respect for privacy is also a key issue because only the voter should know who they voted for.

Finally, Internet voting is inherently more susceptible to potentially large-scale errors or malfunctions, or even cyber-attacks and hacking (4). Therefore, during the parliamentary elections of June 2022, the Constitutional Council canceled the electoral operations in two French constituencies located outside France due to technical malfunctions (5).

For these reasons, the preservation of the polling station is essential

The electoral system should not be an obstacle to the expression of political beliefs by the elderly, the disabled, those who have difficulties with digital technology or who do not have a modern terminal. It should be noted in this regard that the assistance of voters by carers is not compatible with the principle of confidentiality.

More generally, according to an INSEE study published in 2022, restrictions linked to dematerialization have prevented the most vulnerable people from carrying out procedures online. Thus, 32% of adults have opted out of an online approach at least once in the past 12 months. Among them, three-quarters did so by other means (telephone, on-site, etc.). The rest (8% of the total population) have left permanently. Under these conditions, therefore, the maintenance of the polling stations seems necessary. polling station is not an adjustment variable used to fund the online voting system; traveling there is also a strong Republican ritual.

Elsewhere in the world: Estonia at the forefront of eVoting

Around the world and in Europe, online voting faces different situations. The state of New South Wales in Australia specifically authorizes it for parliamentary elections. In Canada, a large number of cities in the provinces of Ontario, Nova Scotia and the Northwest Territories and Yukon use online voting for municipal elections. For its part, Quebec will launch a pilot program to allow voters to vote online during the 2025 municipal elections.

In Europe, Norway suspended the use of online voting and Germany declared it unconstitutional. In Belgium, a report highlighted the technical complexity of online voting, but Brussels hopes to have it operational by 2034. In Switzerland, after online voting ended in 2019, the Federal Council granted cantons Basel-City, St. Gallen and Thurgau, authorization of online voting for the federal vote on 18 June 2023.

But it is undoubtedly Estonia that has become the “champion” of eVoting. In fact, this country offers, in addition to physical voting, online voting for all its elections. Thus, the percentage of online votes increased from 5.5% of participants in the 2007 parliamentary elections to 43.8% in 2019. It is also the only member state of the Union that used this type of voting during the last European elections (2019) , with a record 46.7% of online voters. The Estonian state is also very transparent in making the source code of its system public. How is such success explained?

The Estonian e-ID has been available since 2002, but it didn't take off right away. Initially, there were not many online services that you could use with this ID card. On the other hand, service providers were not interested in developing electronic access because few people had such cards. It was a chicken or egg problem. But in 2005, electronic voting proved to be a very successful application and many people applied for their digital IDs to be able to vote electronically. ”, explains Jan Willemson, senior researcher at Cybernetica (the company that developed the electronic voting system in Finland), interviewed by Jérôme de Forsan de Gabriac.

In the early 2000s, Estonia launched a digital identity card used for both citizen identification and authentication, particularly for electronic voting. Estonians use this card to access a large number of government and private digital services (taxes, medical records, children's school results, library book loans, etc.). In this context, digital identity is undoubtedly the key factor for Estonia's success.

It is important to remember that elections are one of the foundations of democracy and must be protected from any form of fraud or manipulation. Also, a sovereign digital identity, based on handing over to town hall a highly secure title, and part of a European system that favors adoption through multiple uses, is likely to provide this protection, with two-thirds of French people saying they are in favor of online voting.

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(1) The proxy appeared in France in 1975, to replace the postal vote, and was subsequently banned after widespread fraud across the country. Today, only French people living abroad and those in prison can vote by post.

(2) Voters receive their verification codes via email and SMS. The system used is certified by the National Agency for Security of Information Systems (ANSSI).

(3) According to the People 2022 online post-election survey, ESPOL/CERAPS/LEM, September 2022, Version 1.0

(4) In 2017, French people living abroad were unable to vote online during the June parliamentary elections due to a major threat of cyber attack.

(5) In Algeria (9th electoral district) and Argentina (2nd electoral district), the rate of delivery of passwords to registered voters who provided their contact information was only 38%. The Constitutional Council also annulled the elections in the 8th electoral district (eastern Mediterranean basin). The consular administration had to forward the e-mail addresses and telephone numbers of the citizens registered in the electoral rolls of the consular authorities. But after an error, another file was transmitted.

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