Demand for observable e-voting

Joint statement of election observers on 31st of March 2023

Estonian democracy relies on free and secret ballot. The tally of the votes is observable and fair, the results are determined publicly under the scrutiny of observers. This must be the same for electronic voting. E-voting should not rely on faith or trust in government.

  • We acknowledge the political parties and associations that sent their representatives to observe the e-voting processes. Without observers from competing parties, the trustworthiness of the procedures is not ensured sufficiently.

  • We condemn the media pressure on the Electoral Comittee and the Supreme Court to hurry up processing of the complaints and the announcement of the election results. Evaluation of the root processes of democracy should not be superficial.

  • We demand providing substantial observability of e-voting. Calls to refrain from criticisms of the new voting method and attempts to prevent public tally of election results undermine the principles of democratic elections.

Our demands

1. Observers must have right to file complaints in the public interest

Observers of e-voting do not have the legal opportunity to point out substantial deficiencies or violations that could change the election result. There is no provision for the possibility of contesting the disregard of the procedures, if they have not violated the personal rights of the observer, i.e. obstructed observation.

Since the alternative is to complain about the violation of personal rights as a voter, it artificially invites to create situations where the personal vote of the observer is proven to be processed, in order to invite the court to discuss a deviation from the procedures or some systemic deficiency of e-voting.

In the legal framework of electronic voting, it is unclear in which case the existing bodies could declare the results of e-voting partially or completely invalid, because the dynamics of the parties rather excludes this possibility.

Due to the one-sided and excessively intertwined motivations of the bodies organizing and monitoring e-voting, most discussions about election processes become hidden, which do not correspond to the principle of public elections and hinder the development of e-voting.

2. Devices and data must to be auditable throughout entire e-voting

In order to ensure the trustworthiness of e-voting, it must be possible to observe the voting processes from their first step to the last, that is, from the preparation of voter lists, the preparation of hardware and the compilation and installation of software to its launch and opening it to the users.

The analogy with voting with paper ballots does not fully apply in the case of e-voting, but the voter’s activity in the virtual polling station begins with receiving the ballot by means of authenticating in the voter application, continues with submitting the ballot to the collection service as a virtual ballot box, and entering into the role of observer when using the verification application.

Observers must be able to fully observe the processes in the virtual polling station, including the changes in the ballot box and its states, the transition to the processing and counting phase, and finally the tallying of the results. As long as it is only partially enabled, e-voting cannot be considered observable.

E-voting must be observable at the data level for all observers, and for this the meaning of observation must be rethought from the observation of devices and outputs to the substantion observation of the data flows, which would allow observing the processes from the beginning to the end of e-voting. Observing the data stream should not be limited to the role of a paid data auditor.

3. IT operations must be treated as legally contestable acts

E-voting makes use of tools provided by information technology, and a large number of events in the preparing, operating and shutting down of voting systems are information technology related. These events must be registered and observed, the equipment and software used must be audited or certified, and the history of related activities must be fully retracable.

In the current arrangement, only operations where the election organizer signs the results can be fully scrutinized, but not the actual information technology events or processes of e-voting, such as the preparation of digital media, continuous backup of the servers, logging states of various services, compilation of cancellation lists, etc.

It is necessary to end the treatment of information technology activities as infallible and always correct. It must be possible to substantially assess the functioning of the software and hardware and their compliance with legislation. The right of appeal provided for legal events must also be extended to information technology processes and events.

4. Deadlines must take into account the specific nature of e-voting

E-voting is built as a complex information technology system, the correctness of its functioning can often be evaluated effectively only after additional information has been requested from the election organizer and analysis of relevant data or source code. Actions also mostly consist of sub-actions, which can be identified with high precision if necessary.

In the case of information technology systems, it is not appropriate use replicate the deadlines used for complaints with the ones used for paper ballot voting, where events and their consequences can generally be identified and understood in real time.

As a general rule, the deadlines for contesting actions should be counted not from the moment the action is performed, but from the moment the action is disclosed or the circumstances become known. Many information technology operations, e.g. starting a system, are of an ongoing nature, therefore the term of the right to appeal cannot be limited to the time of the start of the operation, as a result of which the time limit for contesting the operation may have passed by the time it becomes known.

It cannot be considered apppropriate if the electronic votes are counted on March 5 at 11 p.m. and resulting data published on the afternoon of March 8, which would make an unrealistic deadline for challenging the contents 11:59 p.m. the same day.

5. Timely access to information, code and other materials must be ensured

Electronic voting is a new voting method, which is constantly changing due to its innovative nature. However, this should not mean that decisions about the operation of the basic processes of democracy should be made on the fly. The development cycle of the voting system must allow for early familiarization with all the details in order to ensure meaningful democratic and public scrutiny.

Observers must be allowed to access the documentation, software source code and binary code, specifications of the equipment used and other related materials in such a way that it is possible to correct the major shortcomings of the e-voting system before the elections.

During the test period, public test runs and elections, observers must be provided with as direct access as possible to video recordings and various system logs, which help to evaluate the functioning of the system. If the observers cannot get acquainted with the information related to e-voting in advance, asking for additional information and answering the queries becomes a source of contradictions.

The credibility of democratic processes depends on the joint efforts of all parties, and if observers are not guaranteed the opportunity to fulfill their constitutional role in elections, it deepens doubts about the trustworthiness of the elections. It is clear that e-voting without meaningful and substantial observability is not sustainable.

Timeline of the procedures


Local observers of e-voting

  1. Märt Põder. Observer since 2015, contester since 2019, independent member of ministerial e-voting working group in 2019.
  2. Sulev Švilponis. Observer since 2015, contester since 2019.
  3. Meelis Kerbo. Observer from 2023.
  4. Meelis Kaldalu. Observer and contester since 2013.
  5. Virgo Kruve. Observer since 2011.
  6. Heldur-Valdek Seeder. Observer since 2015, independent member of ministerial e-voting working group in 2019.
  7. Martti Randma. Observer from 2023.
  8. Ivo Kubjas. Observer from 2023.
  9. Kalevi Koplik. Observer from 2021.
  10. Günter Kits. ICT system architect and expert.
  11. Lauri Võsandi


The joint statement of e-voting observers was published on 31st of March 2023 at the web address and forwarded to the National Electoral Committee and the Chancellor of Justice, for information also to the Supreme Court. The edited version “E-voting has to be made observable!” gathered 1068 signatures at the petition portal, was submitted to the parliament on 4th of July 2023 and the Constitutional Committee will start to discuss it on 25th of September 2023.