Can internet voting increase turnout and „enhance“ democracy and why not?

It is widely spread standpoint in our media that a clear and sunny day may bring a beneficent contribution to the voting turnout increase. Do the place and method of voting, together with the weather conditions really have such a determining influence on a decision whether we will use our active voting rights or not? If, on the other hand, statistics are to be believed, the matter with the weather is quite the opposite – higher turnout has traditionally been recorded on those “raining cats and dogs” election days.[1] So, we asked ourselves what is the situation with the method itself we exercise our right to vote?

For a long time in European countries, there has been a trend of the so-called democratic deficit, whose crucial factor is insufficient involvement of citizens in political processes. In response to the problem of low turnout, an attempt to “repair” democracy was made by the more widespread use of electronic devices in the electoral process. E-voting thus covers the entire spectrum of novities in the electoral process, from voting by touching screen on the polling spot to the using personal phone connected on the Internet ( the so-called internet voting or i-voting ).[2] Given that only internet voting completely reduces all costs (time and efforts of going to the polling station), its contribution to increasing turnout is estimated as the most significant one. At the same time, two approaches can be distinguished – a more optimistic one, according to which the key reason why we need to provide greater support for the introduction of i-voting is precisely its ability to “improve” democracy,[3] and a more reserved one who points out that the motto “if the voter won’t go to the ballot box, let’s bring the ballot box to the voter” can at least stop the further decline in turnout, if it doesn’t lead to stronger participation in democratic processes .[4]

But, is it really that simple?

Numerous empirical studies have shown that electronic voting models do not attract those citizens who are otherwise not politically interested, and that e-voting does not have a positive impact on either the level or the nature of turnout,[5] while a certain positive effect was observed only in the category of occasional voters.[6]

These data do not show, however, why such a simplification of the election process, which practically allows you to “vote in your underwear”, does not contribute to a significant increase in turnout, and thus to a reduction of the democratic deficit. Therefore, in order to give a more detailed answer to both questions from the title of this text, we must thoroughly examine the concept of voting equality, as well as the psychological-symbolic argument. When it comes to voting equality, the problem with i-voting is that, despite the implicit assumption, technological and IT literacy is not absolute even in some European countries. In other words, as long as there is a digital divide, the impact of i-voting on turnout growth will remain limited. In addition to the technological aspect of equality, the political aspect must not be neglected either. It is reflected in the demand that the use of technology must be carried out in a politically neutral way, which will not happen if, hypothetically, only supporters of a certain political ideology are more inclined to use the Internet, or, as happened in Estonia, the e-voting system is only available in one language, thus excluding minority groups from the opportunity to participate equally in the e-voting process.[7]

Finally, according to certain psychological studies, the place where you vote can fundamentally influence the content of your vote, and voting in public enhances the individual’s self-perception as an active citizen, [8] who is ready to take responsibility for his participation in the political community, even though the minimal effort required to get to his polling station. In this sense, the act of voting in a democratic community acquires an almost sacral character, which is expressed in a picturesque manner by the French Constitutional Council in one of its decisions, saying that ” “the use of voting machines denies citizens participation in the democratic liturgy and civic communion, embodied in the solemn act of casting a vote in the ballot box.” [9]Seen from this point of view, the possibility of “voting in your underwear” not only cannot contribute to the increase in turnout and the strengthening or healing of democracy, but , on the contrary, can lead to further disintegration, strengthening of civic lethargy and a wider feel of disavowal in which nothing is enough valuable or sacred to make even the slightest effort for, even if it is the very moment of transfer of sovereignty.

The method of voting (via one’s own telephone, or in another electronic way) can therefore treat the consequence, even to a very limited extent, of the problems of modern democracies, but it cannot even come close to treating its cause. The (non)existence of civic awareness, the alienation of political elites and the lack of programs, alongside with distrust in the quality of the electoral offer are circumstances that determine the (non)recovery of democracy in the 21st century much more than whether we vote from the living room and in our underwear or whether election day is sunny enough.

[1] Loše vreme povećava izlaznost- evo kakvo će vreme biti u Srbiji u nedelju na izborni dan, 6.12.2023.

[2] J. Vučković, „Elektronska demokratija i elektronsko glasanje”, u: Usklađivanje pravnog sistema Srbije sa standardima EU (ur. S. Soković), Pravni fakultet Univerziteta u Kragujevcu, Kragujevac 2021,142.

[3] E. Bennoist, B. Anrig, D. O. Jaquet-Chiffelle, „ Internet Voting: Opportunity or Threat for Democracy“, in: E-voting and Identity (eds. A. Alkassar, M. Volkamer), Springer, Bochum 2007, 32.

[4]A. Petitpas, J. Julien Matthieu, P. Sciarini, „Does E-Voting Matter for Turnout, and to Whom?”, Electoral studies 71/2021,1.

[5] A. M. Oostveen, P. van den Besselaar, „Users’ experiences with e-voting: a comparative case study“, International Journal of Electronic Governance 2(4)/2009, 358.

[6] A. Petitpas, J. Julien Matthieu, P. Sciarini, 9.

[7] A. H. Trechsel, Potential and challenges of E-voting in the EU, European parliament, Strasbourg 2016, 20.

[8] R. Weill, “Election integrity: the constitutionality of transitioning to electronic voting in comparative terms“, in: Digital Democracy in a Globalized World (eds. C. Prins et al.), Edward Elgar Publishing 2017, 152.

[9] J. Barrat Esteve, ‘The French Conseil Constitutionnel and Electronic Voting’ in: E-voting case law: A comparative analysis (eds. A. Driza Maurer, J. Barrat), Ashgate 2015, 138.

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About the author

Vasilije Marković

Vasilije Marković is junior research assistant at the Institute of Comparative Law.  His areas of interest include theory of law, public law and European human rights law.