What is E-Voting? What kind of advantages comes with online voting and are there any weak points?

 Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Merkel, Director of the department „Democracy and Democratisation“ at the science centre for social research in Berlin (WZB), discusses democratic innovations in theory and practice in a published study by the Otto Brenner Stiftung. Including the political phenomenon, known as “Digital Democracy.”

The political scientist looks at the much discussed topic of “electronic voting” and analyses the status quo in a very unagitated and impartial manner. At first though, he discerns a common mistake in the field of electronic voting. What some define as e-Voting, means something completely different to others. So to avoid misconceptions in conversations about e-Voting, we give you an explanation:


What is e-Voting?

The first electoral variation is called „ Direct Recording Electronic (DER) Voting Machines“ or „Electronic Voting Machines (EVM)“.

Electronic voting machines always imply the employment of electoral computers. In terms of participatory habits the voting doesn’t differ much from a conventional ballot paper. The voter has to appear in person and casts the vote by ticking off the electronic ballot.


Brother ‘Online’: Internet Voting

Although electoral computers are mentioned in one breath with e-Voting, it is actually Internet voting, respectively Remote Electronic Voting, which can be assigned to the definition.

The vote can be cast online from any terminal device, whether from home or mobile. Here Merkel emphasizes the mayor distinction between the electoral computer and voting online. The online ballot changes the technical procedure of an election, but even more important, it might alter voters’ habits.

What is e-Voting capable of?

There is insufficient empirical evidence that online elections have affected the voter turnout on a national level. Hence opinions differ over remote electronic voting. Proponents of online voting emphasize the chance to awake a voting-tired Europe from the twilight sleep



Internet voting is no Prince Charming

The sceptics however slam on the brakes and their arguments against online voting include; The increase of voters is not noticeable, the elections’ costs are higher and empirical studies show no further evidence.

To bridge the divide

Despite advantages for expatriates, military personnel, or people with a language barrier, who could use the multilingual option online, doubters see the sword of Damocles of the “Digital Divide” hovering over the idea of E-voting. Not every population stratum would use the internet intensely. The “digital divide”, states Merkel, will be dissolved in time, but there would be temporarily disadvantages in political participation.


Safety first

Eventually security has the priority when it comes to elections. When the fixed safety requirements for online voting are met and data protection is compliant, online elections should get a chance on a national level of politics. Merkel, as well, points out the following arguments:

  • an online voting system safeguards the compliance of complex regulations and quickly delivers results
  • The potential postal voter can cast the vote online on the election day and thus can adjust the decision-making process up to the very last minute of the election



The study illustrates the democratic innovations objectively and outlines the advantages and disadvantages precisely. A scientific read about an exciting issue, which stirs up our democracy.

Source: Merkel, Wolfgang (2015), Digital Democracy: Grenzenlos oder light?. OBS-Arbeitsheft 80: 72-77.

Original Source: Keith Bacongco / flickr (CC BY 2.0-Licence)