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Estonia's local elections to be settled online

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Estonia's online voting machinery is being put through its paces for the first time, as the country readies itself for local elections this weekend.

Traditional ballots will be cast on Sunday 16 October, but technophiles can have their say a little earlier, with the internet voting option already live. This is thought to be first time internet voting has been used in a bona fide election, anywhere in the world.

News agency AFP reports that voting is already going well. A spokesperson for the national election commission told the agency: "There was brisk e-voting in the morning when polling time started. So far, we've had no technical glitches or anything; everything has run smoothly."

Estonian president Arnold Ruutel refused to endorse the internet voting system for using in general elections. His main objection was that the e-voting system allows voters to change their minds as often as they like ahead of the close of polling.

Online voters also have the option of voting with a paper ballot in the traditional way. If they do so, this cancels out their internet vote.

Ruutel argued that this violated the principle of uniformity. However, he was overruled by the constitutional court this September.

The voting mechanism is fairly simple: Estonian citizens need an ID card, a computer and an ID Card-reader. The ID card identifies them uniquely, and they can then cast their vote on a secure site. They must finally confirm their choice by entering a PIN.

Authorities say that some 800,000 of the million people eligable to vote have ID cards. However, fewer have the card readers they need to vote online.

Estonia says it has made significant modifications to the set up since bringing white-hat hackers in to test for vulnerabilities. It says it has disconnected several subsystems, has assigned police protection to the servers and has made sure that the computer that processes the votes is not connected to the internet.

If this week's elections go off without any problems, Estonia is likely to amend its statute books to allow online voting in general elections from 2007. ®

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