The Supreme Administrative Court has ruled on the Finnish municipal elections of 2008, in which an e-voting system was piloted.
In its decision, the court sided with the complainants, overturning an earlier decision of Helsinki Administrative Court and the decisions of the municipal central elections committees to confirm the election results. As a result, the three municipalities that took part in the Finnish e-voting pilot must now hold new elections as soon as possible. As the e-voting pilot has ended and the law authorizing e-voting expired in December 2008, the new elections will use a traditional paper ballot system.
The Supreme Administrative Court decision was based on two issues: first, the voting instructions that the voters had received by mail were incorrect, and second, the user interface of the e-voting terminals was deemed to be flawed. The voting process utilized a smart card given to each voter, and upon premature removal of the card, the voting terminals gave no indication that the vote was not cast. As the system did not use a voter-verified paper ballot, voters might have been left with an impression that the vote had in fact been cast.
It is notable that the Court did not address the general lawfulness of e-voting. According to the Finnish law authorizing e-voting, electronic ballot boxes would need to be archived until the next election. These electronic ballot boxes contain encrypted information on who voted and how. This poses a risk to voter secrecy. However, the Court declined to rule on whether this is unlawful, or whether the electronic ballot box would need to be destroyed.
In addition, the Court did not address the question whether an e-voting system would need to be more transparent. A significant amount of system design in the Finnish e-voting pilot were declared ‘trade secrets’, and the system source code is closed. The Court decision still leaves an open question whether paperless, ‘black box’ e-voting systems could be fielded in the future.
Electronic Frontier Finland (Effi) press release on the Court decision (in Finnish):
Turre Legal, a law firm representing the complainants, comments:
“E-voting appeal won: we have new elections!”
On the earlier Helsinki Administrative Court decision:
“An error margin of 2% in municipal elections ruled acceptable in Finland”
On the problems that were reported soon after the municipal elections:
“Finnish e-voting fiasco: votes lost”
Effi’s e-voting ‘shadow report’ in English
“Finnish e-voting system must not stay a trade secret”
Council of Europe report on the Finnish e-voting pilot:
Supreme Administrative Court decision (in Finnish):