Estonia's e-governance revolution is hailed as a voting success – so why are some US states pulling in the opposite direction?

Erik S. Herron, Professor of Political Science, West Virginia University, The Conversation on

Published in Political News

Because of this information sharing, election officials know who is eligible to vote and which online ballot they should receive no matter where they live in the country.

For many reasons, the U.S. system of election management is very different from Estonia’s, and online voting is rare.

Developing and maintaining an e-governance system requires technical, political and social forces to align. Because each U.S. state manages its own elections, and decisions can vary at the county level or below, it is difficult to envision a consistent technical solution. It is also more challenging to coordinate a solution across such a large country and safely implement secure online voting given current U.S. internet voting technology.

Additionally, concerns about federal interference in state matters have prompted political and social pushback on recent election reforms. Public consensus on instituting a nationally mandated electronic ID similar to the one that forms the foundation of Estonia’s internet voting appears unlikely.

Research shows that most Estonians trust their e-governance systems, although there are skeptics. Some critiques focus on perceived security shortcomings.

The internet voting process has also become politicized. In the most recent election, one political party that had discouraged its voters from using online voting – and unsurprisingly trailed its rivals in the online count – challenged the process in court. Its effort to annul internet voting failed. The U.S. witnessed a similar dynamic around absentee ballots in the 2020 elections.


While the United States’ decentralized approach has its advantages, it also creates shortcomings in security, efficiency and access.

Secure elections means that only people who have the right to vote are able to cast a ballot and that they aren’t improperly influenced in the process. Efficient elections means the process is smooth — voters don’t have to wait in long lines, and their ballots are counted quickly and accurately. And access emphasizes that people who have the right to vote can register, gather the information they need in order to vote, and successfully cast their ballot.

Sometimes changes to voting practices that enhance one of these values – say, security – may create impediments for another – say, access. Requiring a photo ID to vote, for example, may reduce the small likelihood of voter impersonation, but it also risks preventing a legitimate voter who forgets to bring, or doesn’t have, a valid photo ID from exercising their right to vote. Finding an acceptable balance among these values is a challenge for citizens and policymakers alike.

Several states, including my own state of West Virginia, recently made a decision that I believe undermines all three of these values by making our elections less secure, less efficient and less accessible.


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