While the abstention rate has peaked in recent regional and departmental elections, in June 2021, online voting returned to the public debate on several occasions. Supported by some members of the government who see it as an opportunity to increase the turnout and modernize the voting procedures. But what would happen if we could vote by internet in France?
What is the rule today?
To elect their next President of the Republic, voters must go to the polls. If they are unable to attend on election day, they can request a proxy vote.
In France, internet voting is only possible for l French people living abroad during the consular elections and the legislative elections. In 2017, due a high threat of cyberattack, the latter were not, however, able to use this method of voting.
If internet voting is not used for major elections, the parties use it to organize their primaries. Thus, supporters ofEELV, LR were able to elect their candidates online. At the end of January, the voters of the Primary popular will do the same.
“Online voting is also used in France for other types of elections such as elections of parents’ representatives, elections within associations or elections of staff representatives in companies”, specifies Véronique Cortier, researcher in computer science at the Lorraine Laboratory for Research in Computer Science and its Applications (Loria-CNRS).
What would happen if we could all vote online?
All citizens could then use a personal computer or laptop to vote. They would no longer need to go to the polls on election day and could cast their vote from home or elsewhere.
Online voting would then score “the big break with the ballot”, underlines Chantal Enguehard, teacher-researcher at the University of Nantes and computer engineer.
Online voting consists of performing a gesture: clicking a mouse or pressing a button. “This gesture is transformed into an electrical impulse. This pulse is transformed into a computer code. These codings are repeatedly transformed, and at the end results are announced., explains the teacher-researcher.
Is it concretely possible to apply it in France?
To introduce online voting, there is no need to change the constitution. A new law “ordinary” allow it to be authorized for all elections except one: the presidential election.
For this ballot, the rules are governed by the organic law of November 6, 1962. Only a new organic law would make it possible to introduce postal voting in the presidential election.
What is an organic law? It is a law whose intervention is provided for by the Constitution to set the terms of application of some of its provisions.
What risks would we face if we could vote online?
“Bugs, hacking… We often talk about security risks but little about the risks of transparency and the reliability of the vote”, notes Chantal Enguehard.
“All the successive transformations involved in a vote on the internet cannot be monitored otherwise there would be no more secrecy of the vote”, explains the computer engineer. However, how can we be sure that our ballot has arrived and that it has been counted?
Internet voting is in this, “a system too opaque to be used in political elections”, assures the teacher-researcher.
And, in a society where citizens have less and less confidence in the political class and where there is a crisis of representation, voters need to believe in their voting system.
“If the voters are not convinced that the result reflects the expression of the votes, they will not accept the result”, says Véronique Cortier.
The issue of voter authentication also arises. “How can we be sure of the identity of the person who votes? asks the specialist in computer security protocols. For the moment everyone receives an identifier, but it can very well be used in our place by a loved one..
From a security point of view, internet voting does not represent any advantage, believes the computer science researcher. “Today, there is no solution to achieve the level of security offered by voting at the ballot box”, she says. It would take several more years before finding the means to secure the vote, according to the specialist.
“Even if in ten years we propose a safe system, it will still take time to succeed in designing a system understandable by voters”, she adds.
For Marie Neihouser, post-doctoral political science researcher at the Laboratory for Applied Studies and Research in Social Sciences (LERASS), before considering a change in the way of voting, it is also important to look at the context and the voting history. In France, voting at the ballot box is a real ritual. “Even if there are more and more abstentions, this ritual remains quite rooted in our country”, she says.
What would be the benefits?
“The main advantage of online voting is to offer an alternative when paper voting at the ballot box is not possible”, says Véronique Cortier.
“The cost and time of counting would be completely reduced”, advance for her part Marie Neihouser.
For the political science researcher, internet voting could be a way to make voting more accessible to young people. “These are people who are used to doing their business online. »
“It can also be favorable for people with reduced mobility. If getting around is complicated, then voting at home is an advantage”, she adds.
Is online voting a way to fight against abstention? Not really esteem the post-doctoral student. “It’s a bit like a bandage on a wooden leg, she warns. The problem is not so much to offer a new way to vote as to really reinterest people in politics. »
Who is in favor of a change?
Electronic voting, a term that encompasses both voting machines and internet voting, was among Emmanuel Macron’s proposals in 2017. The candidate thus wanted to “ digitize our democracy, instituting electronic voting that will broaden participation, reduce election costs and modernize the image of politics”.
The day after the first round of regional and departmental elections s in June 2021, marked by a record abstention rate, the government spokesperson was asked about remote voting (by mail or online). To this question, Gabriel Attal said to himself “in favor of electronic voting. We used it during the elections of representatives of French people living abroad. It went very well. »
A position that was shared by Stanislas Guerini, the general delegate of LREM, who wanted “implement Internet voting from the next five-year term”.
Also in June 2021, Secretary of State for European Affairs Clément Beaune, also in favor of electronic voting, had suggested on France Inter to examine this track before the presidential election of 2022.
“I am in favor of looking at this track. Let’s open this debate. When you have 70% abstention, you cannot afford the luxury of closing tracks”, he said.
If electronic voting, early voting or postal voting have been mentioned on several occasions, it should be noted however that no change in the way of voting will be put in place for the presidential election of 2022.
Could this new rule tip a ballot?
There are still many unknowns that make answering this question difficult. It all depends on what impact this measure would have on participation.
If internet voting showed a positive effect on turnout, then one could assume that this would change the balance of political power and therefore there could be surprises in the results.
Are there any countries that use online voting?
Estonia is currently the only country in the European Union to have introduced online voting on a national scale. Authorized and supervised since 2005, internet voting is used for local, European and legislative elections.
To vote, voters use their digital ID cards with a unique, encrypted electronic signature.
In the 2019 legislative elections, 43.8% of voters expressed themselves in this way. However, while online voting is widely used by Estonians, it would not have “did not have a significant impact on the participation rate”, according to a report by the Free University of Brussels published in 2020.
In Canada, it was possible to vote by Internet in certain municipalities in the provinces of Ontario and Nova Scotia during the last municipal elections. On the other hand, online voting is not authorized for federal elections.
In Switzerland, electronic voting via the Internet has been in the trial phase for several years in certain cantons, the latter being responsible for organizing the polls. Since 2019, after several flaws detected in the system, it is no longer possible to vote electronically in Switzerland.
For its part, Belgium had considered setting up this internet voting system for 2024 but, a study conducted by a consortium of universities and commissioned by the Ministry of the Interior in spring 2020 considered that the implementation of such a system was not possible before 2034.
Find the other episodes of this series What if… we changed the rules?
Episode 1 : What if… we could vote from the age of 16?
Episode 2: What if… voting was compulsory?
Episode 5: What if… we could all vote by mail?