How Much Does an e-Vote Cost? Cost Comparison per Vote in Multichannel Elections in Estonia

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DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-00419-4_8
In book: E-Vote-ID 2018, Publisher: Springer, pp.117-131
Cite this publication
We are presenting the results of the CoDE project in this paper, where we investigate the costs per vote of different voting channels in Estonian Local Elections (2017). The elections analyzed involve different processes for casting a vote: Early Voting at County Centers, Advance Voting at County Centers, Advance Voting at Ordinary Voting District Committees, Electronic Voting, Election Day Voting, and Home Voting. Our analysis shows how the administrative costs per e-vote (an electronic vote) are half the price of the second cheapest option (Election Day Voting), representing the most costefficient way of organizing elections, given the conditions of this Case Study. Otherwise, different forms of convenience voting have much higher costs, giving us subjects for further discussion on how to organize multichannel elections.
How Much Does an e-Vote Cost? Cost
Comparison per Vote in Multichannel
Elections in Estonia
Robert Krimmer
, David Duenas-Cid
Iuliia Krivonosova
, Priit Vinkel
, and Arne Koitmae
Tallinn University of Technology, Akadeemia tee 3, 12618 Tallinn, Estonia
State Electoral Ofce of Estonia, Tallinn, Estonia
Abstract. We are presenting the results of the CoDE project in this paper,
where we investigate the costs per vote of different voting channels in Estonian
Local Elections (2017). The elections analyzed involve different processes for
casting a vote: Early Voting at County Centers, Advance Voting at County
Centers, Advance Voting at Ordinary Voting District Committees, Electronic
Voting, Election Day Voting, and Home Voting. Our analysis shows how the
administrative costs per e-vote (an electronic vote) are half the price of the
second cheapest option (Election Day Voting), representing the most cost-
efcient way of organizing elections, given the conditions of this Case Study.
Otherwise, different forms of convenience voting have much higher costs,
giving us subjects for further discussion on how to organize multichannel
Keywords: Multi-channel elections Calculation of costs TDABC
1 On e-Government, e-Voting and Calculation of Costs
Since McLuhan coined the notion of a global village [42] for the current Information
Society [56] we adopted, naturalized and routinized the use of technology for several
constituents of our daily life. The leap to an online world of Public Administration [36]
had often been regarded as a potential cornerstone for managerial reform and creating
future systems of governance [45]. In relation to this, e-government, following Yildiz
[61] can facilitate better structures for interconnectivity, service delivery [5], efciency
and effectiveness [24,50], decentralization, transparency and accountability. Citizens,
already used to relating with others (friends, family and businesses) use online tools
and consider the use of e-government measures as a normal step in the development of
technology-based relationships [8].
Estonia is one of the pioneering and leading countries in adopting e-government
tools [1,27,32,51], thanks to the three layers forming the backbone of their gov-
ernment services: the X-road system, the electronic ID and the service provision eesti.
©Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018
R. Krimmer et al. (Eds.): E-Vote-ID 2018, LNCS 11143, pp. 117131, 2018.
ee [41]. Amongst the causes for this success Kalvet [27] lists: (1) utilizing an e-
commerce role model for the use of ICT in the public sector [55]; (2) the presence of
enthusiastic and visionary civil servants who developed information systems in the
public sector [63] and politicians focused on developing a program of e-government
[17]; (3) a favorable legislative environment towards ICT; (4) stable funding for ICT
expenditures; (5) the adoption of the Estonian ID-Card by public administration; and
(6) cooperation between the public and private sectors, especially the banking sector as
a generator of expectations regarding e-government services and as a general catalyst
for e-government (p. 146). As a result, Estonia represents an ideal venue for observing
different dimensions of e-related expressions such as e-government, e-voting, e-
banking or e-commerce [30].
1.1 Convenience Voting and Electoral Complexity
The adoption of e-voting strategies can be inserted into the context of the battle against
the consolidated tendency for a declining turnout [4,39], which is challenging global
understanding and the functioning of the democratic process. Some of the causes
described for understanding this decline have been summarized as (1) the transition to a
less competitive electoral scenario, (2) a generational decline in the will to participate in
the political process and (3) a transformation of values that lead to political engagement
[6]. The disengagement of citizens at elections threatens the correct functioning of
democracy by unbalancing the distribution of power and representation between those
who participate and those who do not [37], having spillover effects on the global
legitimacy of the system of governance and its decision-making [9,48]. Many gov-
ernments and Electoral Management Bodies react by actively seeking out, testing
and/or implementing improvements to traditional voting systems, presuming that a
more convenient voting system will have positive impacts on the turnout at elections
As a result, new systems for early or convenience voting had been proposed in a
number of countries [31,34], and administrative rules and procedures have been
adapted to allow citizens to cast their vote at different moments in the election cycle
[20], trying to increase the comfort of voters and ease voterscomfort [2,7].
Administration of elections represents a necessary factor inuencing voter turnout: an
adequate voting system might not increase the number of voters, but an inadequate one
will denitely decrease it. Although election administration differs from context to
context, it is still commonplace that new voting channels cannot replace but can only
complement existing methods of participation in elections due to the responsibility to
provide a service to the entire electorate [19,62]. However, the opportunity to rethink
and optimize electoral administrative procedures when introducing these additional
voting channels is often missed.
The Estonian e-vote remote online voting system, in use since 2005, turns Estonia
into the only country in Europe (if not in fact the world) to use this without restriction
in all types of elections [54]. The Estonian I-voting project was established in order to
sustain and increase voter turnout by creating an additional and convenient voting
channel that would be in coherence with efcient use of the infrastructure already in
existence [28]. Estonian e-voting systems can be considered a successful and widely
118 R. Krimmer et al.
used voting mode (over 30% in the last three elections) but with an unequal impact in
different subpopulations [52].
The adoption of multi-channel electoral systems poses a set of new challenges to be
considered by public administrations, including additional workloads for electoral
administrations, increased vulnerability from double voting, increased length of voting
periods or difculties derived from overlapping voting periods [59]. Previous research
studies to evaluate multichannel elections [34,60] indicated the three main areas of
concern: (1) multiple-channel elections increase the complexity for election adminis-
trations; (2) the increase in complexity requires business process reengineering of
electoral processes; and (3) it involves analyzing the cost of introducing new voting
channels. This situation addresses a different dimension in the debate on elections, how
to achieve the desired social goals with a reduced economic impact.
1.2 Cost Accounting
The analysis of the costs arising from running elections has attracted researchersand
practitionersinterest, but a large share of the research already conducted on this issue
had been focused on the costs for candidates and campaigns [22,26,47], the costs for
voters [14,16,23,46] or the costs of public information systems [12,40]. Other
projects that addressed the topic revealed (1) the increase in the cost of elections all
over the world [44], (2) the need to dene different kinds of electoral costs and the
analytical scope of the methodology [38], (3) the need to include costs incurred by
adding new voting channels, either high one-off costs (e-votes) or transaction costs
(postal voting) [35] and (4) the need to overcome the reduced level of transparency and
limited opportunities for scrutinizing certain voting modalities [13]. A clear and suc-
cessfully proven methodology for facing this challenge is still lacking [58], permitting
the calculation of costs of multichannel elections overcoming the previous difculties,
amongst others, (1) the lack of depth in approaches for calculating costs based on the
assessment of administrative costs through electoral budgets and their division by the
number of voters participating [18], the difculties of uncovering hidden costs and
dealing with different accounting systems and governance structures [10,38] or dif-
culties relating to the choice of methodology of directly questioning the source (levels
of response, overall quality of responses) [25]. Three main problems can summarize the
access to the costs of elections: (1) the difculties in accessing election costs [11], as
many democratic governments are not obliged to divulge this information; (2) the
difculties in recovering hidden costs from budgets; and (3) the difculties of allocating
the costs of public infrastructures to the organization of the election.
2 Methodology
For developing the research methodology, we referred to a broader research eld of
governmental cost accounting and business-oriented methodologies adapted for cal-
culating administrative management costs. Our goal not only relates to detecting
potential inefciencies in the electoral process or to raising awareness of the costs [43],
but also, in particular to deliver comparative results of the costs of different voting
How Much Does an e-Vote Cost? 119
channels, in order to enrich the existing literature on e-voting and electoral analysis. To
achieve this, our proposed methodology relies on the use of (1) Business Process
Reengineering (BPR) [3,21] for facilitating workow analysis of complex systems
(elections); and (2) Activity-Based Costing (ABC) [15,33] for calculating costs per
service/unit produced by the electoral system (votes), in particular, the use of Time-
Driven ABC (TDABC) [29], which reduces the volume of data required for conducting
the ABC analysis of (1) the practical capacity of resources committed and the costs
involved and (2) unit times for performing transactional activities.
Based on this, a model was developed with the following steps:
1. Conducting electoral process modeling based on the analysis of electoral legislation
and publicly available internal instructions, complemented with interviews with
stakeholders and on-site observations.
2. Creating a list of activities based on ndings from Step 1. Select only those
activities which are organized differently depending on the voting channel.
3. Identifying resource pools and determining costs assigned to each resource pool.
4. Attributing costs to activities (attribute directly if possible; attribute by proportional
time in other cases) in order to receive total cost per activity.
5. Calculating the practical capacity of resources (we set it at 80% of the theoretical
full capacity in line with the standard established in accounting research).
6. Dividing total cost per activity by the practical capacity, to receive cost per minute
per activity.
7. Dividing time spent on every activity by output to receive cost per output (in our
case, per vote or ballot paper) per activity
. Multiply this number by the unit cost of
a resource pool in order to receive the cost per vote or ballot paper per activity.
Total the cost per vote cast for all activities considered, in order to receive the cost
per vote used per voting channel.
8. Comparing costs per vote cast for different voting channels.
3 Case-Study
3.1 Case Selection
As was mentioned above, Estonia has a leading position in the development of e-
government and I-voting tools, having aroused the interest of many scholars trying to
understand the adoption of these tools by citizens [1], its impact on electoral turnout
[53] or internal processes in the I-voting system [40], leading many to consider Estonia
as a critical case in any relevant research on e-democracy.
Administration of Estonian elections is rather complex, permitting the multichannel
analysis proposed. Voters are simultaneously offered multiple voting channels (Fig. 1).
However, not all the voting channels are active during every election (voters residing
In traditional TD ABC the time per item of output is estimated. However, as is the case with
elections, we know precisely how much time is spent on every activity, we receive time per item of
output in the manner described above.
120 R. Krimmer et al.
outside Estonia cannot participate in Local Elections) and some of the voting channels,
when occurring, overlap both in their periods, like advance voting at county centers,
advance voting in ordinary Voting District Committees and Internet voting.
Two more elements endorse developing a case study in Estonia. Firstly, the fact
that Estonian elections by and large use the existing infrastructure, providing an
excellent opportunity to test analytical methodologies directed towards delving into
hidden costs. Secondly, the involvement of the Estonian Electoral Management Bodies
(State Electoral Ofce) in developing the case study and also the interests of Estonian
administration in implementing a similar cost calculation methodology to the one
proposed in this research by 2020.
With this background, Estonia has been selected as the rst case for us to test our
methodology and model. For this analysis, we focus on the most recent elections in
Estonia which happened to be the Local Elections taking place in October, 2017.
3.2 Case Description
Estonian local elections took place from October 515, 2017, and offered voters seven
different voting channels. Overall, it provided a turnout of 586,519 voters (53.3% of the
electorate), including 120,888 early and advance voters (20.6% of turnout) and 186,034
e-voters (31.7% of turnout). 279,597 voters cast their votes on Election Day (47.7% of
turnout). The results do not represent a big change from previous local elections in
terms of overall turnout, following the series of declining turnouts starting in 2009, but
indicate a consolidation of the use of e-voting (31.7% of votes cast) and the popularity
of voting in county centers (40% of all early and advance votes were cast in 28 county
centers, compared to only 60% of advance votes cast in 549 ordinary polling stations).
In order to conduct the cost analysis, we divided voting channels occurring in
relation to time of voting:
I-voting (10
to 4
day before Election Day).
Early Voting (10
to 7
day before Election Day).
Advance Voting (6
to 4
day before Election Day).
Election Day Voting.
In relation to the voting location, we consider:
Supermarket Voting - Voting organized in county centers (Early, Advance and
Election Day Voting).
VDC Voting - Voting organized in ordinary Polling Stations Voting District
Committees (VDC) according to the Estonian legal system (Advance and Election
Day Voting).
This division is based on the following criteria: (1) The differentiation between
voting organized online and voting at physical locations (Early, Advance and Election
Day Voting) is due to the obvious organizational differences and, as a result, activities
and costs involved; (2) voting organized in county centers and voting organized in
ordinary VDCs are analyzed separately due to a signicant difference in the number of
locations (28 county centers compared to 549 ordinary VDCs), staff involved (36
How Much Does an e-Vote Cost? 121
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