Russian Public Opinion Research Centre and Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation present a joint study.
As the 2021 State Duma elections approach, there is a need to rethink domestic and international experiences with e-voting, its benefits and drawbacks related to public participation in the electoral process and trust in elections.
We do not know because we do not trust…
Despite its novelty, e-voting is not seen by Russians as something to be afraid of or something to be ignored: half of Russians are in favor of the idea to allow voters to vote remotely (49%); the same number of respondents say they are ready to take part in e-voting if this procedure is available (48%).
Despite the fact that the other part of the population is skeptical about e-voting and likely to disapprove it, the distinctive features of this group point out that their disapprovals mainly result from low levels of Internet use. Those who are most likely to disapprove of e-voting are basically older persons aged 60 and over (52%) and those who almost never use the Internet (56%). They got used to traditional paper ballot which is easier to use (74% of persons aged 60+; 67% and 83% of those who rarely use the Internet or almost never use it, respectively).
In addition, older persons are those who almost never interact with online environment; they find it difficult to assume how e-voting may shape the voting process in terms of the number of voters, trust in elections and electoral transparency (fig. 1).
Thus, skeptical views in these groups are not related to technical limitations or other risks; such respondents tend to be indifferent.
Vanguard of digital youth
Due to the digital format specifics it is mainly used by younger respondents. In this study, the “youth” group encompasses respondents aged 18-24 and 25-34. In both groups most of respondents favor the idea of e-voting; they are more likely than Russians in general to prefer e-voting (if available) to paper ballot (fig. 2, 3).
Young respondents are also more interested in electronic collection of signatures in support of a candidate: 76% of persons aged 18-24 and 65% of those aged 25-34 approve of the idea. They are also supported by respondents aged 35-44 (56%). In general, this idea is only favored by half of respondents.
Besides that, apart from electronic signature approval the majority of respondents in each of the groups aged under 44 would eagerly take part in this format of signature collection (73% of the 18-24-year-olds; 61% of persons aged 25-34; 58% of the 35-44-year-olds).
Young respondents are also more aware of possible risks of digital voting system. With their predominantly positive views of the effects of e-voting on elections, an overwhelming majority of young respondents still recognize that the e-format might result in a less transparent electoral process and a decline in trust in electoral processes (fig. 4, 5).
As to the effectiveness of e-voting Russians are divided in their opinions; this shows that respondents are not just eager to take part in e-voting but they need to be confident that the digital system will be properly used and will guarantee the data safety.
There are certain reasons behind the opinion polarity. The functioning of the system was checked at four testing stages before the Moscow Duma elections. The system was not hacked at any stages; however, there were certain technical failures: e-voting was twice interrupted in the infrastructure of the Moscow state services web portal, the platform was unavailable for voting during two hours.
The future of e-voting in Russia
Broadly speaking, the findings show that Russians do not unconditionally trust in electronic voting system; however, this format looks appealing to young respondents if certain improvements are made. Their interest is not only based on their desire to participate in a new form of voting but also their demand for a safe and well-functioning electronic voting system.
It is also important to take into account an extremely limited experience in e-voting in Russia which can also shape the public opinion: in the future the opinions may change depending on how this system will perform in other regions and in elections at different levels.
Nationwide VCIOM-Sputnik survey was conducted on March 17 and September 29, 2019. The survey involved 1,600 Russians aged 18 and over. The survey was telephone-based and carried out using stratified dual-frame random sample based on a complete list of landline and mobile phone numbers operating in Russia. The data were weighted according to selection probability and social and demographic characteristics. The margin of error at a 95% confidence level does not exceed 2.5%. In addition to sampling error, minor changes in question wording and different circumstances arising during the fieldwork can introduce bias into the survey.
Note: Using materials from the site www.wciom.ru or wciom.com, as well as distributed by VCIOM, the reference to the source (or hyperlink for the electronic media) is obligatory.