What is preventing Internet voting from being implemented in France for the 2024 legislative elections?

Why doesn't online voting exist in France for elections? The reasons why this voting method is not widespread have been identified for a long time, but are not always well known.

The first round of early legislative elections will take place on June 30, 2024. But for French people who live abroad, the voting has already started: their first round takes place from June 25 to 27. They can vote online, but also at the ballot box, provided they physically travel to the consulate.

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It will be the same thing in the second round, scheduled for July 7, 2024: expatriates will have an early slot from July 2 to 4, according to the same terms. For some voters, the procedure is known. Indeed, Internet voting was already implemented in 2012 during a previous legislative election.

But, like every year, this possibility granted to French people living abroad is not transposed to the national territory. For others, you must go through the classic vote at the ballot box, make a proxy (this can now be completely dematerialized, under conditions) or use a voting machine, if necessary.

This raises a legitimate question: why on earth can't we vote on the Internet for the elections, even though we can already carry out many procedures online (for example, check our electoral situation and know which polling station to go to? to present) ? This, while many individuals seem to be familiar with digital technology.

To push in favor of online voting, we sometimes hear the argument according to which the possibility of voting remotely would reduce abstention, which can be very high for elections that are less followed. For the first round of the 2022 presidential election, the participation rate was 65% (two voters out of three) at 5 p.m. in mainland France

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Therefore, we can argue that it would be wise to make Internet voting an additional voting method, in addition to voting at the ballot box or essentially proxy voting. After all, broadband is everywhere, and many Internet users have already voted online during non-political elections (such as union representatives).

For those who are familiar with these issues, the prospect of expanding voting to the Internet may seem ill-informed. However, this is not the case for everyone. This is therefore an opportunity to take an overview of the reasons why there is still no online voting in France for political elections.

Why doesn't online voting exist in France for elections?

There is not enough time to get everything ready on time

The first reason is firstly a scheduling problem: we would not have had time to deploy an online system before the big day.

The first two rounds of the legislative elections took place three and four weeks after Emmanuel Macron's decision to dissolve the National Assembly. Already during the 2022 presidential election, the Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, raised this problem: “ We won't have time to organize “.

Some will say that this should have been done much earlier. The subject of electronic voting appeared in Emmanuel Macron's program during the 2017 presidential election. The fact remains that, given the very high security needs, the deadlines remain too short: it is not a simple page web that should be set up.

The positive effect on abstention is not guaranteed

Could voting by Internet stop the erosion in the participation rate that we witness in each election? Work on the issue has taken place abroad, indicated Véronique Cortier, research director at the CNRS and specialist in the security of communication protocols. And she observed that “ the general trend in these studies suggests not. »

A report written by Belgian academics and dated at the end of 2020 addressed the case of France. It reads that “ Internet voting had no impact on turnout. Internet voting had a negative impact on the number of valid ballots. There is little difference between paper votes and Internet votes. »

Online voting risks degrading the solemn character of the vote

Voting is one of the most important events for the population. However, there are concerns about the consequences that this voting method would have. Does it risk weakening the symbolism of this moment of citizenship by reducing it to a few clicks on a web page or on a mobile application, exactly as one would visit a streaming site or launch a video game on one's smartphone?

In 2007, the Constitutional Council had issued a warning, citing the case of voting machines. The institution observes that “ their use (…) breaks the symbolic link between the citizen and the electoral act that the manual practice of voting and counting had established “. De facto, this break can only get worse with online voting, which can even be done at home, and not on site.

vote-scrutiny-election-urne
Voting is not a trivial act. // Source: Metronews Toulouse

How do we ensure that each online vote is free?

Thanks to the voting booth, it is easy to say that the person who is voting is choosing the person of their choice, without external pressure. She will come out of her small cabin with a closed envelope, which she will then slide a few seconds later into the transparent ballot box, under the eye of the polling station officials. But behind a PC or smartphone screen, can we have the same certainty?

Inevitably, there will always be uncertainty about the solitary nature of each online vote. Pressure may be exerted when swiping the virtual ballot. Should we turn on the webcam of each phone at the time of voting, to ensure that there is no influence? This would be a gas factory (manpower would have to be provided to check the videos) and it might not really solve anything.

It is the whole question of the sincerity of the vote, but also of the sincerity of the election which is in the background. Additional problems could emerge, such as vote buying, by giving away login credentials for money. No doubt the problem would be marginal, but it could appear striking enough to be a source of controversy and cast a shadow over the rest of the vote.

The question of transparency of online voting remains under debate

In a polling station, it is relatively easy to see the integrity of the process. Anyone can, if they wish, attend and participate in the counting operations. The urn is transparent. The voting booths are designed to ensure that there is only one person per booth. Representatives of political parties can be on site to see that everything is okay and, if necessary, report a problem.

This transparency is complex to transcribe with online voting: it would be necessary to open the source code of all the components which have a role to play in counting the ballots and securing the process. However, if everyone can attend and understand the workings of a count in a polling station, understanding how lines of code and algorithms work remains reserved for specialists.

The security and reliability of online voting: two other difficulties

It is not enough to make everything transparent to gain the trust of the electorate with online voting and, therefore, legitimize the result of an election, even if it is not favorable to their beliefs. We must also secure the entire procedure so that we can be sure that the election was not hacked by a foreign power with interests to influence French politics.

Accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election are on everyone's minds. How can we be sure that each vote will be counted correctly? That each vote comes from a natural person having the right to vote? That the number of voters corresponds to that of the ballots? That the system will be resilient enough to stay online during the election?

It is indeed necessary to ensure the correct authentication of the voter, with perhaps high constraints to leave no room for uncertainty, but also the successful encryption of their ballot paper, on their computer (hoping that it is not corrupted in one way or another), the correct transfer of the ballot into a virtual ballot box and that it is resilient enough to resist internal or external threats.

For further
New electoral map in 2022. // Source: Ministry of the InteriorNew electoral map in 2022. // Source: Ministry of the Interior

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