Public Policy Students Observe the Estonian Elections
Between the 1st and the 4th of March, 7 students from the Political Analysis and Public Policy Master's Degree traveled to the Estonian capital of Tallinn to participate in an Election Observation Mission for the 2019 Riigikogu elections.
Following international guidelines and their OSCE/ODIHR training: Joseph Cripps, Dragalina Vranceanu, Felipe Correa Fabry, Ararat Babayan, Alvaro Gonzalez-Mateos Benavides, Camilo Camargo and Ines Raquel organized a 4 day limited Election Observation Mission to observe and assess the legitimacy of the Estonian Riigikogu elections.
The Election Observation Mission was supplemented by a series of seminars hosted by international elections experts and members of the Estonian Electoral Authority. HSE’s students also took part in a networking evening hosted by the Estonian government with other international observers. During that time, the students were able to understand the main issues concerning the Estonian electoral system, from the importance of paper ballots to cybersecurity, the political changes and preferences in the last decades.
Concluding the evening of seminars, a panel discussion was held on the “Future of (Estonian) elections’ were, to the surprise of the audience, Dr Vinkel said that regardless of the advancements of E-voting, in 20 years time there will still be a desire for paper voting.
Across the evening of educational and networking events, the students meet Mac Warner, The U.S Secretary of State for West Virginia. On Speaking to Security of State on his desire to implement E-voting systems to the American armed forces stationed abroad, Mission Director Joseph Cripps said that it was a ‘brilliant opportunity to see how a sitting politician is looking to increase the democratic quality of the American elections through participating in a policy learning exercise with the Estonian Government’.
On election day the group of 7 Election Observers split into small groups and traveled across Tallinn to view the opening and voting procedures of the elections. Collectively observing over 15 hours of voting over 20 polling stations the mission team was able to positively conclude the integrity of the elections. Following the specialization of the Master's program and the interest of the Election Observation team, the information collected throughout the mission was underpinned by an analysis of minority rights and gender. It should also be noted that the local polling staff showed a cooperative attitude and good knowledge of electoral procedures allowing the different teams to execute their tasks without hindrance and in accordance to both state and international guidelines. Following international best practices, the team shall subsequently publish and distribute their full report and recommendation to all relevant stakeholders.
The experience of being an international short-term observer was definitely worthwhile for us, as students of public policy. Not only we had received valuable theoretical and legal knowledge on election systems and voting processes both worldwide and in Estonia, but we also had the possibility to become part of the central democratic process of every country - elections. Particularly useful was to first-handedly study the innovation that Estonia brings to the voting culture - the e-voting system - which has uniquely been successful in the country for the past years. During the seminars we attended, researchers and specialists in the domain explained scientifically how the system works and, to our surprise, revealed how the voters’ trust in the e-voting system - a novelty and experiment to usual voting procedures - does not depend on their familiarity to the system but on genuine trust on its fairness, as provided by the central electoral authorities. Whether this phenomenon is a positive or negative feature for democratic purposes, it is still debated