Legislative: the puzzle of Internet voting for French people living abroad

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Online voting for French voters abroad has experienced several bugs since it opened on May 27. According to the Quai d’Orsay, Internet voting is working again. But criticisms and misunderstandings accumulate. These challenges, along with security risks, mean that larger-scale implementation is still far from feasible.

Legislative 2022
Legislative 2022 © FMM Graphic Studio

Allow French people to vote remotely. It was a Emmanuel Macron’s campaign promise five years ago aimed at “modernizing the image of politics”. For the second time in France, some 1.6 million French voters from abroad registered on the consular electoral lists have the possibility of voting online for the legislative. For the first round, the online voting procedure opened on Friday 27 May and ends on 1er June (at 12 p.m. Paris time). But technical failures have already come to taint this life-size test.

On social networks, many voters say that they have not been able to finalize their process and express their anger. They do not receive the validation code sent to their email address and supposed to allow them to vote. “I’ve tried to vote online for the 2022 legislative elections from Canada four times,” lamented in a tweet, as soon as the vote opened, Juliette Giannesini, a Frenchwoman living in Ottawa.

Others have decided to give up. “Nothing is working, the ministry’s assistance is of no help to me and, obviously, I am far from being the only one,” said Paul Gogo, a Moscow-based journalist on Tuesday.

A bug related to Yahoo! and AOL

Aware of the problem, the Quai d’Orsay indicates that “as soon as these difficulties appeared, the teams of the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and their service providers worked tirelessly to correct them”. The issue involved sending confirmation emails to voters using a Yahoo! or AOL, said the Quai d’Orsay. A technical solution was apparently implemented on Tuesday and ministry says remote voting is working again.

“Only the problem related to Yahoo! and AOL addresses was solved this morning… but there are still many people who cannot vote by Internet. It is difficult to accept. Especially since they were supposed to have made serious tests beforehand”, however regretted at the end of the morning the candidate of the presidential majority in the 7e constituency of French nationals living abroad from Krakow in Poland. Two large-scale tests have indeed been organized in recent months, according to Franceinfo.

Remote digital voting was eagerly awaited by these French people living abroad, like those living in the United States and Australia in particular, who for some have to drive up to five hours, or even take a plane. , to slip their ballot into the ballot box of an embassy or consulate. “Our voters have been asking for it for a long time, including for the presidential election”, confides a member of the team of a deputy for French people living abroad, “surprised” that the tests did not make it possible to detect this bug and judging the “experimental” device.

A failure that risks leaving traces. “Trust is an essential element in the organization of an election. For this type of device to be generalized, there should be zero defects and no security breaches that could tarnish the overall sincerity of the ballot”, recalls Thierry Vedel, researcher at Cevipof, the Center for Political Research at Sciences Po.

Only Estonia votes online for all its polls

Online voting had already been tested for the 2012 legislative elections. But not during the next election in 2017, due to fears of possible cyberattacks after Russian interference in the American presidential election. “The connection difficulties encountered are a lesser defect compared to the doubts that one may have about the absolute security of the device”, underlines Thierry Vedel, who considers that the current climate is not conducive to the installation of a system. digital voting abroad. “In the case of French nationals living abroad, the public authorities arbitrate between the advantages of Internet voting in terms of access to the ballot and the risks, which we hope will be limited, in terms of the integrity of the process.”

The United States, which had considered for a time to generalize the possibility of using online voting, slowed down the process after having taken the measure of the risks of hacking. In 2020, only military personnel, expats, or residents of small, isolated constituencies were able to vote by Internet to elect their president. so far, Estonia is the only European country to have opted for online voting for all of its elections, thanks to the massive adoption of the chip and biometric electronic identity card.

A threat to the secrecy of the vote

In France, “we do not apply it for the presidential election because if there is a problem, we should theoretically cancel the entire ballot”, explains Thierry Vedel. In the case of legislative elections for French people living abroad, the risks are more “limited”. “In the event of an anomaly detected, there is the possibility of canceling the result of the election in a constituency and of organizing a new vote. This happens moreover commonly in the event of fraud or violation of the electoral code .”

In addition, for this researcher, the online ballot questions the secrecy of the vote. “If you vote by Internet, there is no guarantee that you will not carry out the operation in front of a third person who watches the screen and knows who you are voting for. There is cause for concern because this can open the way to pressure or corruption.”

For the moment, the grievances focus mainly on the impossibility of voting for four days for voters with a Yahoo! or AOL. Several candidates in foreign constituencies even confided to Franceinfo “consider taking legal action” to request an additional period, or even a new ballot if online voting was not “quickly made fully functional”.

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Legislative: the puzzle of Internet voting for French people living abroad

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