Finland’s Ministry of Justice: Technical Dialogue and Preliminary Study of an Internet Voting System

Technical dialogue

The ministerial working group of Jyrki Katainen’s (the former Prime Minister of Finland) government decided in June 2013 that the preparation for organizing municipal advisory referendums digitally and the introduction of internet voting at the presidential election of 2018 (at the earliest) should begin. Finland’s Ministry of Justice decided to begin the research with a technical dialogue. The aim of this research, according to the EU’s regulation for procurement, was to review the existing types of international voting system and their levels of success. Matti Kinnunen (Consultant and Systems Architect) and Karoliina Luoto (Senior Consultant) from Codento, with some help from Codento’s partner network, were chosen as the executors of the technical dialog.

The working group met with eight suppliers from the USA, France, Spain, Estonia, and Germany. They also met with two potential vendors from Finland. Each of the suppliers showcased their electronic voting system, and each team member asked them appropriate questions. The consultants wrote a report of their findings focusing, among other aspects, on the different technical solutions employed in each internet voting system.

The consultants’s report was sent to the working group, whereupon the group published an initial report of their work to date. By referring to the consultants’s report, the working group was able to determine under what conditions an internet voting system would be viable for Finland. “The process went well. We got all the relevant companies included and the information gathered was relevant to our work,” said Jussi Aaltonen, Ministerial Adviser and a member of the working group. “Especially Karoliina Luoto, the contact person at Codento, operated independently and took responsibility for the work.”

Convenient communication via Basecamp

From the very beginning of the process, the Basecamp project management tool was used for intensive communication. Laura Nurminen,  Specialist in Ministry of Justice and the main contact person for the electronic voting study, felt that it was an essential tool for coordinating the project. “We were able to comment on documents and get anwers to our questions quickly. The communication was great,” commented Nurminen.

Jussi Aaltonen and Laura Nurminen from the Ministry of Justice.
Jussi Aaltonen and Laura Nurminen from the Ministry of Justice.

Preliminary study on internet voting

Following the technical dialogue, the Ministry of Justice requested another report from Codento, this time a quantitative preliminary study of internet voting according to the JHS recommendations (recommendations for the technological development of the Finnish public sector). The consultant chosen to work on this report was, in addition to Kinnunen,  was Kaj Mustikkamäki (Consultant and Systems Architect) from Codento. In the preliminary study the consultants focused on the advantages, disadvantages and costs of implementing an internet voting system. The preliminary study was completed just in time for the end of the electoral term.

The consultants also organized workshops for the working group. During the workshops, the group analyzed the functionalities and, in particular, the security of the different internet voting systems, aided by the consultants.

The aim of the preliminary study was to assist the working group in determining whether or not an internet voting system should be implemented in Finland.

Completed within the time frame and within agreed costs

“The work proceeded within the agreed time frame and costs. That’s a pleasant experience,” says Aaltonen. He especially sees Codento’s partner network as a strength.  “It enables the customer to benefit from joint partnerships.”

The most intriguing findings

What was learnt from these sudies by the Ministry of Justice? “The most central revelation from the preliminary study was the fact that organizing a consultative municipal referendum is much less demanding when it comes to security and other requirements than elections. If an internet voting system for municipal and state elections were to be implemented, it might be sensible to implement it as two separate systems, at least in the beginning,” said Nurminen.

Our consultant Kinnunen believes that the most interesting part of the process was learning how internet voting systems have been executed around the globe. “My opinion based on this project is that it’s not sensible for Finland to move into internet voting in elections. None of the systems we investigated was completely secure. But such a system could be used for consultative municipal referenda,” commented Kinnunen.

This project was inspiring for Codento’s consultants.  “It was really pleasant to work alongside the working group,” said Kinnunen. “The members of the group were incredibly informed experts in their own fields.”

“After this project I can truly appreciate the ingenuity of our paper voting system. Nobody has ever doubted its reliability, not even in difficult political situations. Another remarkable finding was the fact that an internet voting system would not bring significant savings either,” Kinnunen concluded.