Domestic Decision-Making, Regional Linkages, and Cybersecurity Considerations: Implementation of Internet Voting in Russia, September 2021



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The research objective of the article is to explain why and how the Russian Federation implemented online voting in the case of the September 2021 national State Council elections. This case constitutes the first instance of largescale, non-democratic, and legally binding elections with the use of i-voting. Hence, the paper provides answers to (1) why i-voting was introduced in the already state-controlled electoral context, (2) how Estonia, as a cradle of i-voting, affected the decision-making in Russia, and (3) how cybersecurity concerns were addressed by technology providers and engage in a discussion about cybersecurity not for users, but for officials. Our research design focuses on the instance of Russian online voting without going into further details of regional and capital city distinction and relies on the interview data. Results show that (1) the primary motivation underpinning the introduction of i-voting in Russia was regime stability, (2) Estonian successes in e-governance and i-voting did not impact decision- making in Russia, and (3) cybersecurity concerns around the i-voting technologies used in Russia were indeed present but were not central to decisionmaking. Findings have broader implications, the research fills in a gap in the literature surrounding the emergence of i-voting, as well as the relationship these processes have with existing, longer-term implementations in democratic states. At the same time, from the empirical viewpoint, the work sheds light on how topics in non-democracies can be studied.



i-voting, cybersecurity, digital authoritarianism, Russia