E-voting comes of age in Italy with Venice independence referendum

The website aimed to replicate the system used by Norway in its 2011 municipal elections

By Philip Willan, IDG News Service |  IT Management

A successful online poll to measure support for the independence of Italy's northeastern Veneto region has demonstrated the sophistication of the area's IT businesses and the maturity of e-voting technology, according to the man who organized the unofficial referendum.

A remarkable 2.3 million people, out of an electorate of 3.7 million, last week responded to the question "Do you want Veneto to become an independent and sovereign federal republic?" according to the organizers.

Plebiscito.eu, a coalition of Venetian nationalist groups backed by local IT businesses, said a resounding 2.1 million, or 89 percent of those voting, had answered in the affirmative when the weeklong online poll concluded on Friday.

"It was a considerable achievement and a source of professional pride for the Veneto technology sector," said Gianluca Busato, an IT entrepreneur from Treviso and the prime mover behind the Plebiscito.eu initiative. "The success of the vote demonstrates that online voting has come of age."

The word ballot comes from the Venetian word "ballotta," the "little ball" used to elect the Doge, who ruled over the Most Serene Republic of Venice for more than 1,000 years. Nostalgia for a glorious past when Venice controlled the sea-lanes of the Mediterranean and impatience with the modern Italian state, which takes away 21 billion euros (US $29 billion) more in tax than it returns to the region in services, fuelled the secessionist sentiment given expression in Busato's online ballot.

Past eruptions of Venetian nationalism have veered between the tragic and the absurd. In 1997 eight secessionists were arrested after occupying the bell tower in St. Mark's Square, backed up by a homemade tank.

Last week's poll was a more peaceful affair, with citizens clicking on a mouse to express their preference. Some 257,000 people, or just under 11 percent of voters, clicked to register a "no," while 6,815 votes, or 0.29 percent, were deemed invalid.

Overshadowed by the independence referendum in Crimea and dubbed an illegal farce by the mainstream Italian media, the vote provided a resounding endorsement for Venetian separatism that is likely to worry central government authorities in Rome.

A preparatory study for the online referendum found e-voting had worked with varying degrees of success in at least 18 countries, pointing out that online referenda were standard practice in Switzerland and that Estonia had been allowing its citizens to cast Internet ballots in parliamentary elections since 2005.

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