In the previous installments of this series, we have covered some of the different forms of digital participation. Today we will be assessing the overall benefits and drawbacks of participating in a digital world.
The Advantages of Digital Participation
The main goal of online democracy is the strengthened integration of citizens in the political debate. Internet connectivity enables more people to participate in many discussions that may have been previously localized or too high-brow. The digitalization of participation is aimed at increasing the transparency and legitimacy of our political systems through democratic engagement.
E-Government enables the more efficient management processes
The aim of E-Government is both the efficient running of government and the promotion transparency. This is achieved by the digitalization of services and processes and the increased use and publication of government data. Where more data is available to the public and other government departments, there is more accountability. This can range from filling out taxes online, registering to vote to the publication of national trade statistics and department budgets. The idea is, as more services are digitalized, the demand for a digitalized government grows. This should lead to a faster and more efficient governance.
E-Participation Strengthens the Political Debate
E-Participation aims to enable a more advanced political debate through digitalization. The main methods are sites where citizens can address and solve issues but also, forums or sites where citizens can raise concerns with the government directly. The best example of the latter is the Petitions website in the United Kingdom. Here any citizen may create or support a petition. Any petition that gets above a certain number of signatures must be responded by the UK parliament. Politicians and civil servants are, in this way, able to track and tackle the most important topics – stoking the flames of political engagement.
E-Voting Increases Participation
Digital participation is unlikely to lead anywhere without the ability to easily vote on topics. For citizens to be more active in participating in government, there needs to be the ability to engage directly and more frequently. Online voting is the only realistic method with which citizens could consistently and easily participate. Online voting for companies, unions, cooperatives and professional associations have consistently received higher voter turnout for their respective elections. Learn more about online voting for your institution.
When online voting is introduced for political elections, it will be combined with traditional voting procedures. Postal voting provides the best comparison for online elections, but online is safer, more efficient, much faster and far better for the environment. Indeed, voting online has shown to have saved up to 70% of the costs of traditional voting methods owing to reduced shipping, printing, and material costs. In terms of digital participation, however, the increased turnout will boost the legitimacy of any government and help strengthen modern democracy.
The Disadvantages of Digital Participation
Make no mistake, there are downsides to digital participation. While the benefits to outweigh the disadvantages there is the need to minimize any issues with digitalization. Only by constant innovation and investment can E-participation progress.
Digital Participation does not reach the whole population
This ultimately lies at the core of the issue with digital participation. Not every citizen has a smartphone, computer or even a stable connection to the internet. Rural areas lack the digital infrastructure necessary for regular digital participation. While this will change in the future as governments and private companies invest in infrastructure, it is one of the biggest hurdles that must be overcome.
It is not only the technical inability to participate that is the problem. Many people themselves lack the technical knowledge or desire to participate with the government digitally. While these people remain, there must be non-digital methods of political participation.
Liquid Democracy or too much participation could lead to voter fatigue.
In terms of liquid democracy, this would hardly matter if individuals do not vote as their votes are automatically transferred to their elected representative. Liquid democracy is both a fascinating and bold idea – learn more about democracy here! In terms liquid democarcy, voting on individual bills and laws would rarely be high, except for occasional issues of national significance. The true danger is that too much engagement would lead to lower turnout in national, or important elections. Indeed this is a danger but if e-participation is done correctly, there will be more desire to engage – as well as the ability to do so. Ultimately, it all comes down to education and continued support of the ideals of digital democracy.
Online Voting a Security Risk?
A clear distinction should be made between voting computers (E-voting) and online (I-voting). Voting computers have a checkered history and are often built on legacy hardware. They are also cumbersome, expensive and often insecure. Online voting, in contrast, has to be built to the latest specifications, with the latest cryptographic concepts, and on the latest hardware. Staying up-to-date is vital in order to keep up with the constantly evolving digital market and security needs. There are a few issues in particular. Ballot secrecy must be upheld, the vote must be able to be verified and it has to be safe from external attack.
POLYAS has been tackling these issues. Our voting software is certified according to the common criteria standards by the BSI. We are currently the only election software company that has received this certificate. You can read about the details of the certification here!