E-Democracy is a form of digital participation that’s popping up more regularly these days. As a buzzword it’s being thrown around in politics and on social media alike and has more than a few people rubbing their hands in anticipation. In the first part of our new series on the future of democracy in the digital world, we are looking at E-Democracy.
E-Democracy – What Is It?
First of all, it’s short for electronic democracy and appears all over the place in different forms such as eDemocracy. It’s also often confused with E-Government or E-Governance, which we’ll delve into below. E-Democracy is defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica as “the use of information and communication technologies to enhance and in some accounts replace representative democracy.” It goes on to outline that the essence of E-Democracy is to help promote democracy through digital means, emphasizing transparency and the importance of a political education that translates to increased participation. It can be best understood as a means to promote further interaction with politics, government and the decision making process.
For simplicity, we have divided E-Democracy into three categories:
E-Government is the end goal of E-Democracy. It is essentially just describes a more digitalized governance process. This extends from running government on a day-to-day basis to the promotion of digital communications processes. The crux of E-Democracy is to promote transparency and efficiency within the running of the government. One side of the coin is freely available and easily accessible data. The ability to gain an understanding of the workings of government helps promote E-Democracy in that it has a significant impact on E-participation (more below). The other side of the coin is changing the workings of government to become more efficient. This could be anything from filling out tax forms online to applying for a passport or changing a registered address online.
The ultimate goal of E-Democracy is participation. E-Participation is simply the digitalization of how we interact with democracy. It aims at increasing the frequency with which citizens interact with democracy by simplifying the process significantly. Signing petitions and direct interactions with elected representatives are areas in which digitalization has already taken hold. Good examples of E-Participation are websites such as Amnesty international or change.org.
Amnesty International writes petitions themselves and individuals need only enter their address and Email address in order to sign them. It’s a similar system on change.org with the crucial difference being that all petitions are user-created. This means that individuals have the ability to highlight the issues they feel are important. E-Participation is often enabled by good E-Government. The United Kingdom recently established an online petitions website where citizens are able to freely create and sign petitions. If petitions reach a certain number of signatures, parliament is obliged to respond to them.
Simplifying processes of interacting with democracy increases participation rates and also creates interest which feeds back into increased participation. Liquid democracy, or delegative democracy, is an interesting example of E-participation. In essence it is a system of governance where representatives vote on issues on behalf of their constituents as normal. However, constituents may withdraw this permission at any time and vote on issues themselves instead. Therefore, the electorate is able to vote on issues that really matter to them but don’t need to be involved 100% of the time.
We will be exploring the different aspects of liquid democracy in next week’s blog post.
One of the most highly contest aspects of E-Democracy is I-Voting. Many people take issue with the security aspects of online voting. However, it’s well known that simplifying the election process for the electorate will increase turnout. Estonia have proven that it’s possible to provide online elections in politics and have been allowing their citizens to vote online since 2007. I-Voting is the great enabler of E-Democracy. A secure and reliable online voting platform would make liquid democracy possible and would reduce many of the barriers of entry into effective political interaction.
The sentiment for I-Voting is growing stronger. Like most aspects of E-Democracy, it’s largely due to its ability to simplify voting procedures and reduce costs. I-Voting is spreading in non-political elections around Europe and North America. Naming just a few, unions, cooperatives, associations, universities and schools have chosen to digitalize their voting procedures.
I-Voting has a huge impact on E-Democracy in the long term. On the one hand, non-political elections provide a perfect testing ground from which secure and trustworthy political elections can be developed. Some companies demand the highest security standards while others request complex features allowing developers to gather crucial experience for the inevitable shift over to I-Voting in politics. The other impact that I-Voting will have on the development of E-Democracy is the expectations that it will create. The ease and simplicity of online voting will cause many citizens to demand simplified national or regional elections.
What next for E-Democracy?
Education, investment, and engagement in the ideas behind E-Democracy. While a core aspect of E-Democracy is the simplification of participation, there are still knowledge barriers that need to be overcome. A combination of reducing these barriers to levels where people can understand the core tenets of a debate, and education to enable people to overcome these barriers is crucial. E-Democracy goes a long way to generating participation itself, but there needs to be an initial spark of interest to create a reciprocal cycle.
Up Next: Liquid Democracy – What is it and why do I want it?