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E-democracy, a combination of the words "electronic" and "democracy," comprises the use of electronic communications technologies such as the Internet in enhancing democratic processes within a democratic republic or representative democracy. It is a political development still in its infancy, as well as the subject of much debate and activity within government, civic-oriented groups and societies around the world.

The term is both descriptive and prescriptive. Typically, the kinds of enhancements sought by proponents of e-democracy are framed in terms of making processes more accessible; making citizen participation in public policy decision-making more expansive and direct so as to enable broader influence in policy outcomes as more individuals involved could yield smarter policies; increasing transparency and accountability; and keeping the government closer to the consent of the governed, thereby increasing its political legitimacy. E-democracy includes within its scope electronic voting, but has a much wider span than this single aspect of the democratic process.

E-democracy is also sometimes referred to as cyberdemocracy or digital democracy.


[edit] Practical issues with e-democracy

One major obstacle to the success of e-democracy is that of citizen identification. For secure elections and other secure citizen-to-government transactions, citizens must have some form of identification that preserves privacy and maybe also one which could be used in internet forums. The need to allow anonymous posting while at the same time giving certain contributors extra status can be solved using certain cryptographic methods.

Another obstacle is that there are many vested interests that would be harmed by a more direct democracy. Amongst these are politicians, media moguls and some interests in big business and trade unions. These organizations may be expected to oppose meaningful application of e-democracy concepts.[original research?]

Robert's Rules of Order notes that a deliberative assembly requires an environment of simultaneous aural communication; otherwise "situations unprecedented in parliamentary law may arise."[1] Even in a teleconference or videoconference, adjustments must be made in reference to how recognition is to be sought and the floor obtained.[2] The common parliamentary law has not yet developed standardized procedures for conducting business electronically.

[edit] Internet as political medium

The Internet is viewed as a platform and delivery medium for tools that help to eliminate some of the distance constraints in direct democracy. Technical media for e-democracy can be expected to extend to mobile technologies such as cellphones.

There are important differences between previous communication media and the Internet that are relevant to the Internet as a political medium. Most importantly the Internet is a many-to-many communication medium where radio and television, which broadcast few-to-many, and telephones broadcast few-to-few, are not. Also, the Internet has a much greater computational capacity allowing strong encryption and database management, which is important in community information access and sharing, deliberative democracy and electoral fraud prevention. Further, people use the Internet to collaborate or meet in an asynchronous manner — that is, they do not have to be physically gathered at the same moment to get things accomplished.

Using the internet as a political campaigning tool has become a cheaper and more convenient alternative for many politicians in comparison to traditional door-to-door knocking or telephone campaigning. Candidates are also beginning to use social networking sites to reach younger audiences, in turn, creating potential supporters to campaigns. E-mail chains and political blogs also have had a major impact with online campaigning. Views are expressed by adding comments to political blogs or web pages. Point-and-click advertising (interactive advertising online) also has influenced traditional mail or television campaigning.[3]

The lower cost of information-exchange on the Internet, as well as the high-level of reach that the content potentially has makes the Internet an attractive medium for political information, particularly amongst social interest groups and parties with lower budgets.

For example, environmental or social issue groups may find the Internet an easier mechanism to increase awareness of their issues compared to traditional media outlets, such as television or newspapers, which require heavy financial investment. Due to all these factors, the Internet has the potential to take over certain traditional media of political communication such as the telephone, the television, newspapers and the radio.

Another example is openforum.com.au, an Australian non-for-profit eDemocracy project which invites politicians, senior public servants, academics, business people and other key stakeholders to engage in high-level policy debate.

Novel tools are being developed that are aimed at empowering bloggers, webmasters and owners of other social media, with the effect of moving from a strictly informational use of the internet to using the internet as a means of social organization not requiring top-down action. Action triggers for instance are a novel concept designed to allow webmasters to mobilize their viewers into action without the need for leadership.

[edit] Electronic support for local democratic groups

Citizens associations play an important role in the democratic process, providing a place for individuals to learn about public affairs and a source of power outside that of the state, according to theorists like Alexis de Tocqueville. Public policy researcher Hans Klein at the Georgia Institute of Technology notes that participation in such forums has a number of barriers, such as the need to meet in one place at one time. [4] In a study of a civic association in the northeastern United States, Klein found that electronic communications greatly enhanced the ability of the organization to fulfill its mission.

[edit] Benefits and disadvantages

Contemporary technologies such as electronic mailing lists, peer-to-peer networks, collaborative software, wikis, Internet forums and blogs are clues to and early potential solutions for some aspects of e-democracy. Equally, these technologies are bellwethers of some of the issues associated with the territory, such as the inability to sustain new initiatives or protect against identity theft, information overload and vandalism.

Some traditional objections to direct democracy are argued to apply to e-democracy, such as the potential for governance to tend towards populism and demagoguery. More practical objections exist, not least in terms of the digital divide between those with access to the media of e-democracy (mobile phones and Internet connections) and those without, as well as the opportunity cost of expenditure on e-democracy innovations.

Electronic democracy can also carry the benefit of reaching out to youth, as a mechanism to increase youth voter turnout in elections and raising awareness amongst youth. With the consistent decline of voter turnout e-democracy and electronic voting mechanisms can help revert that trend. Youth, in particular, have seen a significant drop in turnout in most industrialized nations, including Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. The use of electronic political participation mechanism may appear more familiar to youth, and as a result, garner more participation by youths who would otherwise find it inconvenient to vote using the more traditional methods. Electronic democracy can help improve democratic participation, reduce civic illiteracy and voter apathy and become a useful asset for political discussion, education, debate and participation.[5]

[edit] Electronic direct democracy

Electronic direct democracy is a form of direct democracy in which the Internet and other electronic communications technologies are used to ameliorate the bureaucracy involved with referendums. Many advocates think that also important to this notion are technological enhancements to the deliberative process. Electronic direct democracy is sometimes referred to as EDD (many other names are used for what is essentially the same concept).

EDD requires electronic voting or some way to register votes on issues electronically. As in any direct democracy, in an EDD citizens would have the right to vote on legislation, author new legislation, and recall representatives (if any representatives are preserved).

Technology for supporting EDD has been researched and developed at the Florida Institute of Technology[6]. The technology is currently used with student organizations. Among running development projects a relevant one is the Metagovernment[7] project.

EDD as a system is not fully implemented anywhere in the world although several initiatives are currently forming. Ross Perot was for a time a prominent advocate of EDD when he advocated "electronic town halls" during his 1992 and 1996 Presidential campaigns in the United States. Switzerland, already partially governed by direct democracy, is making progress towards such a system.[8] Senator On-Line, an Australian political party running for the Senate in the 2007 federal elections proposes to institute an EDD system so that Australians decide which way the senators vote on each and every bill.[9]

Liquid democracy, or direct democracy with delegable proxy, would allow citizens to choose a proxy to vote on their behalf while retaining the right to cast their own vote on legislation.[10] The voting and the appointment of proxies could be done electronically. The proxies could even form proxy chains, in which if A appoints B and B appoints C, and neither A and B vote on a proposed bill but C does, C's vote will count for all three of them. Citizens could also rank their proxies in order of preference, so that if their first choice proxy fails to vote, their vote can be cast by their second-choice proxy. The topology of this system would mirror the structure of the Internet itself, in which routers may have a primary and alternate server from which to request information.[original research?]

[edit] References

  1. ^ RONR (10th ed.), p. 2).
  2. ^ RONR (10th ed.), p. 483).
  3. ^ • Adam, Nagourney. "Politics Faces Sweeping Change via the Internet."The New York Times 04-02-2006 1-2. <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/02/washington/02campaign.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&sq=internetandpolitics&st=cse&scp=1>.
  4. ^ Klein, Hans (January 1999). "Tocqueville in Cyberspace: Using the Internet for Citizens Associations". The Information Society (15): 213-220. 
  5. ^ Canadian Parties in Transition, 3rd Edition. Gagnon and Tanguay (eds). Chapter 20 - Essay by Milner
  6. ^ Kattamuri etal. "Suporting Debates Over Citizen Initiatives", Digital Government Conference, pp 279-280, 2005
  7. ^ Metagovernment
  8. ^ Electronic Voting in Switzerland (invalid link)
  9. ^ "Senator On-Line". http://senatoronline.com.au/. Retrieved on 2008-06-03. 
  10. ^ Proxy Proposal

[edit] See also

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