Going beyond the debate on online voting ; experiments with participatory procedures

Orientation of proposal

Thinking of voting in the electronic first implies dissociating voting from the election of representatives and diversifying online voting tools (e.g. colour vote, etc.) as well as the procedures on which they are based (e.g. the Condorcet vote rather than majority voting, etc.).

This would permit starting reflection on the use of voting in other domains (e.g. the enterprise, organisations, etc.), other frequencies (voting could become a continuous process) and with other objectives : privilege given to making proposals (taking from the grassroots initiative used in Germany), debating decisions, favouring the construction of judgements, etc.


Although the electronic vote does not appear to raise basic problems, its democratic usefulness remains to be proven. As for online voting, it continues to stir great controversy. The European Commission has decided to finance expensive online voting experiments, without prior democratic debate. Without the necessary hindsight required to evaluate the possible impact and risks, it can be seen that electronic voting is more like a life-belt at which politicians grasp in their speeches, since they are bereft of imagination in the face of the democratic confusion that prevails in European democracies.

What is more, before becoming general practice, actually applying online elections should depend on the outcomes of pilot experiments of limited scope to avoid excluding a large part of the population, the absence of real debates and other obstacles to participation. Hardly any evaluation has been made of the potential of the technology used.

Specialised cyber-democracy observatories should be set up. The pilot experiments in community participation via ICTs should take inspiration from such cogent examples as the city of Porto Alegre in Brazil.

The debate on online voting can be summed up as follows : Arguments for online voting :
-  they encourage people enrolled on the electoral lists to vote and thus combat abstention ;
-  it brings the elector closer to the candidates, develops democratic debate, encourages thoughtful voting, informs (via links with the sites of the other candidates, legal information, polls, etc.) and combats various problems of representation ;
-  it guarantees confidentiality and transparency, since no relation can be established between the elector and the vote ; what is more, the count is an automatic calculation. Arguments against online voting :
-  It does not provide the voter the guarantees of the booth ; no one knows what pressures (e.g. family) could be brought to bear in front of the computer.
-  It adds civic inequality to economic inequality : citizens with computers and access would be privileged in comparison to those without
-  Above all, it reduces elections, the highpoint of representative democracy, to a simple act of pressing a button, neglecting that the vital part of the process occurs upstream, in public debate in the confrontation of proposals and positions, leading to the choice made by the citizen. Merely pressing a button makes the citizen a simple political consumer who, after purchasing a new watch on the Net, chooses his favourite candidate from among the contestants’ Web sites. Whereas elected representatives are subject to the dictate of opinion polls, they will henceforth be subject to online dictates, rendering their task still more demagogic and myopic than ever.

Apart from this debate, what is at stake is the change from a representative or delegated democracy to a participatory democracy. Political citizenship will become a continuous process rather than occurring solely at elections, in which power is more diffuse, better shared, with the possibility for everyone to become an actor in their environment, whether it be a district, city, nation or continent.

Posté le 4 octobre 2002

©© Vecam, article sous licence creative common