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Josipa Petrunić: Revision

Last updated March 31, 2013 - 1:29pm by Mark A. McCutcheon

Josipa Petrunić, SSHRCC Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, U of Toronto

“The Digital Democratic Deficit: an analysis of efforts and outcomes related to digitised elections and campaigning”

Abstract: In so far as “digital technology” includes all computer-based tools, it is possible to talk about “digital elections” and “digital campaigning”. “Digital elections” refers to voting that requires computer-based tools to be completed. Such tools include computer-based databases, which are used to count and store analogue votes (i. e. paper ballots), computer-based voting websites, digital ballots that are scanned and “counted” by computer hardware and software, and telephone voting programs that use a combination of analogue (push button) voting with digitized recording programs that count the telephone votes.

“Digital campaigning” refers to any effort by a candidate or political party to contact, communicate with, and convince voters by using computer-based tools. Those tools include computer-based databases used by call centres and campaign teams to generate and track voter identification, Internet-based tools such as conventional websites, social media networks, online advertising, email-based surveys, and e-blasts. I will argue that, in so far as we can speak about “digital elections” and “digital campaigning”, we can also talk about a “digital democratic deficit”. A “digital democratic deficit” refers to the inability of digital technologies to accurately reflect the intention of voters; it also refers to the ability of digital technologies to mislead or manipulate the voter.

While some political pundits are quick to appeal to “digital” technologies as a solution for falling voter numbers and rising voter apathy, this paper will present a series of outstanding concerns over the capacity of “digital elections” to identify (or obscure) voter intentions and the ability of “digital campaigning” to enable (or disable) voter agency. I will explore digital technologies associated with “digital elections” and “digital campaigning” in Alberta and in Canada more broadly. I will identify areas of possible uncertainly, insecurity, and manipulation that create space for a “democratic deficit”.