The Parameters and Context of Online Voting: Social Implications

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Online voting accessibility

When analyzing the parameters and context of online voting, the third and probably the most important parameter to take into consideration is the social impact: the equation and balance of  the advantages vs potential reservations.

On one side of the equation, we find the advantages provided by a more accessible online voting channel.The clearest are groups who are excluded from the electoral process if no means of distance voting is provided. This would include voters suffering from a disability or those temporarily hospitalized, whose transfer to a physical voting facility acts as an excluding factor. Also, eligible voters residing and working overseas, military or other frequently relocating personnel, whose transfer imposes multiple cost aspects (financial and administrative). Traditional channels of voting also preclude that all voters are literate which is not always the case. All these scenarios have been catered to in the recent past by online and electronic voting means.

On the other side of our equation is the technology that could prove to be a potential detractor for citizen participation in online elections. Voter detraction may derive from the lack of technological means needed to cast an e-ballot, the electorate’s inability to use those existing or the unavailability of paper ballot voting. The lack of familiarization of the use of e-voting technology in certain social groups can be countered with relevant voter education or the deployment of user friendly technologies. It is much harder though to face the exclusion caused by the lack of technological means.

Nevertheless, the particularity of the democratic element as a functional condition for the delivery of the electoral process obliges those introducing its e-version (i.e. government agents) to make arrangements ensuring participation of all members of the electorate, by making the relevant technological means available to those who need it. Even if the introduction of online voting is based on the prospect of covering for the democratic deficit in contemporary societies, voter exclusion from the necessary technological means can create an even more important social inequality. As such, maintaining some form of paper ballot voting, until such a time when issues of voter exclusion resulting from the introduction of electronic voting are dealt with, is a necessary measure which can ensure equal access to the electoral process for all members of the electorate.

Any election is by nature a social event producing a result with multiple social implications. The validity of the electoral result itself is based on its social acceptance. Therefore the electoral process must be irreproachable excluding no one who wishes to participate, whatever the reason for exclusion may be.