The Maturing Concept of e-democracy

Newly envisioned ICT have the potential to break with the longstanding democratic trade-off between group size and depth of argument

Journal of Information Technology & Politics


Early literature on e-democracy was dominated by euphoric claims about the benefits of e-voting (digital direct democracy) or continuous online citizen consultations (digital representative democracy). High expectations have gradually been replaced with more genuine approaches that aim to break with the dichotomy of traditional notions of direct and representative democracy. The ensuing question relates to the adequate design of information and communication technology (ICT) applications to foster such visions. This article contributes to this search and discusses issues concerning the adequate institutional framework. Recently, so-called Web 2.0 applications, such as social networking and Wikipedia, have proven that it is possible for millions of users to collectively create meaningful content online. While these recent developments are not necessarily labeled e-democracy in the literature, this article argues that they and related applications have the potential to fulfill the promise of breaking with the longstanding democratic trade-off between group size (direct mass voting on predefined issues) and depth of argument (deliberation and discourse in a small group). Complementary information-structuring techniques are at hand to facilitate large-scale deliberations and the negotiation of interests between members of a group. This article presents three of these techniques in more depth: weighted preference voting, argument visualization, and the Semantic Web initiative. Notwithstanding these developments, the maturing concept of e-democracy still faces serious challenges. Questions remain in political and computer science disciplines that ask about adequate institutional frameworks, the omnipresent democratic challenges of equal access and free participation, and the appropriate technological design.

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