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Trends in the Transformation of Electoral Processes

I'm spending the next couple of days in Sydney at the Australia-New Zealand Workshop on Campaign Management and Political Marketing, where I'm presenting a paper on the use of Twitter during the 2013 Australian federal election tomorrow. But we start today with an introduction by John Keane, who is reflecting on the history of elections during the post-war period.

He suggests that there are a number of big trends in this period. First, the electoral revolution: a huge increase in the number of countries which practice elections. Second, even despotic regimes use elections to legitimise themselves. Third, elections have been indigenised: the electoral process is being adjusted to take into account local traditions, from feeding the poor to driving away evil spirits.

Fourth, a multiplication of sites of elections: for example in workplace or university elections, and in many other formal and informal contexts. Fifth, the spread of elections beyond and underneath state boundaries, from diaspora campaigning and voting to voting in cross-border organisations and parliaments. Sixth, the arrival of the permanent campaign, not least as a result of the continuing communication revolution and its attendant army of spin doctors and backroom boys.

Seventh, the creeping public disaffection with the political machinery and the emergence of novel party structures, which also foregrounds the electoral spectacle and backgrounds meaningful policy questions. Eighth, the rise of monitory democracy, a redefinition of democracy as the permanent public scrutiny of the powerful from various perspectives of oversight.

And finally, the fundamental challenge to the idea that electoral democracy is the only and obviously sensible form of government, which manifests in the fact that there are now elections without democracy; that new experiments about the future of the party form and its decision-making processes are emerging; and that the question of the universal franchise is being challenged again, as experiments with the minimum voting age, with the enfranchisement of previously disenfranchised groups, even with the enfranchisement of the dead and the yet-to-be-born, and with the representation of the biosphere are being conducted.