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Solving the Problems with Voting Machines in the United States

The next speaker at EDEM 2009 is Mohammed Awad, who shifts our attention to e-voting the United States, where there have been some substantial problems with e-voting systems across a number of recent elections, of course, which were highlighted first in 2000 with the voting fiasco of the disputed elections in Florida. As a result, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed to push for a shift towards electronic voting machines to implement Direct Recording Electronics (DREs) by 2004; the speed with which this happened led to another problem in the 2004 elections, where there were substantial questions raised about the quality of the source code for the voting machines and several technical faults and miscounts were recorded. There were fewer problems in the 2008 elections, but largely also because the winning margins were greater, so small miscounts did not matter as much.

Recommendations for e-Democracy from the Council of Europe

The next speaker at EDEM 2009 is Michael Remmert from the Council of Europe, who heads its "Good Governance in the Information Society" project. The CoE is a pan-European organisation with 47 member states, founded in 1949, and is distinct from the European Union; the only European country currently missing from the CoE is Belarus (which still has some democratic deficits, of course).

Recent work in the CoE has especially highlighted the role of ICTs and the information society in democratic practice, and the CoE has recently published a detailed set of recommendations on e-democracy, following earlier recommendations on e-governance and e-voting. Such recommendations, while not binding, are being used and implemented by the various CoE member states. The recommendations are also accompanied by a set of generic tools for e-democracy initiatives, as well as roadmaps and checklists for the introduction of e-democracy and specific tools, and for the evaluation of e-democracy initiatives.

Examining Self-Efficacy Perceptions for Engagement in e-Petitions

The next speaker at EDEM 2009 is Peter Cruickshank, whose interest is in e-petitions as well and is working with the EuroPetition system. The aims here are to integrate e-petitions across Europe, from local through to European level; e-petitioning is comparatively mature already as a process, and exists in a gap between representative and direct democracy - it represents a kind of advocacy democracy whose outcomes are eventually mediated by politicians. Fairness and openness have to be seen to be working in order not to put users off.

Argumentation in e-Democracy Projects

The next session at EDEM 2009 starts with Dan Cartwright, whose interest is in argumentation processes in e-democracy projects. Decision-making through public consultation is a key part of e-democracy, of course, and there are various systems to engage citizens in such processes online; many of these are limited in their effectiveness, however.

One such approach are e-petitions, as introduced for example in the UK; typically, sites allow users to create and 'sign' e-petitions, but this provides no information on which part of the petition a particular signatory may agree with if multiple justifications for the petition are provided. One way to overcome this problem is the implementation of argument visualisation sytems such as Araucaria and decision support systems such as Zeno, which convert textual argument into a visual representation of the argument logic; however, these are difficult to use for the lay user.

Towards e-Democracy in South East Europe

The final speaker for this EDEM 2009 session is Blaž Golob, who shifts our focus to developments in e-democracy in South-East Europe. The Centre for e-Governance Development in South-East Europe include the regional coperation council, various governments from the region, university organisations, and technology partners; it aims to achieve the successful development of an information society in the region which will contribute to the future of Europe. It supports the rapid development of the 12 SEE countries, and does so by focussing on e-democracy as one of the seven pillars of the information society (the others are e-government, e-business, e-education, e-health, e-justice, and e-security).

Principles for Open Government in the Networked Society

We continue the Austrian focus at EDEM 2009 with Peter Parycek, one of the academics involved in the Austrian e-Democracy initiatives. He suggests that we're in the midst of a new media revolution towards a networked society,driven by digitisation, convergence, and the shift to many-to-many communication; this turns the Net into a social space, and changes our patterns of communication and organisation - the 2008 Obama campaign is a very good example for this.

In politics, advertising, and many other areas, word of mouth has become key in influencing public opinion - this is a shift from hierarchical to networked organisation, and the question now becomes whether we will be able to utilise these new patterns of the network society in government as well. An answer to this is provided by the emerging principles of open government:

e-Democracy in Austria

The second and last day at EDEM 2009 starts with a paper by Christian Rupp from the Austrian Federal Chancellery, who begins by noting the changing role of ICTs in government. ICTs have initially been used to increase efficiency and effectiveness, but more recently the focus has been on improving governance, raising dilemmas of balancing openness and transparency. Austria is in a good position for e-government as there's a relatively strong ICT base and level of digital literacy; also, the federal structure of administration here means that e-government is distributed across all three levels of government rather than taking place only at the national level.

e-Participation in the Emilia-Romagna Region

Finally for this first day at EDEM 2009 we move to Sabrina Franceschini and Roberto Zarro, who present on e-democracy initiatives in the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy. The region set up its first participatory project,, in September 2005, running to October 2007. It aimed to define and create participation processes in an integrated manner in the region, to promote participation not only towards citizens but also within the administration itself, to provide a tool for all administrative levels, and to define, test, and disseminate the methodology. It created a committed working community, an e-democracy project in the Partecipa site itself, and it managed to implement and test the participation kit.

Models for Participatory Budget Deliberation

The next speaker at EDEM 2009 is César Alfaro, who shifts our interest to projects for participatory budgeting in the UK, Spain, and Brazil. Such projects aim to involve citizens in budgetting decisions, based on dialogue and participation. This was trialled first (offline) in 1988 in a number of Brazilian cities, and is now in place in some 100 municipalities in Europe, involving some 4 million citizens; the UK is likely to implement participatory budgetting in 2012. However, the models uses differ substantially, on the percentage of the budget which has been allocated to such models, on the number of participants and the structure of participation, on the number of discussion and approval rounds and their rules, etc.

e-Participation in the U.S. Context

The next session at EDEM 2009 starts with Michael Milakovich, who returns us to that question of citizen participation in e-democratic environments. So far, the overall lesson is probably that 'we've built it,but they haven't come yet' - and yet, in the US, online media were certainly used very effectively to help win an online election in the 2008 presidential elections, while the classic citizen participation model - the town hall meetings - are now being used and abused for partisan agitation.

This is an issue not least of digital democratic literacy; the use of social media and other electronic technologies remains in its infancy. There are issues with competing communication systems (used differently across different generations, but not neatly so), and the respective electoral structures also play a role in what e-democracy frameworks are appropriate (e-participation may loook differently in a direct democratic system than in the US electoral college framework, for example). Additionally, there are public concerns about the equation of politics with administration, and questions about the distribution of citizen and government responsibilities.


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