Electronic voting: a tool to promote citizen participation?

The project entitled “Electronic voting: a tool to promote citizen participation? Lessons from elections to representatives, within political parties and in participatory budgets” EAPREC/22/000016 has won one of the grants for research work of the School of Public Administration of Catalonia, in the 2023 call. These are applied and public utility projects where the main objective is to collaborate with a public institution (mentoring) to help it in the improvement and implementation of challenges and changes related to the objectives and needs of the institution. The PI of the project is the leader of the CNSC, Rosa Borge. The mentoring institution is the Subdirectorate General of Electoral Processes and Direct Democracy of the Generalitat de Catalunya (Catalan government), with the participation of the Deputy Director General, Núria Arbussà Reixach. Also participating in the project are a company that develops e-voting tools (Scytl), a non-profit organisation that works on citizen participation projects and the use of new technologies (Fundació Ferrer i Guardia) and researchers in social and political sciences specialising in the search for e-voting and political participation.

Project duration: 01/09/2023 – 15/11/2024.

Project members: Rosa Borge Bravo (CNSC-IN3, UOC), Nuria Arbussà Reixach (Mentor, Electoral Processes Sub-Directorate), David Dueñas Cid (Gdańsk University of Technology (GUT), Hungría Panadero Hernández (Fundación Ferrer i Guardia), Josep Mañé Chaparro (Fundación Ferrer i Guardia), Núria Costa Mirada (Scytl company), Adrià Rodríguez-Pérez (Scytl company), Jordi Barrat Esteve (Electoral technology consultant, IDEA, EODS, URV), Soumiya Benaali Bakkar (project assistant, CNSC-IN3, UOC), Ignasi Sitges Arriaga (Electoral Processes Sub-Directorate).

Project summary and goals:

The project avoids any kind of determinism that would suggest that e-voting must necessarily be implemented and that it is always a step forward in institutional governance. In fact, the methodology is rather the opposite and is based on the question of whether this remote mechanism really represents a democratic impulse. In this sense, the proposal takes advantage of real cases from which data on its use can be obtained. The idea is to take into account the experiences, whether successful or not, that have already been carried out.

There are three areas of reference to consider: official elections for representatives, political parties and participatory budgets. While Catalonia already has experience in the latter two cases, the first will be approached from a comparative perspective and with special attention to Estonia, Switzerland and Canada. In addition, the mentorship of the Generalitat (Catalan government) is also interested in the analysis of the electoral ecosystem that employs e-voting and that falls under its competence or supervision (Chambers of Commerce, Railways, School Councils, Professional Associations, Universities…). In addition, non-referendum consultations are also held in Catalonia using electronic voting and hybrid methods, and the Generalitat is interested in knowing whether this has had an impact on participation.

The project studies the evolution and experiences of electronic voting in countries where it is consolidated (Estonia, Switzerland, Canada), the use of electronic voting systems within Catalan political parties in recent years, electronic voting for the selection of citizen proposals for participatory budgets deployed in Catalonia with the Decidim platform, non-referendary consultations in recent years, and the electoral ecosystem of the Generalitat de Catalunya. The impact on citizen participation will be analysed, i.e. an assessment will be made of whether there has really been an increase in participation, both quantitatively (more voters) and qualitatively (inclusion of vulnerable sectors that do not usually participate in politics). It will also analyse the conditions for these increases to be robust and, concretely, the mechanisms for fostering strong citizen trust and accountability. Different SWOTs will be carried out on the implementation of e-voting in these different areas and roadmaps or recommendations will be made for the successful implementation of e-voting in Catalonia and its acceptance by citizens, stakeholders and political institutions.

As a corollary, we will examine whether these experiences consolidate the classic model of representative democracy or whether, on the contrary, they enable more areas of direct democracy for citizens.

Image under Freepik license.