The Future of Democracy

My eyes were drawn to a recent report on e-voting just issued by the Open Rights Group, an independent, non-profit advocacy group, campaigning for the digital civil rights of British citizens. They’re an interesting group, with a useful Wiki, led by a diverse Board including a security professional, Ben Laurie, who looks after security for The Bunker Secure Hosting. This group believes that the problems observed at the recent English and Scottish elections raise serious concerns about the suitability of e-voting and e-counting technologies for statutory elections. In particular they are concerned about the ‘black box system’, where the mechanisms for recording and tabulating the vote are hidden from the voter. Such a lack of public scrutiny might leave statutory elections open to error and fraud.

It’s a good point. We do need to see greater transparency and better usability testing for this important process. And it’s good to see someone campaigning to improve things. But I wonder if this group has spotted the bigger picture on democracy. Because it’s all due to change. As Alvin and Heidi Toffler pointed out more than a decade ago, majority rule is increasingly obsolete. It’s a relic of the Industrial Age and it’s about to be swept away by the Information Age. We need to embrace real-time minority power across digital networks. That’s what the new wave of social computing is all about. Like it or not, the future of democracy is likely to be much closer to Pop Idol and Big Brother style voting than that old-fashioned approach of counting paper slips placed in wooden boxes in village halls. This is a radical change with deep consequences which need to be debated. Because, amongst other things, we’ve already seen some of the problems that television style voting presents.

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