Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Emerging democracies and technology

Francesca Varda is a political scientist from Cornell University with a Master in Latin American studies from NYU. In the last six years, she has worked on issues related to international justice. We decided to interview her to get a sense on how the adoption of electronic voting in emerging democracies could impact the process of conflict resolution.

1. Do you think there's a link between voting technology and a better or more democratic system?

There can certainly be a link, but I don’t see it as a necessary relationship. In cases where the introduction of voting technology serves to promote and enhance citizens’ participation in political life, this may lead to the strengthening of democratic systems.

2. The countries with emerging or transitional democracies are adopting electronic voting technologies with more ease and great results, why do you think this is happening? What can we learn from them? Are there advantages in adopting electronic voting to support conflict resolution?

Electronic voting technologies are perceived as tools that can serve to avoid fraud and increase transparency in electoral processes. Nevertheless there are also voices that challenge these statements, indicating that at the time, existent technologies are not entirely fraud free and are in need of further improvements and study.

One advantage of electronic voting systems is that results can be delivered more expediently, thus preventing the escalation of tensions due to delayed publication of electoral results. In addition, electronic voting can also assist in reducing the number of nullified ballots as voters can receive immediate feedback that confirms whether their vote has effectively been cast or not.

3. New technologies are being developed to prevent fraud. Some people say that in 20 years all the countries will have an electronic voting system. Do you see this happening? Does it relate to your experience in Latin America?

I believe that this will be the case but that there will be different types of systems implemented according to the specifics of each election and the unique characteristics of the country. Several countries in Latin America are already moving forward in this direction. For example Brazil and Venezuela have already implemented electronic voting in the past and Peru will test a pilot electronic voting system during its next presidential elections scheduled later this year.

4. What are your thoughts about the role of media and technology to provide citizens with tools to strengthen their political participation and access to justice? Can you give us an example?

Technological improvements can provide incredible opportunities to democratize access and participation in political life. For example if secure and effective online voting systems were implemented, the increased accessibility of the process would allow a larger number of citizens to exercise their right to vote. Government officials could engage in wider consultations with their constituents over a broader range of issues and establish more representative governance structures that allow for feedback and dialogue.