[E-voting] Questionnaire results

Cian pooka at redbrick.dcu.ie
Sun Apr 4 01:29:51 IST 2004

Hi folks. Here's my compilation of answers from the Questionnaire I sent out.
I think it makes interesting reading. I should be able to compile some of this
and some parts of our CEV submission into a short, useful submission to the
Democracy Commission. Many thanks to everyone who responded.


Questionnaire Answers

There were 10 respondents, including myself. Here I'll provide summaries of the
information received and opinions expressed. I've tried to list most opinions
on the 'qualitative' questions later on. Thanks to everyone who responded - it
was very interesting to see how people felt about the different topics.

Q 1. What do you work at/study? How old are you?

Most respondents were involved in computers, business, or both. Respondents
ranged in age from 23 to 70, with half between 25 and 30.

Q 2. Have you previously been involved in politics in any way? If so, how? If
     not, why not?

Four respondents had been involved in politics on the level of candidacy or
canvassing, of which three were members of political parties. The remaining six
had no previous involvement in politics, apart from two who had occasionally
approached local politicians on individual issues.  

Some respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the political system, while one
pointed out that politics seems much more accessible in Ireland than in the

Q 3. How long have you been using computers/the Internet? Have you previously
     used technology to participate in groups like this one? Do you consider
     yourself a 'member' of ICTE, or an interested observer?

Many respondents had been using computers for over 20 years, and the Internet
for about 10. Four had been using both for about 10 years. Most participated in
online groups, but few in 'political' online groups. All but one considered
themselves members of ICTE, while the remaining respondent was an interested

Respondents judged their membership on the contribution they had made to the
list, as well as their support of its aims and objectives. One respondent
pointed out that not coming from a technical background made them feel 'less
qualified' as a member of the group.

Technology and Democracy
Q 4. Where do you see the role of technology in democracy? How do you see it
     helping or hindering democratic participation?

Respondents saw technology primarily as a tool. Used appropriately and
implemented properly, it has the potential to bring democracy to a new level of
public participation. Used or implemented badly, it could create mistrust,
alienation and a sense of exclusion among non-technical voters.

Use of technology in democracy should be concerned primarily with social
progress rather than technological progress. It could be an enabler in moving
from purely representative democracy to a more direct democracy. However it
must never be used in such a way as to exclude those without ready access to

Q 5. Can technology strengthen inclusion and equality in democracy? How?
     How could it fail?

The public demand for a voice in running the community and country is there:
for example, we have letters pages, Internet forums and phone-in shows.
Technology could be one more tool in the bag. But implemented badly it can be
worse than the status quo - for example, the proposed electronic voting system.
It could lead to loss of faith in the democratic process.

Technology could complement other methods, but has problems of access.  It can
overcome the problems of geographic distribution, but favours certain
demographic groups: younger, better educated, higher earners. It will fail if
access to technology becomes a de facto requirement for participation in
politics without becoming spread across all social groups.

On the Internet, no-one knows you're a dog. Image matters very little.  It's
possible to rationalise debate by removing everything but the text. However,
this has its own dangers: flame wars can spring up that simply wouldn't happen
in face to face environment. Also, someone can try to exclusively own and
control debate in their own interest.

e-voting at lists.stdlib.net
Q 6. Do you think this list has 'worked' as a way of organising a geographically
     distributed group? What are its strong points? What are its weak points?

Respondents felt the group has worked very well. Among strengths listed were:
It feels genuinely democratic. The list has facilitated sharing of knowledge on
details of the existing and proposed systems, and is good for asynchronous
discussion. It is flexible as to the time and amount of participation for
individuals. A coherent group position has developed in an inclusive manner.
The group has been well run: rational, moderate and polite. This seems largely
due to the focused, co-operative nature of individuals involved.

Respondents saw some weaknesses as: The centralisation of physical meetings to
Dublin was not helpful for inclusion of those outside the city. The list could
have been advertised more widely. The public discussions could possibly be
useful for manipulation by cynical opponents. The interface is not media-rich,
which puts some people off. The list got more technical than strictly necessary
fairly often. The format is weak for arguing points requiring frequent
exchange; there are often lulls & delays in email. Some activity inevitably
took place offlist (organisation of press conference, etc.). The age profile
might be a weakness; it would be helpful, politically, if we had a few older
members in leadership roles.

Q 7. What tools do you think have worked well here? What further tools and
     processes would be useful to us or a similar group?

The mailing list has worked well. We have managed to keep ourselves on-topic
most of the time. The list archives were useful for those coming late to the
group. The website was a useful resource, but could be better: would there be
any way to more seamlessly integrate the list archives with the site?

Collaborative documentation tools such as LaTeX with CVS, while having too
steep a learning curve for general use, worked well. A Wiki may have worked a
lot better. It's important to not make the technology a hurdle to

The FoI act and Dail questions were useful tools in getting information from
the Government. At some point we got useful guidance on how to issue press
releases, which has served us very well.

Teleconferencing would be preferable to face-to-face meetings, were the
technology as ubiquitous as the Internet currently is. Meanwhile, realtime
Internet chats might have been a good complement to the mailing list.

Q 8. Does the government have a role to play in facilitating groups like this
     one? Could this model be used in government organisations?

The main ways the Government could facilitate groups like this one would be to
provide infrastructure, such as countrywide broadband access, and to lower the
bar for access. It would not be helpful for the Government to actually provide
the services for running campaigns like this one, as they might be seen to be
able to exert undue pressure. The tools are there for anyone to use.

This model could be used to seek comment from the ordinary public on government
matters. Direct input from the people could be enabled by technology. This
would be a breath of fresh air in terms of how the Government deals with the
public. The use of technology to foster active but efficient debate among a
very large number of participants is a fascinating possibility.

The Government might not be entirely serious about encouraging this level of
democratic participation. There would need to be a will at civil service and
Dail levels to implement such technology. Historically, it seems that many
e-government initiatives (Department or Council websites, for example) fail to
be of any real use. Also, there might be a risk of an open forum being taken
over by PR companies or other organisations rather than remaining genuine
citizen initiatives.

       "Metaphors are wondrous candles which illuminate the hidden
             connections between things." -- Jonah Goldberg

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