October 14, 2019

As society undergoes a digital revolution, our voting and governance systems are leaving people behind. 

Read the original article here. 

As Canadians get set to cast their votes in the federal election, the country’s electoral system and its democracy face a defining moment — as society undergoes a digital revolution, our voting and governance systems are leaving people behind. 

There are many challenges facing elections, democracy, and how societies are governed. Modern pressures include factors such as fake news and previously unseen levels of hyperpartisanship. Age-old structural problems include election security, low voter participation and a general feeling of disengagement. These are issues that must be addressed in order to bolster the underpinnings of Canadian society. 

According to voter turnout figures by Elections Canada, voter participation in this country has been trending downward since the early 90s. The highest voter turnouts were in the late 50s and early 60s, when turnout was over 79 per cent — the lowest on record was in 2008, when it fell to 59 per cent. 

Democracy and governance are at the core of what it means to be Canadian, and more broadly, to be a citizen of a modern society. Adastra, a GTA technology firm, surveyed Canadians on issues of governance, accountability, security and digital democracy in a study entitled Digital Democracy in Canada. 

What really stood out was that more than half of Canadians feel the country’s political process is broken and needs to be disrupted. The report shows a similar number of Canadians feel the current voting and governance system leaves them behind. Younger Canadians (18-34) particularly, are much more likely to feel left behind, versus those 55-plus (61 per cent to 43 per cent). 

One thing almost all Canadians agreed on was they wish it were easier to hold politicians accountable. More than nine-in-10 Canadians felt strongly about that question, and an equal number feel there needs to be a way to make the parties care about more than their stump issues. 

Overall, a debate needs to be had. We need to discuss both the electoral process (which is an event in time) and the governance process (which is ongoing). We also need to look at participation in our democracy, while also being mindful of risks and concerns such as security and privacy. 

Digital democracy, as explained in the study, is the use of modern digital technology and strategies in the political and governance processes. In Canada, and globally, all industries are undergoing Digital Transformation, including health care, an area with as much at stake for citizens as democracy. 

Where Canadians stand on digital democracy is not black and white, nor is it monolithic in terms of where different camps lie. Four-in-five Canadians (82 per cent) fear that a more digital democracy is a threat in terms of election fraud or hacking, while 63 per cent feel it is a threat to their privacy. 

However, there is a competing desire to reap the benefits that a more digital democracy can offer. Three-quarters of Canadians agree that digital democracy is an opportunity to breathe new life into democracy and engage younger citizens. 

The study revealed that two-thirds of Canadians feel that “all of society is undergoing a digital transformation, and elections/voting need to get on board.” Moreover, almost 70 per cent of citizens feel a more digital democracy is an opportunity to hold politicians more accountable and three-quarters (74 per cent) would welcome new ways to allow issues to be more personalized to them through digital means. 

When looking at these issues, there are two organizing principles in play — integrity and trust. Digital transformation of how government interacts with its citizens can increase security and privacy, reduce risk, control hacking and guide recounts. It can also strengthen the governance process and align constituents and parties on issues through a more relevant and personalized focus beyond stump issues and talking points. 

Now is the time for society to think hard about how digital technology can be applied to improve the electoral process and governance in this country. As it stands, people can send thousands of dollars across the world with the push of a button — much easier than it is to vote in a municipal election. 

We need to turn our attention to meeting the demands and challenges of a new era, one in which people will grow up having been shaped entirely as consumers of innovation. As we grapple with what should be done, the gulf between generations — the one in which younger people report feeling left behind — will continue to widen. 

Digital transformation of both the public and private spheres is underway. It also has the power to solve problems and breathe new life into the political system. 

Marcos da Silva is Director, Analytics Products and Strategy at Adastra Corporation, a data and analytics company based in the GTA. 

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