Voter tracking software: the dark side of technology and democracy

Voting Australia
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The potential benefits and pitfalls of electronic democracy are already on display in the use of voter tracking software by Australia's major political parties, argue Peter van Onselen and Wayne Errington in this paper from the CPP's Australian Electronic Governance Conference. The use of such technologies, which contain a host of information about voters and their policy preferences, are a potentially useful conduit between citizens and their elected representatives. Instead, their development has been veiled in secrecy, and their operation puts vast public resources to use for partisan ends, invades the privacy of constituents seeking help from their member of parliament, and tilts electoral politics towards the minority of swinging voters. To avoid a further cartelisation of Australia's party system, any move towards electronic democracy must avoid the pitfalls associated with the use of electoral databases. First, electronic democracy must not discriminate against those political parties without the resources of thestate to support their infrastructure and operation. Information technology has hitherto provided advantages to established political parties, which have the resources to properly exploit it. Second, the development of electronic democracy should encourage maximum participation in the political system. Political parties will inevitably attempt to skew any new system to their own advantage. The development of electoral databases provides a significant example of members of parliament acting as gatekeepers for the rules under which they operate.


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