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The positive impact of digitalization on democracy – best practices on e-governance from Ghana, Estonia, and India

May 26, 2023 • By Mathes Rausch

Key takeaway: Digital tools can be applied to and leveraged in many areas of democratic governance such as inclusion, participation, transparency, accountability, decision-making, and innovation to positively impact democracy.

Digitalization is a defining process of our time that impacts democratic governance and thus, International IDEA’s work. It is for that reason that International IDEA has created a new workstream on Digitalization and Democracy and hosted a joint discussion between the Council of Member States and the Board of Advisers on the positive impact of digitalization on democracy on 26 April 2023 in the margins of the biannual Council meeting.

Media and public debates often focus on the risks of digitalization for democracy, ranging from disinformation and polarization to cybersecurity threats, and the manipulation of elections. However, without overlooking such risks, the purpose of this joint discussion was to look at the opportunities for democracy provided by digital tools. To that end, concrete policy examples and best practices were presented by International IDEA’s Member States, namely Ghana, Estonia and India, to facilitate the exchange of views and lessons learned among the Institute’s governance bodies.

In Ghana, digital analysis tools have been widely used in the planning and execution of the 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections which were widely described as very successful. The Electoral Commission made use of digital analytics tools to design an effective election system, including the calculation of the optimal number and allocation of polling stations. This ensured that everyone could vote in time and under increased security conditions. From digital voter registration and tech-based systems that enabled the projections of results, to how political parties tracked their numbers before the final and official declaration, technology took centre stage throughout the experience and contributed to the inclusiveness of the process.

Moreover, these digital election tools helped Ghana to conduct effective elections during the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, the experience of Ghana exemplifies how leveraging digital tools can help not only to increase the effectiveness of electoral systems but to also overcome challenges posed during crisis situations such as health restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Estonia is widely known for its well-established e-governance system which leverages digital tools to enhance participatory citizen engagement. Any Estonian citizen has digital citizenship which is an individualized, secure authentication system to access the different services of Estonia’s e-governance system such as X-Road. X-Road is a decentralized open-source software and ecosystem that is key to building trust between the government and society as it gathers all Estonian public e-services in one platform, making them directly available to every Estonian.

The system is based on the idea that knowledge is power. Making knowledge publicly available is a means to disperse power to the people and to increase transparency. As such, X-Road gives citizens the feeling that the state is delivering and working for them, which is of great importance in times in which public trust in democratic institutions is eroding. The software also builds public acceptance for applying digital tools in politics.

In 2005, India launched the Digital India Program, a policy initiative aiming at increasing the participatory engagement of civil society in political processes. The program focuses on the expansion of the publicly available digital infrastructure, encompassing a variety of specific digital initiatives from telemedicine and online education to digital travel certificates, all accessible via websites and mobile apps.

The Digital India Program also provides different digital voter services. A prime example is MyGov, an innovative digital citizen engagement platform to connect citizens to their government or the ECI Website, a decentralized public source providing information about elections. In addition, the Garuda app enables citizens to easily register for elections, either online or via BLOs (Booth Level Officers) who provide individual support. Registered voters can use the Know Your Candidate App to find relevant information such as biographies on every candidate they can vote for. All the e-governance tools of the Digital India Program are regularly reviewed by IT experts to ensure and improve the program’s security and quality.

These best practices from Ghana, Estonia, and India exemplify innovative initiatives and policy interventions on how digital tools can be leveraged to enhance democratic processes by securing and strengthening the transparency, accountability, accuracy, and integrity of democratic processes, as well as citizenship inclusiveness and participation. Thereby, digital tools can help to ensure that election outcomes more adequately reflect the will of the people. It is the proven success of such policies that drives International IDEA to continue its efforts to support Member States and partners to employ digital tools to vitalize democratic governance worldwide.

About the authors

Mathes Rausch
Intern at the Secretary-General's Office
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