23 May 2024

Democracy in digital era: how technology shapes political participation | EFIVOS Articles


Author: Sabina Spătariu

The digital era has made changes in various aspects of our lives, including the governance system and the way of political communication. The digital tools made it possible for everyone to participate more in social and political life. Direct communication can be achieved by messaging or emailing your representative directly, or by discussing problems with other citizens worldwide.

Political participation is an essential aspect of demonstrating the impact of technology on democracy. The political scientist Robert Dahl described political participation as essential for democratic legitimacy and promoted the fact that citizens have an important voice in shaping public policy: 

Political participation refers to the involvement of individuals or groups in the political process, including activities such as voting, campaigning, contacting officials, protesting and volunteering for political causes.

Online voting 

Estonia is a case in point for using technology in the democratic process. Since 2005, Estonian citizens have been able to vote online.The vote is guaranteed to be confidential. The vote is secured by signing and encrypting it with the voter's own certificates and putting it in a double e-envelope.  

The local election in 2005 resulted in 9317 online voters, which increased with each election cycle. The platform was used by 275,587 citizens to cast their votes in the local election in 2021. 

Switzerland is also heading towards the system of online voting, experimenting with a partially online voting system for the first time in 2004. Over 300 trials have been conducted by 15 cantons (type of administrative division of Switzerland) since then to offer internet voting to a limited portion of their electorate. 

Remote electronic voting was also piloted in Norway during local elections in 2011. Online voting was also addressed in a parliamentary motion introduced by the Conservative Party in Norway. They made an effort to prevent remote voting in November 2010. 

This method of using digital tools to express political preferences has been tested or implemented in some countries, but it has not been widely adopted due to concerns about security, privacy, and the integrity of the electoral process. 

Online access to public information

When it comes to other forms of political participation, such as protesting or volunteering for different causes, people now have easy access to information thanks to the digital era. Nongovernmental organizations, foundations, and also political parties have made an investment in time and effort to have some form of online presence, either through a website or social media accounts.  

Democracy is founded on transparency, which is one of the most important principles and the digital era made significant changes in transparency and consultation with citizens and civil society for public institutions and government organizations. Public authorities in many states are required to publish certain information online, especially to promote the principle previously mentioned, according to laws and regulations.

For example, in Canada, there is a specific act providing access to information, and all aspects related to this are under the jurisdiction of a federal government institution.
The right to request access to certain information and records held by federal government institutions is available to any individual present in Canada. The specific information can be requested in any format, including electronic records, and mandates that government institutions respond to requests within specific timelines.

The European Union is not an exception to this rule, having a legislative framework that aims to promote information held by public sector bodies in all EU member states. The Directive 2019/1024 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 on open data and the re-use of public sector information stipulates that the legal provisions should be applied to the provision of documents that are part of the public task of the relevant public sector bodies.

A specific example can be found in Romania, where any public information should be provided online on the institution's website. Citizens have the option to email the institution to request information that is not yet available or for more details on those that have already been published. A response will be provided to citizens within a maximum of 15 to 30 days, depending on the complexity of the information required. 

Citizens can find out how the authorities plan to spend public funds by consulting local or national budgets via internet search from their home, and that has a direct impact on how technology shapes political participation. If it's as simple as possible to access information, there's a chance that more people will engage. 

Accessing information and being transparent became easier in the digital era and because of that, things such as petitions, protests, and contacting your representatives have also been greatly affected by the evolution of the internet. 


The internet has simplified the process of sending a petition or request to their representatives or governmental authorities for citizens. Several governments have sections on their websites or complex platforms that allow citizens to send petitions. 

For example, in the United Kingdom, you can easily find a special section named 'Get involved' on the UK Parliament website, where citizens can submit petitions or directly contact a member of parliament.

Using digital tools, you can not only send them easily, but also locate them. The European Parliament has a platform called 'Find a Petition' that makes it very easy to find any petition that has been sent. You have the option to search by keywords, country, year, or themes/fields related.

With all of these tools just a click away, raising awareness and fighting for causes has become much more accessible than before the internet. As time progressed, individuals began utilizing the internet and social media to discuss local issues and share their opinions on political representatives. By sharing a post, a community of people can relate to the same problems and discuss common challenges they are facing.  

When it comes to raising awareness on social media platforms, 'Me Too' is a movement that should not be overlooked. The #MeToo hashtag was used by more than 19 million people on Twitter in 2017. The impact was bigger if we consider other platforms such as Facebook or Instagram. The movement's primary objective was to raise awareness about the problem of sexual harassment and assault, and it has spread to more than 85 countries.  

An increase in reports of sexual harassment and assault was a result of the movement. The number of sexual harassment charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2018 increased by more than 12 percent compared to the previous year.
The government agency has initiated a program called Respect in the Workplace to support various types of workplaces in reviewing employers' harassment prevention policies and procedures.

Without question, the digital age has changed the way democracy operates and, most importantly, how citizens can participate in social and political life. Nowadays, reaching out to your representative or signing a petition is even more straightforward and talking about a problem and gaining support from others is possible with just an internet connection and a device. 


Verba, S., Schlozman, K. L., & Brady, H. E. (1995). Voice and equality: Civic voluntarism in American politics. Harvard University Press

This article is published under the framework of the EFIVOS project. EFIVOS is an initiative aimed at increasing knowledge and awareness of EU institutions, policies, and democratic procedures. This podcast has been funded through project 101081482 — EFIVOS in Europe — CERV-2022-CITIZENS-CIV.

​​The European Commission support for the production of this article does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflect the view only of the authors, and the Commission can not be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.