Technology threatens to fundamentally change the nature of elections and democratic governance. New media forms, including social media, are fueling political polarization as people communicate with general audiences and narrowly focused groups, without the deliberation typical of traditional forms of communication. Hacking, misinformation, “fake news” and cybersecurity threats are expanding the power of a few while undermining public confidence in the accuracy of mass media and information. Politicians are using detailed voter information to play to their bases, allowing them to ignore the rest of their constituents. Democratization, which had advanced steadily for decades, is now threatened by the rise of authoritarian governments and the closing of the political space to civil society, journalists and others.
Advances in election technology are also bringing new opportunities and new fears — founded and unfounded — about the security of the election process. Technology is being introduced into electoral processes to promote efficiency, but it also moves voting and counting into the unobservable digital realm. In the Netherlands, electronic voting has been abandoned amid concerns about foreign interference in elections. During the 2016 presidential campaign in the United States, Russian hackers broke into the Democratic National Committee’s email system, most likely trying to influence the election’s outcome.
We must accommodate these changing times while holding true to our unchanging principles — equality, justice and freedom for all. This means building political processes that are inclusive and transparent and that hold those in power accountable.
In the United States, our path has been nonlinear and riddled with failures, including slavery, racial and sexual discrimination, and abuse of indigenous peoples. The gap between rich and poor has grown wider in recent decades, while longstanding barriers to voter participation, equal justice and economic opportunities for all remain. Nevertheless, we persevere, striving to correct and improve our democracy.