Electronic Voting in Belgium
Pascal Delwit (Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium), Jean-Benoit Pilet (Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium) and Erol Kulahci (Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium)
Copyright: © 2008
Does representative democracy imply that there is … representation? What does one mean by representation? Looked at very generally, it means that the legislative (parliament and government) and executive (government) bodies represent the opinions of those who are represented. The primary method for expressing opinions in democracies is by voting: the parliaments are made up of representatives that reflect the different trends of the opinion expressed by the vote (Avril, 1990). Universal suffrage is neither a historical fact nor a clear-cut contemporary feature. There have been, and there still are, individuals who are excluded from voting and universal suffrage (Rémond, 1999). For a long time, several European countries had representational parliamentary systems that were not democracies. We then experienced a notabilization of political relations (Deloye, 1997, p. 96). As Max Weber put it, one is not then living from politics but for politics (Weber, 1963). Several restrictions existed and still exist with universal suffrage. For many years, governments either slowed down or restrained access to voting. Nowadays, the problems arise in new and really reverse terms. The question is more about knowing how to bring citizens back to the ballot boxes and in this manner to perpetuate the legitimacy of the democratic system. Indeed, voter turnout rates have been falling for the past 20 years (Blais & Dobrzynska, 1998; Delwit, 2002). In many European countries, abstention has risen in a straight line since the end of the 1970s right up to the present day. In view of this trend and considering the growing number of election choices for a priori nongovernment parties (Ignazi, 2003), several analysts and political leaders have been wondering about ways to curb this development. In part, thoughts relating to electronic voting (e-voting) lie within this context (Birch & Watt, 2004). A certain number of academics and political leaders have been examining institutionalised restraints likely to improve the current state of affairs (Bowler, Brockington, & Donovan, 2001). Naturally in this framework, electronic vote is only one element amongst others. In this regard, Arend Lijphart has undoubtedly pursued this the furthest, since in 1997 he suggested (re)introducing compulsory voting in democratic states in order to respond to the sagging voter turnout (Lijphart, 1997, p. 11). The will to reduce voter abstention was not the only issue at the origin of studies on the possibility of introducing or extending e-voting. The mobilization of new communication methods and technology for voting was also at issue. Particularly as the unfortunate vote counting experience in the state of Florida during the 2000 presidential election highlighted concerns about traditional methods of voting and vote counting (Jarvis, 2001). This article will briefly discuss the issue of e-voting by looking at the response to the introduction of e-voting by Belgian citizens who used it. We will show the results of a major exit poll survey conducted on the occasion of the May 18, 2003, federal elections on Belgian’s opinions with regard to e-voting. Two major issues were examined. To what extent was e-voting as it was used in Belgium considered as easy or difficult to use? Was e-voting commonly accepted or rejected by the voters who used it?