Masthead CMC Magazine / April 1, 1996
 Building Democracy Online, by Scott Aikens and Erna Koch

Pros of the E-Democracy Project

Initiated and controlled by civic organizations. Organizers contend that the project required a non-partisan, non-government sponsor and format to appropriately foster full and fair participation.

Better information through development of issue-based discussion. The text format allowed candidates and citizens adequate time and space to thoughtfully and fully discuss public issues, rather than be confined to "sound bites." Print and news media covered the debates and used information developed within the debates, thus broadening the reach of the project beyond the online participants.

Level playing field for all candidates. The forum as tested in Minnesota is not affected by campaign expenditures or party sponsorship, thus broadening the field of candidate-participants, and voter choice.

Interactive. Citizens had the opportunity to have input on the questions asked of debate participants, and had a forum to discuss, deliberate, and influence each other about candidates answers. Project organizers cite this aspect as the "daily life" of the project, and it also served as a recruiting ground for project volunteers as well as for volunteers for all kinds of causes that might find representation.

Available 24 hours a day for viewers with access at home. Discussion participants with home computers and modems could view the debates and participate in citizen discussions at their convenience, any time of the day or night, rather than being tied to tune in or remember to record a set-time debate.

Reaches young voters. Young people, ages 18 to 27, compose one of the largest groups of computer users. Due to their comfort as a group with the medium, a project such as E-Democracy has the potential to reach voters in this age group more than traditional media. ^

Section excerpted, with permission, from the prerelease draft of "State and Local Strategies for Connecting Communities" by the Benton Foundation and the Center for Policy Alternatives.

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