When you think of petitions, images of eager dreadlocked volunteers with clipboards come to mind. In 2005, Germany decided to bring the process into the 21st Century, letting people submit and sign petitions online. Get 50,000 signatures and you’ve earned yourself a public meeting with the Bundestag’s (Germany’s parliament) petitions committee.
So, has the transition from getting 50,000 real-life signatures to 50,000 e-signatures changed the way democracy works in Germany? The answer: kind of. It did not empower disenfranchised voters to get politically involved as the Bundestag hoped it would; Ars Technica points out “it is the already politically engaged who tend to embrace these sort of tools, not the disengaged,” meaning women, people without college degrees and the unemployed did not all of a sudden start petitioning the government.
Young people, however, did. About 1/3 of the petitioners were in the 20-39 year-old age range, a sharp increase from the 13.2 percent that participated in traditional petitions. They also tended to be college educated. Another interesting find was that while there wasn’t an increase in the number of petitions, there was an increase the number of signatures:
There were 16,766 petitions submitted in 2006 and 18,861 in 2009. But the volume of e-signers has jumped from 443,048 to over one million, respectively.
Ultimately, there wasn’t a huge shift in German politics. What you did see was an increase in was the number of internet-related issues being brought up to the Bundestag like a petition against internet censorship.
While none of this is particularly revolutionary, I do think its a wake up call to countries like the United States that it needs to start integrating the internet into the political process. Despite the increase in young voters during the 2008 presidential election, the most reliable voter bloc still has graying hairs. If we want to get increased political participation in the future, it would probably help to start using tools the younger generation understands–namely, the internet. Germany’s experiment showed that young people were increasingly willing to get involved if it meant participating online. Maybe if we did the same thing, we would have an electorate that more accurately represented the wide-ranging demographics in this country.
Photo: Rodrigo Galindez, Flickr, CC