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e-Town Halls or e-Consulates?

Published on 31 March 2010
Updated on 05 April 2024

Ginger’s e-participation blog has been exploring many interesting viewpoints on the degree to which e-voting can help enhance participation. It might be worthwhile to explore how these e-participation discussion can be linked to aspects of e-consulates.

Overseas voting is facilitated generally as part of the consular functions at embassies and consulates. Such functions are bunched together in what is commonly called ‘documentary services’ or ‘Town Hall’ services.

Town Hall functions comprise of a range of services from notary and authentication services, registration of births and marriages to overseas voting. It aims to help nationals keep in touch with home government agencies when the need arises, while assisting those agencies to reach nationals overseas as well (in some ways similar to consular assitance and protection – previous blog). In the service loop, the foreign ministry’s role is generally that of a facilitator or an enabler.

There are many different types of e-voting systems (just see this wikipedia page to get an idea) BUT like most Town Hall services, the way that such services reach overseas voters is not under the direct mandate of the foreign ministry. Home country laws and practices dictate how elections are conducted overseas.

Overseas voting offers a good example of how documentary services can enhance the role of the state outside its physical borders. There are generally four types of overseas (or absentee) voting options. (1) Polling stations overseas – e.g. recent Iraqi parliamentary elections was open to over 2 million refugees outside the country; (2) postal voting – e.g. United States and Australia; (3) internet voting; and (4) no voting for citizens overseas! (e.g. India currently does not have an overseas voting program although it has over 30 million nationals overseas).

Documentary services can be enhanced through e-government initiatives. The higher the number of citizens living overseas the more important it may be for the state to engage with those citizens. With respect to citizens overseas, e-consulates (or e-Town Halls?) offer the means (e-tools) to extend the virtual boundaries of the state to citizens living overseas.

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