Roxana Silva, a National Electoral Council member from Ecuador, is focused on ensuring all voices are heard in the electoral process. She works with government institutions, civil society and citizens to increase transparency and access to the electoral process. Among her latest projects was contributing to a series of workshops that IFES led to familiarize members of the Dominican Republic’s electoral commission with the rights of persons with disabilities.Silva spoke with us about the power of social media in promoting citizen participation and how she is helping her native Ecuador hold more inclusive elections.
How did you become involved in elections and how long have you been working in this area?Since 1998, I have worked in human rights – empowering citizens to understand their rights and responsibilities in democracy. I have worked in nongovernmental organizations, such as the Citizen Movement for Democracy and other public institutions.
From 2009-2010, I was a Hubert Humphrey Fellow at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. The classes I took helped me gain knowledge on citizen empowerment, allowing me to reach my professional and personal goals. Also, a course I took on digital media gave me an overview of information and technologies to be used in real-time – to create participatory, interactive, social and collaborative situations.
When I came back to my Ecuador, I had some ideas to increase political rights and promote civic engagement. In July 2011, I participated in the public contest to elect members of the National Electoral System. Since November 2011, I am considered a national authority in the area of civic engagement.
What is the focus of your work within Ecuador’s election commission?
Digital democracy, for example, transparent voting, is an idea designed to educate the public on candidates for the 2013 election. On December 14, 2012, Ecuador’s National Electoral Commission published the website www.vototransparente.ec. Through this site, citizens have the opportunity to learn about political parties, candidates and electoral proposals. It is so important to promote democracy and electoral participation.
Ecuador is holding sectional elections in February 2014. What tools do you use to keep the public informed?
Ecuador's National Electoral Commission has developed the Transparent Voting Project. Through this initiative, people can get information about the electoral process. For instance, Ecuadorians can access information about candidates for each election. Users will find the candidate's proposals, government plans, curriculum vitae and political history online.
This information allows Ecuadorians to be informed and vote consciously, and encourages active citizen participation. Also, Ecuadorians can hold authorities accountable by understanding their platform. When candidates become elected officials, citizens will know what they promised during their campaign and can hold them to it.
How can social media help in engaging citizens in the democratic process?
In different ways social media helps engage citizens in democracy. It provides space for discussion among different people and connects organizations and individuals online. At the same time, social media offers a wide range of information from both leaders and citizens. An informed citizen can use these tools to push for more accountable and transparent governments.
You recently participated in a series of workshops that IFES implemented for the Dominican Republic’s election commissions on the political rights of persons with disabilities. You have also done a lot of work on gender and youth inclusion. What are some of the most effective ways of ensuring all citizens are included in the political process?My work on inclusion has evolved through the years. I began with a strong focus on women’s political rights by overseeing a citizenship committee on a quota law in 2000. Improving women’s political participation in Ecuador was a long process; the Ecuadorian Women’s Movement saw many challenges.
Currently, I am active in promoting women´s inclusion, access for persons with disabilities and greater political participation of underrepresented groups. The most recent elections, held in February 2013, were the first time in Ecuador’s political history that we had such an inclusive electoral process. For example, persons with disabilities benefitted from the Vote at Home Project. This was a pilot initiative in Tungurahua province, in which we approached the electoral board to allow persons with disabilities to cast a ballot in their houses. In 2014, the next local election, this project will be active in 11 Ecuadorian provinces.