Redefining the notion of ‘free and fair’ elections in the digital age

A basic principle of democracy is that elections must be ‘free and fair’. Freeness implies the absence of coercion or undue influence in electoral choices, while fairness means equal participation rights for voters and those to be voted. While this definition remains imperative in the 21st century, elections are increasingly affected by the rise of technology and social media. Facilitated access to information promotes citizens’ (equal) participation in democratic processes. At the same time, voters can, through the manipulation and individual targeting of information and in the absence of proper campaign regulations in the online sphere, be influenced in a much more unregulated manner than was possible before. In light of this, this paper will first review the notion of ‘free and fair’ elections in some EU legal systems, before suggesting a broader definition of these principles to also include the free formation of political will without undue manipulation in the online sphere.