Ping (zestyping) wrote,

Direct democracy systems.

Attending the Online Deliberation conference prompted several interesting conversations with friends about the democratic process. I told hukuma about how i'd received a note from James Green-Armytage in reply to my announcement that Kingman had adopted Condorcet. James has written extensively about voting methods, and his site includes an intriguing proposal for a direct democracy system. The basic challenge, it seems to me, is to get around the problem that it would be far too much work for every citizen to vote knowledgeably on everything, but still come up with a way to provide better participation and representation.

In the proposed Delegable Proxy system, every citizen is permitted to vote directly on issues, but also has the option to delegate their vote to someone they trust. By delegating your vote to someone else, you not only trust them to vote for you but also trust their judgement in possibly re-delegating your vote to someone else. You can choose different proxies for different issues, letting you express whose judgement you trust on each issue without having to fully research every issue yourself.

hukuma responded by telling me about an idea he'd been mulling over. In the system he described, which i guess i could call a Successive Proxy system, your ballot is a list of names of people you trust to represent you. When an issue comes up for a vote, your top-ranked proxy can either cast your vote for you or abstain, in which case the second-ranked proxy has the option to cast your vote or abstain, and so on. This feature makes it possible for people to run as single-issue candidates — for example, an civil-rights candidate could pledge to vote when civil rights are disputed and abstain for all other issues. You would gather representatives for your most important issues on your ballot and rank them according to your priorities (e.g. if education is more important to you than transportation, rank the education candidate higher and she'll get to cast your vote first).

Both systems would encourage a proliferation of representatives and so require some sort of electronic ballot-casting and voting apparatus. It would make sense, in both systems, to let citizens update their preferences at any time, rather than only once every few years. I could imagine going online, checking Google News for the day's headlines, visiting a proxy's website to see how she voted recently, and possibly shifting her higher or lower in my ranking as a result.

A potential drawback of these types of systems is that they necessitate some kind of citizen identification mechanism, such as assigning everybody a voter ID number. Voting electronically does pose significant security risks, though these risks may be substantially reduced if voting is happening continuously every day rather than all at once every few years. When voting is infrequent, there's a huge target for attack and recovery is virtually impossible; when it happens all the time, the effects of attacks are smaller, and we could gradually develop better ways to cope with problems.

The Delegable Proxy system has the problem that issues somehow need to be categorized into issue types — if i choose someone as my proxy for voting on labour issues, who decides what bills count as labour bills? The Successive Proxy system solves this quite elegantly by factoring the categorization problem into the proxies themselves: when a candidate promises he's only going to vote on health-care issues, you can watch what he does and demote him or remove him from your list if you feel he has overstepped his bounds.

It occurred to me that one could combine some of the strengths of both systems by allowing voters to specify another voter as well as a ranking of proxies. This would give you the flexibility to gather proxies that you trust on many different issues if you wanted, but also the convenience of just using another voter's ranking if you don't have time to choose proxies. Perhaps the ballot would let you rank some proxies (possibly none) and then, at the end of your list, give the name of another voter whose rankings would be appended to your list.

One of the really appealing things about these proxy-based systems is that anyone could gradually rise to prominence in a particular area if they were interested enough to learn about it or make it their career. You could build a reputation over time, first among your closest colleagues, then among a larger group of people who share the same interest, and if enough of the people in that area trusted you, eventually most of the arrows would transitively lead to you.

All of this still leaves open the question of how bills are written and introduced. Perhaps there could be a way for ordinary citizens to propose bills after gathering enough support from the populace.

Anyway, i thought these were all interesting ideas to consider, and i'm curious what you think of them.

Update: I thought of a better way to describe what i like about the whole proxy idea. Right now we have a dichotomy between constituents and representatives; if you're a representative you have political power, and if you're a constituent you only have power if you or your company has a lot of money. Proxy systems replace this with a smooth spectrum where everyone is both a constituent and a representative, and anyone can move incrementally up or down the scale to the extent that others trust them and they want to take on the responsibility.
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