Online Voting, Delegative Democracy and Dunbar’s Number

I’ve been reading up on liquid democracy, delegative democracy and proxy voting.

See some of the following for further information:

Liquid Democracy is NOT Delegative Democracy

Delegative Democracy by Bryan Ford

Liquid Democracy is not a voting system

Liquid Proxy Voting

I think with the aid of the Internet this could be the way of having a more participatory voting system in the future. Here I would like to outline a possible voting system that will be a mix of liquid democracy, delegative democracy and representative democracy.

Currently in many democratic states, voting is done via a paper ballot held at regular elections. Usually these are for a representative, though occasionally they may be for a referendum. In most cases it is a secret ballot, so while it can be checked whether or not you voted, it can not be seen who you voted for. This is done in booths/stalls/partitions where no-one can come in with you, so you can not be forced to vote a particular way by people who would otherwise like to control your vote (even if those people are merely members of your family). Some countries are democratic on paper, but the votes are not secret, and if you vote against the ruling party, it might not be such a great idea…

If we were to have an online voting system, while it would be far more convenient it does reduce some of the anonymity that current paper ballots provide. Your parents or partner  or some other party may look over your shoulder while you vote to make sure you are voting how they want you to vote, or even use your credentials to vote for you. Currently you could lie to them if you did not wish to vote the way they wanted.

That being said, in the current system they could vote at one polling place as themselves, keep you at home and vote as you or get someone of the same gender to vote as you. If documents are required they may be forged. Also, if you are in such a controlled relationship, you may be too scared to lie to them or vote differently anyway.

Another concern about anonymity in online voting is the transmission. By voting online you would be tagging that vote so that people could trace it back to you. Indeed, if we want to have the ability to take back a proxy vote from a delegate, this would be necessary.

I imagine something like the use of digital signatures, or perhaps something like a block chain that bitcoin uses as a way of authenticating the vote. I think something pseudo-anonymous would be the way to go – so it could be tracked back to an individual, but you would need more information than just their name to be able do so. Something like a Registered Voter Number could be used.

Another problem is technical literacy. Not everyone is able to use computer technology. The voting process can’t be wholly online for this reason. If you do vote offline though, you would be limited to voting for a representative to make voting decisions for you.

In terms of delegating your proxy, it could be delegated in three ways. Global delegation is where members give their vote to a representative on every issue. Similar to what we have now.

In my system though, people would only be allowed to receive votes from up to 149 people (150 people total, including themselves). This does not necessarily mean they can only have 150 votes though, as someone is the proxy for others can forward those votes on as a block.

An example: Person A gives their proxy to person B, who ends up with a total of 150 votes (149 proxies and their own vote). Now say Person C also has a total of 150 votes and Person D has a total of 30 votes. Person B forwards all 150 to Person E, Person C forwards only 20 votes to Person E, and Person D forwards all 30 votes to Person E. Person E has 200 votes from these 3 people, and gets 99 individual proxies. In total Person E has 300 votes (including their own), but Person E has only received votes from 102 people.

Why the limit on how many people can send their proxies? Dunbar’s Number. See also:

Dunbar’s Number for social business

The Monkeysphere

In our current representative system, our “local” Members of Parliament are representing far more than 150 people.

For example in Australia for a Federal electorate: on average, 150 000 people live in each electorate, with an average of 94 000 voters. –

In the state of New South Wales the average number of enrolled voters (per electorate) is just over 50 000 –

In terms of local areas in NSW the number of electors enrolled in council areas varies from less than 1,000 to over 150,000. –

Also take into consideration that not everyone voted for that person to represent them, often not even the majority have given them their primary vote. It’s no wonder voters feel disenfranchised.

By putting a smaller limit on how many people they can receive votes from, it makes communicating with your representative far more likely, and will limit the effects of “celebrity” politicians gaining too much power through proxies. It would also encourage actual liquid democracy as a vote recommendation system rather than a proxy delegation system.

If you use the online method you could then follow the voting recommendations of whoever you choose, even if that person has already reached their proxy receivable limit. It’d probably be cheaper.

In my system representatives/delegates would not be paid from public funding. They would be a combination of volunteers and people paying for their services. If you want someone to be your proxy, you may have to pay them. The same way if you want someone to do your taxes, you may need to pay an accountant. Maybe they will charge a fixed amount per vote – so even though they get paid by 150 individuals, if those individuals have the votes of 150 people each, it can add up.

The second is subject delegation, where people give their vote on specific subjects only, like health or education. If you like how one person votes in one area, but not another, you can give your vote on that subject to that person, but your vote to a different person for the other area. Or maybe you know that someone is an expert in the area and you’d like to let them vote for you on that area they are an expert.

Subject matter experts and other professionals would likely supplement their pay from various sources to give public recommendations. Various competing interest would probably fund different experts. Maybe people would be required to declare their sources of income for public recommendations, maybe not. That’s something for the voters to decide. People wouldn’t have to vote for them if they didn’t want anyway.

The last one is issue delegation, where a member only entrusts another member with their vote on specific issues. Say there was an issue on refrigeration of xyz vs using insulated coolers or something else you don’t have any idea about, but you happen to know someone who this would actually affect and who knows about it in great detail. You may just give your proxy directly to them.

You can also vote directly on issues and/or be a proxy for others yourself.

Now one concern that affects any direct democracy system is that of mob rule. Any significant majority could impose its will at the expense of a minority. Because people can choose to vote directly on issues, this concern applies here.

There is an argument that any issue directly voted on should be an open one. So if you are going to vote directly anyone could see how you voted. Another way is to follow the principle of subsidiarity.

I would have it so that there is more autonomy for local areas. If you really don’t like how it is in one town, you could move to another. I would have it so that the tiers of government were built on free association. Local towns and cities and areas could agree it is in their interest to share resources and common rules with their neighbours and together form a state. States would work together under a federation.

At any point though, if a state or local area doesn’t want to be a part of that, they can leave and be independent. They probably wouldn’t be able to withstand the combined forces of other states or the rest of the federation, but unless their withdrawal posed a viable threat (building weapons of mass destruction or training an army to take over other towns by force), they wouldn’t really need to worry about it being enforced.

If one town was pro-immigration, but their neighbours were anti-immigration, then that town could build a port to allow easy immigration into their borders. They may come to an agreement with their neighbours that they would put up barriers to movement so that the new immigrants could not leave their town going into the rest of the land without a passport, or alternatively their neighbours would put up barriers to entry.

You could have one town full of racist bigots and a rule saying only people of one race can live there, and another that is a multi-cultural melting pot. Even if all but one town was full of racist bigots, that one town could act as a haven, and hopefully things would work out. Sanctions like trade barriers might mean they live in poverty (like North Korea), but physical force would be unlikely to be used.

Even a small group or individual could opt out of joining, but they would probably be exiled from built up areas, and without protection would probably end up imprisoned or dead if they were doing it for the wrong kind of reasons.

In summary, I think decentralisation, flexibility, choice and  freedom of association are good things.

I will probably write more or rewrite this at some stage.

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