[EM] Proxy Voting and the Internet
baford at mit.edu
Sun Aug 8 09:19:30 PDT 2004
In his proxy-based direct democracy proposal, James Green-Armytage suggests
that the system be implemented initially on a non-binding, advisory basis,
and used to allow the public to vote on issues "a few times per year". While
I would strongly support such a system, especially if the idea somehow
started to achieve widespread popular or government interest, in practice the
likelihood of that happening in the near future unfortunately still feels
pretty remote to me. Face it, we're geeks; nobody listens to us. :)
But one of the key benefits of the proxy voting idea is that it frees
individuals to determine their own level and type of participation, and
perhaps we could take advantage of that property even further to adjust for
the different levels of _interest_ and _ability_ of different people to
participate in such a system. For example, James avoids depending on the
Internet in his proposal, because of both security and universal access
concerns - both of which are serious issues. But if depending on the
Internet could somehow be justified, then it could perhaps greatly reduce the
cost and increase the richness of the resulting system. Based on this idea,
I'd like to throw out the following as an alternative, "multi-stage"
implementation strategy for a proxy direct democracy ("PDD"?) system:
- Stage 1: Experimental system, independently operated, open participation by
- Stage 2: More refined system, still independently operated, but with a
randomly sampled constituency for better representation.
- Stage 3: Realistic system, government-supported but still advisory (i.e.,
decisions are non-binding), mass participation.
- Stage 4: Fully functional and "hardened" system, government-supported,
possibly binding, mass participation.
Stage 1 basically means geeks like us setting up a web site that implements
some of the neat ideas discussed on this list, in which interested people can
get together, discuss issues on-line in a newsgroup-like environment of some
kind, and vote on issues using various systems as appropriate (and also vote
on meta-issues like which system is most appropriate in which
circumstances :)). Stage 1 allows us to "kick the tires" of the direct
democracy system - gain experience with it, identify serious problems that
have to be fixed before any progress can be made, etc. Since the
constituency is mainly us geeks and anyone else who happens to be
sufficiently interested, there's no pretense that the decisions arrived at in
this system are representative of the general population, but that's OK.
Stage 2 attempts to achieve some level of real legitimacy by setting up a
system that works in the same way as in stage 1, except with a more
representative constituency. Basically, invitations to participate are sent
(e.g., via telephone or conventional mail) to randomly selected people in
some well-defined geographic region (e.g., the whole US, or a particular
state, or a particular city), using standard selection methods for polls.
The invitation explicitly allows the selected person to participate directly,
or to ask someone they know to participate as their first-level proxy. This
at least somewhat addresses the universal access problem with the Internet:
someone without Internet access can just pass the invitation along to someone
they trust who _does_ have Internet access. I think it would also somewhat
address the low response rate problem of conventional polls: someone who just
isn't interested in participating might at least be willing to pass their
invitation along to someone they know who actually is. Ultimately, Stage 2
hopefully would provide us with a real, working, and somewhat democratically
legitimate model of a working system, which can produce believable decisions
on real issues, and yet is still small and cheap enough to be operated and
funded on a completely independent basis without government support.
Stage 3: Once the Stage 2 system has been deployed for a while, refined,
security-hardened, and exposed to broader and broader audiences, hopefully it
will eventually reach a point at which local or regional governments will be
willing (or forced to) start supporting the idea and deploying it for the use
of the general population, at least on a non-binding, advisory basis. This
is basically where James's proposal takes up. The direct democratic system
continues to be further refined, security-hardened, and made more and more
Stage 4: Finally, if a time eventually comes when there is a widespread public
consensus that the new system of direct democracy is both a Good Thing and
can be trusted, then it will be installed in a binding capacity as a basic
component of the system of government.
Comments? Anyone know of something like a "Stage 1" system already out there?
(Sites like Wikipedia might be taken as a first approximation, but their
support for formal democratic deliberation is still pretty rudimentary.)
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