[EM] Re: direct democracy / proxy system proposal

James Green-Armytage jarmyta at antioch-college.edu
Sun Aug 8 17:59:09 PDT 2004

Dear Bryan Ford,
	Some replies follow...
>This brief discussion was more along the lines of "proxy voting to elect 
>representatives" rather than "proxy voting to implement
>democracy", however.  Personally I think both are equally interesting and 
>promising applications of the idea, probably suited for different

	Yes. Let me address them separately.

Candidate Proxy
	I like your idea that candidates can publish a list of whom they are
likely to give their votes to if they don't get a majority, but I don't
like the sort of deterministic IRV method that you propose. I prefer that
the candidates have a space of time after the vote to organically try to
build a majority coalition. The process of successively elimination
candidates which you propose is, I think , unnecessary and somewhat
limiting. Can preclude the possibility of forming a majority coalition
around a centrist candidate with not so many first choice votes.
	It would be interesting to see people try to organize around candidate
proxy. I'm all for it, as an alternative to plurality. I think it would
make for an extremely interesting election, because there would be no
spoiler effect to speak of. I prefer it to approval, probably to IRV. Main
limitation is what if someone wants Kucinich first and Bush second, but
knows that Kucinich will not transfer votes to Bush, etc. In most cases,
of course, such a blatant disconnect between first and second preferences
would be unlikely... if you don't like the your first pref's likely
vote-recipient, then you can find a new first pref, I guess.
	And yes, no new voting equipment is required. It's a highly organic
process, and is remarkably easy to explain to people.

Proxy DD
	This is the one that I am personally the most interested in. Lots more
about proxy DD below.

>Donald's highly 
>critical reply to the idea - more or less, that "proxy voting is 
>undemocractic" because one person should not be allowed to wield many
>votes - 
>was similar to the reaction I got once when talking about the idea
>with a fellow activist in person, and I suspect will be a very common 
>knee-jerk objection to the idea that will have to be (and I think can be) 
>answered carefully.

	Yes. Most people will ask this question when faced with a proxy DD
proposal, but I think it can be answered fully. 1. People have a choice to
cast their votes directly. 2. Allowing for the proxy intermediary is what
makes DD feasible.
	As this argument regards candidate proxy, however, I think it is somewhat
correct. For this reason I don't usually think of candidate proxy as a
first-best system, but rather as a quick, simple, and low-tech, but
incomplete, substitute for more sophisticated ranked ballot systems, i.e.
Condorcet, STV, etc.
>I'm sure neither Tom nor I were the first to have this idea either; in
>just searching for the word "proxy" on the archives of this list turned
>up a 
>couple very interesting articles
	Yes, the idea of proxy voting is pretty old and well-established. Lots of
organizations use proxy voting. Our challenge is to apply it to a viable
and comprehensive direct democracy system (and/or traditional public
election systems).
	Aside from searching EM, you should search the web. I found some pages
awhile ago about "Liquid Democracy" which were very close to my proposal.
Speaking of which, my proposal is a combination of original ideas,
repeated ideas, and ideas which were original to me at the time, but which
had already existed elsewhere. I still don't know exactly where the lines
are between those categories, but I know that there are some of each.

>I think this is an idea whose time has come.  

	I hope so! It's really a great idea, with virtually no drawbacks. If the
time hasn't come quite yet, I hope that it comes within my lifetime.

>Face it, we're geeks; nobody listens to us. :)

	That may be so, but I'm not ready to accept it yet. : )
>But if depending on the 
>Internet could somehow be justified, then it could perhaps greatly reduce
>cost and increase the richness of the resulting system.  

	Yes. The internet would be a good medium if security could be ensured.
Public computers could be made available to those without access, and
those with access could use their own.

>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 
>anyone interested.

	Yes, I want to do this.
>- Stage 2: More refined system, still independently operated, but with a 
>randomly sampled constituency for better representation.

	Would prefer if everyone who wants to participate, is able to, though you
can do random invitations if you like.
>- Stage 3: Realistic system, government-supported but still advisory
>decisions are non-binding), mass participation.

	Would like to stay in non-binding stage for awhile. During non-binding
stage, security should be established to be near-absolute, and access
should be shown to be fair. During this stage, participation should grow
to include a substantial portion of the electorate, preferably more than
>Stage 1 allows us to "kick the tires" of the direct 
>democracy system - gain experience with it, identify serious problems
>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.

	It's a damned good idea. We've talked a bit about setting up a proxy DD
web site with a potential for large-scale expansion, but none of us have
done it. I don't know if anyone else has. Even if people have made DD
sites, it might be better to start over with a pairwise tally, with a
capacity for all the proxy rules we like, and a capacity for expansion.
	So, the first thing to do is to get a web site, preferably with its own
domain, for this purpose. The site allows people to create user accounts,
which include a standing (ranked) proxy list. The site should be able to
tolerate a large number of users, or at least be capable of expanding to
tolerate more users.
	There should be a discussion forum on the site.
	There should be a nominating and selection process for which issues
should be voted on. To begin with, selection may not need to be limited,
i.e. all issues could be accepted. Later on, we can introduce an STV-PR
vote for selecting issues for a certain time period.
	Then, for each issue that has been selected, options for that issue
should be nominated and selected. Issue selection process similar to
option selection.
	There should be a period between issue and option selection, and the
deadline for the actual votes... we'd try to get people interested in the
issues during that period, recruit voters, etc. You could vote on issues
before the deadline.
	Voting on the issues themselves should be ranked. (Rankings + ratings is
possible as well, but probably unnecessary.) The tally system should be
pairwise comparison. For each issue, it should be possible to cast a
ranked vote or to defer to specific proxies. You should be able to search
through the user database to find the proxies you want. If you leave stuff
blank, the weight of your vote is carried by your standing proxy.
	When announcing the result, we would want to show statistics on how many
people voted directly rather than via proxy.
	I assume that there would be plenty of logistical challenges. For
example, how do you prevent people from signing up for multiple
accounts?... and so on.
	Anyway, this is something I'm interested in doing. I'm not a computer
science expert, so I can't write the actual code. But I am interested in
working on the project. Actually, I had thought that this could eventually
develop into an actually nonprofit organization, eligible for 501c3
status, foundation grants, etc. I think that it could become a very
effective little NGO, issuing press releases and possibly getting free
media for the results of its votes on interesting issues... meanwhile
promoting Condorcet's method and pushing towards an official proxy DD
system. The organization should be nonpartisan, and should provide
discussion and education about alternative voting methods as a part of its
mission. But first, a critical mass needs to be achieved.

James Green-Armytage

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