[EM] Re: direct democracy / proxy system proposal

James Green-Armytage jarmyta at antioch-college.edu
Mon Aug 16 01:24:55 PDT 2004

>Yes, I can see your point, and having a separate "election completion" or 
>"proxy runoff" election seems like a sensible approach.  Of course, if
>candidates effectively get to change the way they vote with their proxy
>(even in a constrained fashion) _after_ the popular vote has already 
>happened, it will certainly draw the same objections about "taking power
>from the people" that are commonly applied to the government-forming 
>procedures of most PR-based European parliaments.  But that's not
>obviously a 
>fatal flaw, since most of Europe lives with it OK.

	Well, it's a fairly serious flaw, although you're right, it is very
similar to the indirect role that voters in a parliamentary system have in
choosing their executive. Again, I think that candidates should be free to
publish a list of who they are going to vote for if they can't win
themselves... But imposing a certain elimination order on them, that just
takes away too many of the benefits of candidate proxy. At that point, you
might as well just spring for the ranked ballots, I think.
>What I was thinking is that the stage 2 system would be open to everyone
>purposes of participating in discussions (e.g., reading and writing
>making proposals), and anyone could even act as a proxy and thus
>wield the voting power of votes delegated to them - but only those
>by random invitation would actually have a "direct", baseline vote to
>with.  That way, people (like us) who are interested and passionate
>enough to 
>sign up on their own can serve the role of advisors in the system, while 
>still preserving some level of democratic legitimacy by ensuring that
>self-selected advisors can only wield however much voting power is
>to them by the randomly-selected representative constituency.

	Okay, I've got a good compromise. We can let everyone participate as full
voters, but we can also distribute little code keys or something to
people, according to whatever random sample method you want. Then, after
the vote, we can publish two sets of results: the general result of
everyone who voted, and the result only counting the votes of people
selected to be part of the random sample. You like?
>Your functional outline sounds quite reasonable to me, and it's
>along the lines I've been thinking about for a while.  I'm worried,
>that we're likely to fall into a trap that I suspect the authors of both
>the pieces of software mentioned above did: implementing a system that
>its users to follow more or less one particular fixed, hard-coded 
>"deliberative process" all the time, which, however democratic, will also 
>feel sufficiently like walking in a straitjacket that only the die-hard 
>democracy geeks (i.e., us) will ever actually want to use it.  The more 
>"invisible" we can make the mechanics of deliberation (while ensuring
>that it 
>remains understandable, technically sound, and democratically
>the more readily it will be accepted.  I guess I'm just trying to say
>that we 
>need to figure out a way to make democratic deliberation "feel" to its 
>participants like they're chatting with friends around the table and
>beer, rather than in a big conference room following Robert's Rules of
>Can we come up with a 
>way to incorporate legitimate, secure democratic "process" into a system
>this without making it _feel_ to users like they're being subjected to a 
>deliberative process?

	This is a great challenge, which we can go on discussing for some time.
	One simple idea is to simply allow visitors to the site to create new
issues at will, which automatically creates a new page. After the creation
of the page, there could be a certain amount of time for option
generation, and then another amount of time for voting to take place.
After the second period is over, the result is final. Either the length of
the periods could be fixed, or they could be created by the originator of
the page.
	If you do it this way, the remaining question for me is how to arrange
the issues hierarchically, so that visitors to the site can look directly
and conveniently at a few of the more "important" issues (by whatever
definition), without having to wade through a bunch of trollish or
redundant issues.
	Perhaps, when you create your issue page at your own will, you are
creating it on the "periphery" of the site, which operates in the more
free-form manner I just described. But you could also have the option of
entering it into the "core" of the site, in which case it will be subject
to the rules which I described previously... but will be likely to get
looked at and voted on a lot more.
	I like that idea... what do you think?
	Also, I suggest that we might want to split the site into two different
categories: "politics", and "everything else", e.g. favorite movies,
favorite episode of saved by the bell, and whatever else people can think
>In the long term, or in a true "governmental" context, I don't expect
>such a 
>free-form mechanism could ever fully replace a more formal deliberative 
>process, e.g., in which issues are nominated, chosen, debated, revised,
>voted upon using a particular well-defined procedure.  But until we have
>experience with how our ideas can be applied and what works and what
>I think that trying to keep the design as free-form as possible might
>improve its acceptance rate among "normal" people, and it might in turn
>us better information to go on when designing and refining more
>processes in the future.

	Good point.
>Right - and I also think it should be possible to look up how a
>proxy voted on any particular issue.  For sake of transparency, choosing
>become a proxy should bring with it the cost of giving up one's right to
>anonymously; otherwise proxies would not be accountable to their 

	This is an interesting issue in proxy systems, and your solution sounds
fairly reasonable. 
	(By the way, in my polling station model, there is a limit to the
confidentiality of how proxies have voted, since that information will
have to be carried intact to the central tally location... It could still
technically be a secret, but it would be a "knowable secret", rather than
the true anonymity of our current voting system. Non-proxies, on the other
hand, would be able to retain full anonymity.)
>Sounds good!  I _am_ a computer science geek (grad student), and I'd like
>get into some serious code-hacking soon, but can't promise any great rate
>progress in the short term since I have many distractions at the moment
>will continue to at least through the rest of this year.

	You are a CS person, eh? Excellent. Just curious: are you in Cambridge?
I'm in Berkeley.

my best,
James Green-Armytage

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