[EM] Alternative electoral systems as tools to promote social networks and activism

Bryan Ford baford at mit.edu
Wed Nov 24 07:48:11 PST 2004

OK, here's a crazy idea.  A lot of people already compete as candidates in 
elections they know they can't win, as a way to "organize" and "build 
awareness for a cause" etc...  I won't comment on whether this is actually 
effective or not, but what if we were to _design_ an alternative "electoral 
system" not for the purpose of electing candidates to offices or seats at 
all, but instead exclusively around the purpose of catalyzing grassroots 
organization and social networks in ways that current electoral systems 
don't?   (In fact I think standard electoral systems actively discourage tend 
to discourage grassroots organization because big-money mass-media propagana 
campaigns tend to be more effective.)

I've written up my idea in more detail and put it at www.indrep.org - here are 
the first two paragraphs summarizing the concept:

Individual Representation:
Real Choice for Voters, Democratic Currency for Activists

The traditional purpose of popular elections is primarily to elect candidates 
to government offices or legislative seats, but this is not the only way we 
could use elections to facilitate democracy. Individual Representation, or 
indrep, provides a new and different reason to hold popular elections: as a 
tool for directly promoting the growth of grassroots social and political 
relationships throughout the basic fabric of society. An indrep election 
enables ordinary people, who often have insufficient time, interest, or 
knowledge to be politically or socially active themselves, to vote for 
periodically and thereby reward other politically or socially active people 
they know personally and would like to support. An activist participating as 
a "candidate" or delegate in an indrep election does not "win" or "lose" any 
office, but instead receives quantifiable democratic "credentials" from the 
election: a certified count of the number of voters the activist was able to 
mobilize behind his cause or platform in that election. A participating 
activist may also receive a small monetary reward proportional to the number 
of voters he was able to mobilize. 

The "credentials" an activist receives from an indrep election serves as a 
democratically legitimate measure of the size of his public support base, 
bolstering his status among peers and giving him the ability to prove public 
backing for his platform when arguing in public forums. In effect, democratic 
credentials can help activists who truly represent the will of a community to 
distinguish themselves from the common "vocal nut." Ordinary voters who do 
not have the time or inclination to be activists, in turn, gain the ability 
to support their activist friends in a way that requires very little personal 
time and no money. Indrep elections give activists a greater incentive to 
court and develop direct personal relationships with the ordinary, 
non-political people in their communities and social circles, and to keep 
potential voters in all elections personally informed and educated about 
important developments that the voters themselves may not have the time or 
inclination to follow. Voters in turn receive a truly unrestricted, 
individual choice of activists who can represent their views or interests in 
public debates, and thus can make their true preferences known in a fashion 
impossible with conventional electoral competitions between just two or three 
viable candidates. As an added benefit of participation, voters are also far 
more likely to receive individual attention from the activists they support 
than they would from traditional "mass market" career politicians. Hence 
individual representation. 


With respect to the ideas already discussed at length on this list, you'll 
immediately notice that from a _technical_ viewpoint there is nothing new 
here; it is in fact basically a simplification of ideas that can already be 
found in "interactive representation", "liquid democracy", JGA's proxy 
system, my "delegative democracy", etc.  The key difference is that it's a 
different application of these ideas toward a pragmatic, social purpose that 
could be implemented immediately, independent of any governmental support.  
Further, it could in the longer term serve as a basis for experimenting with, 
exposing "ordinary people" to, and putting into practice "conventional" 
alternative electoral systems designed to elect candidates to offices.

Since this idea is more pragmatic and social than technical, I'm not sure it 
will be of that much interest to the highly technically-minded people who 
tend to inhabit the list, but I thought I'd at least throw it out to you and 
see what happens. :)  Also, the idea seems obvious enough that it must have 
been tried before a few times - does anyone know of any relevant pointers?


More information about the Election-Methods mailing list