[EM] Re: Welcome! / Procedural version of DFC

Abd ulRahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Sat May 14 08:57:04 PDT 2005

At 01:25 PM 5/12/2005, Jobst Heitzig wrote:
>Dear Abd ulRahman!
>Welcome to the list from me, too.


>What do you think about the following story (leading to a group decision
>method somewhat similar to DMC):
>Consider a group of people having to decide for one out of a number of
>    At first, they may think that deciding by a "simple vote" would be
>both easy and efficient. So they come together and let each one raise
>her hand for her favourite option.

Classic, default direct democracy, almost.

>    After a number of these "first past the post"-decisions they realize
>some problems. Sometimes some individuals have not enough information to
>decide for a single favourite or are undecided for other reasons, so the
>group changes the system and allows for abstention.

Now it is thoroughly classic, except for the process which leads up to the 
vote, which has been unstated thus far.

>  But they realize
>also that sometimes two very similar options both lose but would have
>won if only one of the two would have been suggested (the "spoiler"
>effect). And they realize that moderate compromise options often lose
>because the group tends to be polarized between two extremes one of
>which will win instead of the compromise. Finally, there may be rare
>occasions where some member of the group tries to "cheat" and vote for a
>second option as soon as he realizes that his favourite has no chance of
>    For all of these reasons someone suggests that they simplify the
>voting procedure slightly by letting everyone vote for as few or as many
>options as they like.

I.e., approval voting.

>  Although some object that this would violate "one
>man one vote" and would therefore give some voters more power, they give
>it a try and soon find out that it's not true that the more options you
>vote for the more weight your vote has. So they switch to the new
>system, and at first it seems to work much better and avoid the problems
>they had.


>    But after a number of these "approval voting"-decision they realize a
>strange effect: sometimes only few voters actually make use of the
>possibility and most still only vote for one option, although often it
>is clear that they in reality also approve of another option. After some
>analysis they find out that this insincere "bullet voting" has various
>strategic reasons. Someone suggests to get back to the old system, but
>upon closer inspection they find also evidence of strategic voting in
>the old system.

It gets more arcane here, few organizations actually reach this point. The 
reason is not the untruth of the arguments, but that something very 
important has been left out of this description, which is the pre-vote 
process. The devil is in the details. How does it come to be that a 
particular set of proposals is made to the group. Is there any more 
sophisticated process involved? And the fact is that, if the group is 
following Robert's Rules, or similar (such as Town Meeting Time, the 
standard rules for New England Town Meetings), the process by which the 
content of a motion, or of competing motions (as in the example given) does 
address the issues raised. But, accepting the premise of the question,

>    Now someone makes a somewhat "unorthodox" suggestion: In order to
>avoid choosing a bad option only because of strategic voting, they treat
>the first voting round only as a kind of poll to base the real decision

I've actually seen this done, in a 12-step group (which by tradition would 
be pretty much what I've called a Free Association.) The meeting was 
considering changing the closing prayer from the Lord's Prayer, a 
long-standing tradition, to something else not objectionable to, for 
example, Jewish or atheist members. When the proposal was made, there were 
hot and vociferous objections. The meeting secretary (equivalent to chair) 
suggested that the issue be postponed to a meeting dedicated to that 
purpose, and the wisdom of this was recognized. When the designated meeting 
came, people spoke for and against the idea of changing, and for or against 
various alternative closings. And then, before voting, there was a poll. 
Every proposed closing prayer was on a list, and members indicated by a 
show of hands which of these closings they would find acceptable. Not the 
best from their point of view, necessarily, but acceptible. Members, of 
course, were completely free to stick to their guns and only vote for their 
favorite. But it seems they did not, for the meeting, the largest and 
best-attended I had seen, which it showed strong approval for the Lord's 
Prayer -- many members had been active for many decades and were attached 
to it -- another closing prayer (actually an affirmation, strictly, not a 
prayer) taken from Overeater's Anonymous, and which does not mention God) 
had very high approval, higher than that of any other closing. And *then* 
the motion was accepted to change the closing to the new one, and this 
motion passed. What is interesting is that it passed unanimously; even 
those who had declared previously, more or less, that they would oppose it 
to the end, either voted for the new, or abstained.

12-step meetings have a strong tradition of promoting group unity by 
avoiding unnecessary controversy, so the ground was fertile for this kind 
of outcome. The proponents of keeping the old recognized that group unity 
would be enhanced by making the change, so they set aside their personal 
preference in favor of the new.

Educating the public to that concept, that society will function at a 
higher level if it can find consensus, or at least approach it, will be one 
of the changes that will transform the way we do things. There are very 
many initiatives which lead in this direction. For example, cohousing 
communities almost always make decisions requiring full consensus, 
excepting only abstentions. It can take a lot of work, but the general 
opinion has been that it is worth it. However, the effort involved is, 
indeed, great, and, in my opinion, there is a more efficient way.

>  The real decision would go like this: one of the group is declared
>the "moderator" by lot. The moderator's duty is to pick what seems to be
>the best compromise option in view of the information from the first

There is no need for a special person to have this task. This is, in fact, 
the task of a skilled chair, to facilitate a meeting by detecting what 
seems to be a consensus. Absent consensus, standard Robert's Rules would 
have the meeting itself make that decision. But, of course, a special 
moderator could be chosen for this purpose.

>  If s/he picks the option with the most votes, that options is
>indeed declared the winner. But if she picks a different option, this
>choice is then checked by the group like this: because each option which
>got more votes than the moderator's option seems to be a better choice
>at first glance, the moderator asks the group to affirm by simple
>majority vote that her picked option is actually a better compromise
>than the other option. If the picked option wins all these pairwise
>comparisons, it is declared the winner, otherwise the moderator must
>pick a new option until a winner is found.

Crucial in this is that the moderator's decisions only facilitate the 
process, the decision-making power remains with the group.

>    Although this seems to be more complicated than the other two
>systems, and even introduces some randomness because the moderator is
>chosen by lot, over the time they find a number of advantages of the
>third system: First of all, it is much harder to mess up the result by
>voting strategically, because of the additional check and because that
>check is lead by a randomly chosen person.

Delegable proxy makes it more efficient by boiling down the participants. A 
moderator could be chosen to be the member with the highest proxy count; 
thus this member already represents, quite possibly, a majority and, under 
some conditions, a supermajority or even general consensus. However, in the 
end, the system is protected by the requirement that final decisions are 
made by the group itself. If enough members understand the importance of 
consensus, rather than being simply motivated by trying to get the "right" 
decision, i.e., that matching their own personal opinion, there isn't even 
a need for special rules. All the above is permitted under Robert's Rules 
if enough members support the process. But it won't happen if nobody 
proposes it, or if the person proposing it can't find a second, or if a 
majority considers it unnecessary and an onerous burden. This is why it is 
so important to create demonstration organizations that manifest the ideas: 
people will need to see them in action before they are willing to take the 
risk of making organizational participation more of a burden.

>  Second of all, it turns out
>that sometimes there is an option which beats all others in direct
>pairwise contests but would not have won in either of the first two
>systems; whereas the new system gives such "Beats-all-winners" a fair
>chance of winning because the moderator need only pick this option and
>it will win.

No, it will win if the group agrees with the moderator's choice. The whole 
issue gets much safer if the default rule is that supermajority approval is 
required, absent a declared emergency, i.e., a recognized necessity to make 
a decision immediately or suffer damage solely from delay, damage that 
might be worse than making the "wrong" decision.

If the organization is a Free Association, another layer of safeguard 
exists. The organization really doesn't control anything, it only makes 
recommendations to members or others. If the process has not convinced the 
members to adequately support the outcome, it might "pass" but it will fail 
in implementation. (This aspect of Free Associations is why I've written 
that true FAs are not suggested for organizations holding property or 
exercising direct power, such as governmental bodies. But FAs could advise 
such bodies, and could also participate in elections choosing such bodies. 
Thus FA/DP is, very loosely, applicable as an election method, and, as 
such, it could use, in its own internal process, any of the various 
available election methods, as simple or as complex as it found 
appropriate. The end result could be governmental bodies which were 
ostensibly selected in ordinary plurality elections (i.e., the U.S. 
default), but because of the nomination and pre-election process, the 
result is actually much more sophisticated. This is already true, in fact, 
but the sophistication is uneven and often inequitable, the people as a 
whole not being organized in the necessary way, so power devolves to 
special interests which *are* organized and which can exert, among other 
things, media power. In the absence of public structures to develop borad 
consensus, special interests -- practically by definition this means that 
they have an internal consensus -- can dominate.

>  Also, minorities will not so easily get the impression of
>being oppressed by a majority since they still often have the chance to
>improve the result by providing the moderator.

In a DP system, minorities, down to a minority of one, retain power. If the 
process is properly designed, minorities will exist on this or that issue, 
but minority opinions will not be neglected. Indeed, as I envision it, an 
FA/DP organization does not ordinarily, strictly speaking, make decisions 
that are not unanimous. Rather, if a decision is short of unanimity, it is 
reported literally, as a poll result. If the poll result is clear enough, 
it will have at least as much power as an ordinary vote. If the FA/DP 
organization is, for example, advising a Town Council, as with Demoex in 
Sweden (but without the pledged vote of the Demoex rep which is a non-FA 
aspect of Demoex), the Council would neglect a strong supermajority 
decision at its own peril. But a split decision, a mere majority or 
plurality, it would understand as freeing it to follow its own lights, to 
provide leadership; or possibly to postpone a decision until a consensus 
can emergy, or to make a provisional decision, subject to review after 
there has been some experience.

>  The chance to become the
>moderator also encourages thinking about compromises instead of only
>thinking of one's favourite, and this can finally lead to suggesting
>getter compromises in the first place. Finally, the additional "check"
>gives everyone the feeling that the system is safer and uses more of the
>available information than the other two; obviously wrong decisions are
>much less probable.

Yes. Mr. Heitzig really should join BeyondPolitics and help develop the 
concepts; it is clear that he has gone down this road some distance 
already. To join BP, go to http://beyondpolitics.org/wiki and register....

>Now, although I used many words to introduce this group decision method
>to you, I still think it is very easy to understand the procedure and
>the reasons for it, do you agree?

Yes. I think the choice of moderator by lot is probably more complex than 
would win support in most organizations; however, note this:

In Alcoholics Anonymous, delegates to the Conference are chosen by election 
at the intergroup level (possibly a higher level than that, perhaps 
state-wide in some cases, I forget, it's been years since I studied this 
stuff). The traditional rule is that a delegate should receive a two-thirds 
vote to be elected. If, after numerous ballots, winnowing out less 
acceptable candidates, no winner emerges, the delegate is chosen by lot 
from among the top two candidates.

I think Approval Voting would improve this process, but the basic process 
does incorporate the concept of choice by lot, and in forming a Conference 
that is widely represented, one can see that it would have its advantages.

However, I'd do something different. One of the persons who has joined 
Beyond Politics, though I haven't heard from him for some time, is a 
Brazilian sociologist. His interest is in how remote villages in Brazil 
could choose representatives to function at a national level. He got pretty 
excited by the DP process.

How could this work? Well, the basic FA/DP concept would be that everyone 
would choose a proxy, someone other than themselves, who they trusted to 
act in their place when they could not act themselves. This, just by 
itself, might select a superproxy for the group, someone who, directly or 
indirectly was chosen. Note that if this single person can't travel, *the 
proxy of that person could, or superproxy could change his or her proxy 
designation to a person who *could* travel.

But what if the proxy designation process creates what are called proxy 
loops that do not resolve to a superproxy. First of all, once this is 
recognized, any person within a proxy loop could change his or her proxy 
assignment to someone outside the loop, thus cross-linking two loops.

But if loops are persistent, then *each loop is free to send its own 
representative.* There is a cost associated with this. Ideally, there is no 
outside money to fight over. Even very poor people can afford quite a bit 
if they act together.... So if the village cannot agree on a single 
delegate, then it can send more than one, but those who support each 
delegate would be responsible for paying the expenses of that delegate....

This is the FA aspect. Once you give a group some independent funding or 
you have collected taxes or whatever, then you have a single prize, the 
funding, to fight over. This is why FAs don't collect assets or exercise 
direct power. Their function is to communicate, to educate, to coordinate, 
but only by actually convincing people that they should support a 
recommended course of action. The final decision -- as well as the 
responsibility for implementing it -- rests with the people or with those 
whom they have personally chosen or accepted.

>PS: The above method makes use of Forest Simmons' idea to combine
>pairwise preference defeats and approval defeats. I call it "Democratic
>Fair Choice" (DFC).[...] A version of DFC designed for public elections
>is in the wiki:

I don't have time at the moment to read this, but I've left the link for 
future generations.... Note that if any election methods seem relevant to 
the Beyond Politics concepts, any individual is free to edit the BP wiki 
and add election concept discussions and links, just as I'd assume that I 
would be welcome to create an FA/DP page on electorama (considering it as 
an election method.)

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