[EM] Election via Proxies
Abd ulRahman Lomax
abd at lomaxdesign.com
Thu May 19 17:57:03 PDT 2005
At 03:52 AM 5/19/2005, Dave Ketchum wrote:
I have two targets here:
> Keep presidential elections separate from others.
> Propose a useful, doable change here.
I hope it is understood that my remarks indicated complete agreement on this...
>... What I say here is:
> I DO promote Condorcet as preferable to AV, etc., but using some
> other election method for these offices would not disturb my discussion
> of bodies.
> You could wish to have less of this type of office, with individual
> offices having less authority than at present. This, also, does not
> disturb what I am promoting as to bodies.
Again, understood and agreed. (This is not an agreement that Condorcet is
preferable to AV; in my view this would depend on specific factors that
might change with circumstances.)
>BTW - THERE IS NOTHING that can demand that a majority SHALL agree as to
>candidate (IRV pretends, but their majority is most of whatever subset of
>votes they are looking at at the moment, rather than all the votes).
Yes, at least that is the way it is in many elections. In my view, an
election where a supermajority does not support or at least tolerate the
winner is at least partially defective, probably not the best possible
outcome were the whole system performing better. If not even a majority of
votes cast support the winner, the defect is quite serious. I'd suggest
that the winner of such an election should hold office provisionally and in
an acting capacity at most, and quite possibly should not even be elected
at all. However, in some systems, this would create a crisis, and holding
over an incumbent could be worse.
>If you are proposing something to use, consider whether it would survive
>electing a governor in NY or CA.
Impossible to consider with any certainty in advance. I suggested an
approval process preceding a binding election, because I've seen this
function. But I don't see that conditions would be ripe for implementing it
in either NY or California, and my suggested course of action is
independent of legally-binding and constitutionally-controlled election
forms; rather it involves organizing outside of governmental structures.
And that is, of course, a huge topic.
>My claim is that my proxies should not be harder to sell than a variation
I'd think so. But the fact is that proxies *are* hard to sell. But so is
PR, in the U.S. PR is a defined method, producing a predictable
organizational structure. A delegable proxy structure would be a fractal.
Fractals can have well-defined properties, but the details are impossible
to predict, in actual practice.
>Some places can introduce change via voter-backed initiatives.
Yes. In my view, this is a defect of the system, actually, but it can be
exploited to the advantage of the people just as it has often been
exploited to their disadvantage. (Initiative democracy is not deliberative
democracy, for it refers the question to a large body of people who have
neither the time nor, in some cases, the inclination or capacity, to
understand the issues well enough to vote intelligently on them. Yes,
initiatives can sometimes do well in expressing something which is
essential, which is the consent of the governed.
>Not clear how your FA/DP organizations get muscle to be effective otherwise.
FA/DP organizations, when they can find a consensus, are limited only by
the collective power of the members. While the organizations are relatively
small, it is probably easier to use this power to support the election
sympathetic representatives than to pass major initiative restructuring.
However, as I've pointed out, it is not necessary to change the existing
structures. FA/DP can simply organize votes and money. If they are small,
they need relatively more money. If they become large, they will actually
need very little money, or at least relatively little per contributing member.
(FA/DP organizations don't generally collect funds. But they can and would
recommend that individual members donate to other organizations or causes.
Members remain completely free in choosing whether or not to so contribute.
-- this is FA stuff.)
>I am not doing corporations. My proxies are part of voter registration,
>just as party membership can be. For example, in a proxy tree whose tip
>is a member of a state legislature, all must know how many votes that tip
>owns - although the count can increase and decrease as voters and proxies
>enter and leave the tree.
Corporations are relevant because proxies have been used in corporate
democracy, I think for centuries. (Corporations are basically democracies
of money, where voting power is proportional to investment. They thus could
be analagous to political democracies, where, presumably, there is one
share per citizen. Or other organizational democracies, which might assign
shares by different means, as appropriate for the situation. But the most
common will be, I expect, one member, one share or one vote. Same thing.
>If an elected legislature had 100 members, a proxy replacement should
>start with about as many. Experience would educate as to whether the
>count should increase or decrease.
Sure. It could start there. This is with an existing body. A body formed de
novo might not have any defined number of members, until and unless
meetings became inefficient due to size. Ideally, there must be enough
members that there is broad representation, and not so many that discussion
and debate becomes impossible. There is no universal number that would work
in all situations. In my experience, though, 100-member bodies are too
large for efficiency. In fact, in actual practice, such bodies tend to
avoid plenary sessions; rather most of the work is done in committee.
Note that with proxy representation, there might be a relatively small
number of proxies representing, directly and indirectly, the large bulk of
members. Then there would be more members with fewer proxies each. Thus
there would likely be much more diversity represented than in present
elected bodies, and more than even in PR systems.
>While bottom proxy twigs might serve multiple bodies, upper levels almost
>certainly keep busy enough serving a single tree, such as a state senator.
It is the opposite of proxy democracy to reduce representation to a single
person, unless that person is indeed at the top of a single proxy tree that
represents all members. Not impossible. How common, I don't know.
>ONLY those proxies that are part of a body's membership act as body
>members. Others interact much as they would if the body was elected.
I see this as an unnecessary limitation, as stated. Yes, "full members" are
similar to present members of legislative bodies. But any member should
retain the right to vote. Again, the corporate experience. It does work.
(In corporations, actually, individual shareholders, with only one share,
can theoretically have the right to address the annual meeting, but I think
that in practice this can be severely restricted. I would restrict it.
There would be no right of address, but the right to vote would be maintained.
It might be necessary to be present, in person, at a meeting to vote
directly. Means would be provided. If the U.S. Senate were to become such a
proxy body (tricky, but we might consider a proxy body that represents the
whole U.S., restricted in full membership to a similar number of members,
i.e., 100, to be roughly equivalent), then an ordinary citizen go show up,
and, if interested in a motion on the floor, could vote on it. That would
be one vote. If every "Senator" (proxy of a high enough level to be a full
member) were to vote for the motion, the vote might be reported as
200,000,000 [?] to 1. Why not?
>>So if a non-privileged member desires to enter a motion, he or she
>>presents it to one of the privileged members, preferably one in their
>>proxy tree, who then either enters the motion or requests permission for
>>the non-privileged member to address the assembly.
>>(Not all members would be represented unless there is a mechanism to
>>break proxy loops that are small enough to cause this lack of
>>representation. It only takes one member of the loop changing his or her
>>proxy to someone outside the loop to, at least, enlarge it. My suspicion
>>is that most people will end up with representation near the top.)
> Certainly a proxy can desert its tree.
This was not understood. Remember I'm proposing a generic organizational
technique. The default mechanism is that a list is maintained of proxy
assignments (together with the acceptances: proxies should not be effective
until and unless accepted by the proxy, for quite a few different reasons).
That, right there, could come close to generating a single proxy tree,
given automatic delegation of proxies. However, loops would form. If A
chooses B chooses C chooses A, that is a loop. Each one of these people, if
present alone at a meeting or if voting alone in some other form, would
carry three votes. They would not be represented at a high level, *unless*
one or more of them were already high-level proxies; essentially, they
would all have proxy rights, if alone, at the level of the highest member
of the ring.
However, if they were all relatively low-level, they might not be
represented at high-level meetings. So it might be recommended that one of
them change his or her proxy assignment to someone outside the ring. This
would immediately connect the ring to a larger group. There are other
patterns where some kind of recommended change might be advisable. Again,
it would depend on the nature of the organization and its business, but one
basic principle remains: proxy assignements are voluntary and are
> Whatever tree lost members is weaker and, perhaps loses membership in
> the body.
> Whatever tree, or new tree, gained members has more votes and,
> perhaps, has enough to become a member of the body.
In a proxy system it really isn't all that important or desirable to be a
"member of the body." What is important is to have a way to be heard in the
halls of power, so to speak. And to have access to information about why
decisions are being made.
When a proxy ring is broken by one member shifting assignment, it does
nothing but connect the former ring, which becomes a chain linking up
through the member who shifted. It's not an abandonment.
Most rings won't exist if proxies are always assigned to someone who is
already at a higher proxy count than the giver. But, first of all,
*everyone*, it is suggested, would assign a proxy. (It's not obligatory,
though. And you can still vote your own vote.) So if there is a superproxy,
that person would still assign his or her proxy to someone else. Who then
is *also* a superproxy in the absence of the first superproxy. There is
thus going to be at least one ring at the top.
>Remember that the bodies here are such as state senates, needing multiple
>members to do what their elected equivalents would have done.
Yes. They might need fewer members, in some cases.
>Offices, such as governors, are not the current topic.
Right. A governor is an officer. Or an employee. Depends on how you look at it.
>I admit to not seeing need for such as FAs.
You clearly don't know what an FA is. It is the default democratic
organization, when such organizations are small. Such organizations are
quite common, though they don't usually think of themselves as anything
One can understand the need for creating larger organizations as FAs, made
possible with delegable proxy, by looking at the alternatives. FA
principles protect the organization and its members from many, many
hazards. But it's a huge subject. For one thing, though, an FA is
practically forced to seek consensus (or to act as a less-powerful set of
caucuses, which might be opposing each other in some cause). There is
really no reason *not* to join an FA, once one realizes what FAs are and is
interested in the purpose of the FA. FAs don't make decisions and impose
them on members, except for the most simple of organizational details (even
then, if some members don't like the rules, they can form their own
organization with whatever rules they like and *still* act within the
original FA. All they need is to remain members and to have at least one
The "Free" in "Free Association" implies quite a lot; the members both
individually and collectively remain free. Member power is not transferred
to the organization to be exercised by majority vote.
Again, if you think about it, you will see that this is the situation in
many, many small informal organizations. It is when the organization
becomes a little more formal, not to speak of a lot more formal, that FA
characteristics can be lost. But there are large FAs, the best known is
Alcoholics Anonymous, a highly successful organization, ubiquitous partly
because of its strong FA characteristics.
>My prediction is that a little experience with lightning change will
>inspire you to dig up some sand.
Sheesh. I don't expect "lightning change" coming from broadly-based FA/DP
organizations. But they will be fully deliberative bodies, more so, I
think, than we've ever seen. They will be capable of rapid change, but they
will also be unlikely to create such change unless they can develop a
consensus for it. And if an idea can't find consensus in an FA/DP
organization, it is probably not ready for prime time, it might simply need
tweaking, or it might simply be a bad idea.
> Does not mean that quick recovery from true emergencies should not be
Yup. So how? Without having an oligarch?
I think FA/DP organizations could do it. But, again, I'm not proposing them
for governmental structures. At first. Later, when there is experience, not
only will we know better if they are suited for that, but we will also have
the power to make such changes.
If FA/DP doesn't work, then it won't have that power. The structure is
largely fail-safe (and largely because of the FA aspects).
>[I wrote about 9-11 and the possible effect of an FA/DP organization of
>FBI agents, had one existed.]
> Certainly the FBI should have understood communication.
> The proxies I propose are not in that business.
They only understand top-down communication. They have not learned how to
filter bottom-up communication. FA/DP organizations should be efficient for
communication in both directions because the linkages, the synapses, are
based on voluntary relationships of trust. That is quite difficult to
ensure in a top-down structure, where central control is the basic
Note that this is an example where an FA/DP organization could coexist with
a traditional top-down structure. The FA/DP structure has no power of its
own and therefore is light and fast-response. It *can* potentially mobilize
power, but only through convincing its members to act. FA/DP organizations,
among other things, don't punish members. Ever. The closest they would get
is where a member abuses the basic rights of other members, and the members
might act to protect themselves.
One of the implications of FA is the right *not* to associate with
someone.... Again, this might not be consistent with the requirements of a
>The tip proxy in a proxy tree will speak up for, and vote for, all the
>voters in the tree. This only works if voters who think alike manage to
>share a tree.
I think the full implications have not been realized. It is not only
impractical to choose proxies issue-by-issue, except where one might join
different organizations, each devoted to a specific issue, but it is
unnecessary in an FA/DP structure, for you can always vote yourself on any
issue where you see that your proxy has voted other than your preference.
Of course, you might speak to the person and ask why he or she voted that
way, which would be the wise way to proceed. (I assume that there would be
a substantial period for votes to be registered, in most organizations, and
a way provided for "absentee" voting, and there might be extended time for
persons to vote individually who only voted by proxy in the first period.
But this is a detail.)
The basic principle for choosing a proxy would be, not agreement on this or
that issue, but general trust. If you were incapacitated for a time, who,
of all the persons known to you, would you entrust with your affairs as
they relate to the organization? For that is exactly what the proxy will
be. Proxies would largely, I expect, be chosen on "character." If the
tradition becomes that you should know your proxy personally -- this
becomes possible with DP, and, in fact, highly advisable -- one will have
much more knowledge of character than we presently have with regard to
political candidates, where "character" is a carefully-crafted media image.
That is a lot harder to do in person, or where there is ample direct and
>>However, aspects of my own proxy concept are here. The relationship of
>>the proxy and the represented member is free and not constrained by more
>>than the simplest rules, as well as ordinary law about such things as
>>coercion, extortion, etc. However, people will come to expect this
>>minimum service from proxies:
>>The proxy is available for communication from the represented member. The
>>proxy will hear the concerns of the member and will transmit them to the
>>next level *if* the proxy considers them worthwhile. The proxy will
>>inform the member if the proxy deems the idea not worthy of carrying up
>>the structure, and will explain why. It is a *free* association. The
>>member does not control the proxy, just as the proxy does not control the
>>member. The member may revoke the proxy at any time, or may effectively
>>revoke it with respect to a single issue merely by personally voting on
>In general I do not see how to fit in "personally voting", though a proxy
>might poll members on particular issues.
This is standard corporate practice. If you show up at the annual meeting,
you can vote, and if you do, your proxy has one less vote to cast. A
legislative body could easily provide a means for attending citizens to
vote. It need not take longer than a present roll call; computers are not
necessary, but technology could make it easier and faster.
Of course, every vote is public record.
>>Thus the job of proxy could be a considerable one, in an organization
>>with substantial business.
> Proxy A has few members, to be able to provide the services you describe.
> Proxy B has and follows a platform, ready to serve many voters who
> ask no more than they would ask of an elected senator.
Yes. However, Proxy B is going to be chosen by a lot of people who don't
have the foggiest idea who he or she really is. I'm much more comfortable
with a B who does represent a lot of voters, but who represents most of
them *indirectly*. This is because B, under these circumstances, was chosen
by a much smaller number of people, most of them broadly trusted
themselves, and who have regular opportunity to interact personally with B.
So at various times I think that direct proxies should be limited, and at
other times I think this is in contradiction to FA principles and is
therefore suspect. FA principles would imply that the relationship between
proxy giver and receiver should be free and not artificially restricted.
In a mature organization, it might be moot. I think people will come to
expect a level of service from a direct proxy that they won't be able to
get from a direct proxy who is also a direct proxy for many other people.
>>Proxies *could* charge a fee. Most relatively low-level proxies, I'd
>>think, would not, but they might collect a small fee to cover the costs
>>of retaining a high-level proxy.... (Someone who represents millions of
>>people on an issue of importance really should be paid! And the money
>>should come from the represented, or at least from those of them who are
>>willing to make the contribution.
>A fee structure is essential. I see most or all of the expense being paid
>for as part of running government.
Of course, NGO FA/DP organizations won't have this option. Nor should they.
Whoever pays the bills will have a measure of control. It is better if the
members pay the bills, directly. The bills should be minimal.
One of the persons who has taken the most interest in BeyondPolitics is a
Brazilian sociologist. His interest is in how small remote villages could
participate in a national political organization. FA/DP suggests how. And
it need not be funded from outside. The fact is that "poor" people,
collectively, have more resources than we often think. When you realize
that the cost of a national campaign for President of the U.S. is no more
than a few dollars per voter, even the homeless here, who are much poorer
than these Brazilian villagers, who, after all, have placed to live and
land to farm or places to hunt or fish or gather food, could collectively
exert substantial political power. If they were organized.
So a small village would run an FA/DP structure. This might, just by
itself, select a single proxy who could travel to a meeting. At the expense
of those represented. Now, if someone in the village doesn't trust this
person, they are free to go themselves. At their own expense. TANSTAAFL. If
there are enough other people, they might well be able to afford to send a
There are other things that might be done with a national organization,
such as travel equalization, where travel expenses are equalized, so that
reps close to the meeting pay the same as reps far away, and this is
actually done in Alcoholics Anonymous for the Conference, but, again,
that's a detail. FA/DP organizations will be able to work all this out.
Note that a political FA/DP organization exists to essentially watch the
government and act to control it where necessary. There is a possible
conflict in being governmentally supported. I see, for example, in the
U.S., how the desire to get federal campaign funds could have influenced
the Green Party in a way that made the party actually less effective in
2000.... A party is not successful if it damages its own causes pursuing
its own benefit. (Of course, some of us could argue about that: my point
here is that outside funding can distort policy, it is much safer if
funding comes from within.)
>>This, now, is mixed with the election of officials. An independent DP
>>organization will determine all these things for itself.
>I propose these bodies as equivalent to elected bodies. As such the
>formalities need documenting as law.
I'd say that the thinking here might be holding to a tradition that is not
necessary for NGO FA/DP organizations. Yes, I'm sure they will develop
bylaws. I'd propose Robert's Rules as a place to start....
FA/DP organizations are *not* equivalent to elected bodies. But *DP* could
be used as an election method, and, if so, would indeed be equivalent; thus
changes of law would be required. I'd feel much more comfortable with this
if there is first broad experience with DP in non-governmental organizations.
Besides, it's not going to happen with out that. Not. Period.
>>As to the ease of recall, the shareholders of a corporation, through an
>>elected board, hire executive officers to serve at will. They can be
>>fired at any time. It might be possible to eliminate the middleman, the
>>board, because a few high-level proxies could serve as a board. (They
>>might be formally elected to satisfy existing legal requirements.)
>>We still think of elected presiding officers as kings, hence terms during
>>which deposing them is difficult. It's a very old habit.
>This requires thinking beyond what I offer. Note that a legislature could
>elect a governor - but that we CHOOSE to have the voters elect a governor
>- and to elect for a fixed term.
I didn't choose that. Did Mr. Ketchum? Out of what set of choices did he
choose that, if he did? I don't recall ever voting on the issue, and, as
you know, simply voting on issues doesn't mean much if there is no
possibility to participate in the formation and deliberation of them.
Our system evolved out of a royal system. Our innovation was to elect the
king and to restrict him to a term (some didn't want to have that
restriction, I think, but it carried the day). Otherwise the model is that
of a strong chief executive. Like a king, specifically like a
>>Of course the people won't arbitrarily and capriciously remove an
>>experienced officer, who is doing a decent job! But if there is an urgent
>>need, why wait?
>We have to consider (arbitrarily and capriciously) imagined needs and try
>to control trouble.
Government should be by the consent of the governed. In an FA, the issue
doesn't arise, but if DP is applied to non-FA structures, such as
governments, my question is by what right does a minority decide that the
majority has its knickers in a tangle?
The proper level of restraint is to have a communication mechanism that
ensures that the best thinking is heard. That's DP, by design.
Frankly, I think that having general FA/DP structures as NGOs, advising
their members as to how to vote in existing structures, and with a few
tweaks to existing structures *as they appear prudent and wise*, is much
safer than setting up an untried system in the government to start.
Note that FA/DP organizations could, among other things, advise members
regarding media support. The public could, really, buy an media it needs. I
don't think that we really understand, most of us most of the time, how
much power the public would have if organized in a way that faciliated
consensus. It would not be the power to do just anything; the key word is
Among other things, the influence of money in politics would become moot.
Far too expensive to try to convince members of an FA/DP organization to
move in a desired way, much better to convince them with rational
arguments. If you've got them. And in an FA/DP organization, if you've got
a sound argument backed with sound information that is verifiable, you only
have to communicate it to one member. It doesn't even have to be a
high-level proxy, but it does need to be someone who will pass it up the
FA/DP structures will really be like extremely large and complex
information-processing systems, nervous systems, and their creation will be
somewhat analogous to the overlay of nervous systems over more primitive
and less flexible chemical messaging in multicellular organisms.
>I propose that voter registration attend to honoring voter proxy
>assignment, including counting how many voters belong to each proxy.
Sure. But this proposal will go nowhere, I rather confidently predict,
unless first NGOs are formed using DP principles. And FA should make them
grow quite rapidly. As I mentioned, once one of these exists and once a few
people realize what they could do, and they start doing it, there is no
reason not to join. It doesn't cost anything, and it doesn't even take much
time, about as minimal an amount of time as can be imagined. Except, of
course, for those who can spare more time and care to devote it.
>Seems there are two proposals:
> Abd has FA/DPs with such powers as require no backing by laws.
> I use proxies and see need for laws to balance power vs control.
I'd say this is the cart before the horse. For how long has it been widely
known that the electoral college, combined with state rules for choosing
electors, can produce inequitable results? Why hasn't it been changed?
The reason is that changing it within the system bucks up against Lomax's
Rule: inequitable governmental systems, by definition, favor some groups
over others. Restoring equity will be perceived as injuring those favored
groups, which, by the conditions of the problem, have more power and can
thus successfully resist change.
Only serious pain is likely to overcome this. 2000, pretty clearly, was not
painful enough. Except that FA/DP organizations could represent an end run
around the system. Still, there may not yet be enough pain to arouse people
enough to do the very minimal action it takes to join an FA/DP organization.
I'm not sure what "power vs. control" means. Power is control and
vice-versa. I think that what he might mean is that there should be laws
which restrain the power of DP structures. I agree that this is necessary
if they are not Free Associations. If they are FA, that very fact
introduces a natural restraint. Plus I think that DP structures will *also*
be naturally restrained.
If the FA/DP organizations are NGOs, does Mr. Ketchum still think they
should be regulated by law? If so, I suggest that this would be a very
dangerous idea; but most attempts to regulate FA/DP organizations would be
unconstitutional, I'd think. All they do is talk, really. But with a
difference, of course.
I should probably put together my own description of DP as an election
method. Strictly speaking, DP representatives are not elected at all, they
are chosen; but to the extent that some minimum level of trust must be
assigned to them for them to enjoy full powers in a representative body, we
could call that an election.
I should also put together a description of how DP could be used to develop
representation for a people under difficult conditions, such as Iraq. I'll
be working on that from at least two different directions. One of them is
FA/DP as it applies to the development of an Islamic consensus, something
which was suggested by both the Qur'an and the Prophet, but which was never
really implemented by the community, which instead fell into authoritarian
governmental forms early on. One of the effects of this, if it came to
pass, is that the ideologues who, too often, pretend to represent Islam
would be fully exposed as the ignorant fanatics and perverters of Islam
that they are. There is supposed to be one infallible authority in Islam
(or at least to be treated as if infallible at any given time), and that is
the consensus of the community. But the mechanisms for developing
expressing that consensus were never created, except within limiting and
distorting structures where dissent was often seriously punished. Coercion
is the death of consensus.
The other direction is simply to describe how an outside power, such as an
occupying authority, could set up a DP structure in a way that would make
it trusted by the represented public. But this one will be largely useless
unless someone with actual power takes up the idea.
And I also have ideas as to how FA/DP organizations could arise and
function within authoritarian societies; how Tienanmen Square might not
have become the tragedy that it did had the students been organized through
FA/DP. Perhaps that story should be told one day.
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