[EM] Election via Proxies

Abd ulRahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Fri May 20 11:57:27 PDT 2005

At 07:30 AM 5/20/2005, Dave Ketchum wrote:
>We are pulling against each other too much.

I'm not pulling. I'm discussing. Given the very high level of apparent 
agreement on some pretty important and unusual aspects of our postings, I'm 
a bit puzzled by Mr. Ketchum's remarks. However, perhaps I can understand 
it, see below.

>I would like to have you, and others, helping put together what I have 
>started, just as it would make sense to further the picture you see, so please:
>      Let "Election via Proxies" stay dedicated as a way to "elect" and 
> operate a body for which PR is the alternative for trying to do better on 
> quality of membership.
>      Please start your own thread for your ideas, such as FA/DP.

It is certainly not an unreasonable request. The only problem is that many 
aspects of DP, and the advisability of same, depend upon other 
organizational characteristics. Elections don't happen in a vacuum. FA 
makes DP fully safe (indeed it makes most any election method much, much 
safer). But, after this post, I'll honor Mr. Ketchum's request. And I'll 
even try to stay away from FA comments even here.

>>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.
>Suppose our goal is a single color where the three choices are the flag's 
>red, white, and blue, and about ONE/THIRD vote for each choice.  I see 
>nothing defective about such disagreement, nor do I see a need to give up 
>on having a single color as the goal.  Given that introduction, I see no 
>need for complications such as provisionality

What Mr. Ketchum describes is covered in what I wrote. In a situation as 
described, the most likely situation is that voters have preferences, even 
strong ones, but if the factions are about equally divided, it is likely 
that many members would have tolerable alternatives. My comment was that a 
majority of members can't tolerate the outcome, there is a serious problem 
that is not going to be solved by any voting method. By "support" I meant 
willing to tolerate, but more than barely tolerate.

It may be necessary, indeed, to choose a single color. But who makes that 
decision? If a majority consent to the decision to choose a single color, 
and they consent to the voting method, then they consent implicitly to the 

If the decision has no enduring significance, if it is not important to 
voters, then there is no need for provisionality. But what if, as commonly 
happens, the "leaders" are out of touch with their "followers," i.e., those 
whose proxies they hold, and they are unable, in discussions with their 
followers, to convince them that they made the best decision. This is where 
provisionality becomes important.

The basic outline I seem to be coming up with is that some election process 
determines a likely winner, likely to be supported by a majority, and then 
an ordinary referendum ratifies the result. If a majority reject the 
candidate-elect, then something else is required, the election has failed. 
I'm not attempting to develop at this time a solution that automatically 
produces a desireable outcome; indeed, if this situation arises, there is, 
as I said, a problem.

>>>If you are proposing something to use, consider whether it would survive 
>>>electing a governor in NY or CA.

>The above was in response to a paragraph about AV, which I saw as complex, 
>and thus suggest thinking about whether your AV-based voting method would 
>work with a large voting population - nothing intended by mentioning two 
>large states, beyond their size.

Yes, I think it would work, properly constructed. But I'd rather focus on 
the use of proxies. It's really quite a separate topic from Approval Voting.

>My topic is switching a body, such as a legislature, to getting its 
>members selected via proxy - and I run out of ideas after the two above.
>I see your words below as addressing a different topic.

Much of what I wrote was about the process of "getting its members selected 
via proxy." That is, of causing the change to come to pass. We might come 
up with the absolute best election system possible, but if there is no way 
to implement it -- and, as I've written, there are powerful elements who 
would strongly resist it -- the discussion is almost totally useless. 
Perhaps it might be of some value to future generations. Possible, but 

>You had emphasized stockholders ability to decide how to organize their 

Yes. In other words, to implement change, they don't have to have change as 
a precondition. They already have the *ability* to organize independently, 
but, in my view, the idea has never occurred to the vast majority of them, 
it only happens in a few rare cases because of a few large shareholders 
trying to move the corporate monolith from its declared course. HP/Compac, 
for example.

>I was making the point that there have to be records.

Well, not in an FA implementation of DP. But Mr. Ketchum is here talking 
about the proposed election method for legislatures, which are not FA, and, 
yes, that point is so obvious that I wonder at his thinking he needed to 
make it....

>Actually, there have to be dependable records in both cases as to 
>assignment of proxies, and assignments can change, though I see them as 
>more rigid in the bodies I discus.

If this is an election method, what counts is proxies in place at the time 
of the election. Proxies might be frozen the day before.

If proxy assignments are public, there really is no problem at all. But if 
society is still in such a condition as to require the equivalent of secret 
ballot, and I'd agree that this is probably necessary in the electoral use 
of DP, then it does become a problem, albeit a fairly easily soluble one. 
If there is some agency that can be trusted. There are also, I think, 
cryptographic techniques that could allow a public assignment of proxies in 
that anyone could verify their own effective assignments, but without a 
password, the rest of the public could not decode it. And such a system 
could also be implemented in a way where the operators of the system could 
not decode the assignments, they would only get an output.

Since outputs could be statistically verified (through the ability of 
individual voters to confirm their own proxy assignments), fraud, only 
possible through very sophisticated hackers with access to the nuts and 
bolts of the proxy registration system, would still be easy to detect if it 
is at all widespread.

It's a lot easier if there is a trusted agency, all the above discussion 
assumes that this is not available.

(Actually, one of the problems with present secret ballot systems is that 
votes can't be verified. That could be fixed. But fixing it does provide an 
abuse pathway. I think of the enforcer bullying the voter, demanding to see 
their vote receipt, or their password. Or simply the spouse....

>Again, deciding to change how an existing legislature gets "elected" does 
>not count as de novo.  A new legislature could be set up for a new state - 
>but even here you start with the structure that has worked for similar bodies.


>NY Assembly has 150 members.  Certainly does much of its work in 
>committees - and needs members to serve on the committees.

Yes, bodies of that size are completely unmanageable without a strong 
committee system.

>>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.
>True.  If enough of them could find each other, voters sharing interests 
>across NY could support having an Assembly member representing them - or 
>twice as many voters and have two members.

A proxy system would facilitate people finding each other, if proxy 
assignments aren't secret. Once again, if there is an FA outside the 
system, it could easily facilitate people finding suitable representatives 
to whom to give proxy. This is the continuing relevance of FA to the 

>Here I responded to your suggesting that a voter might assign a single 
>person as proxy for village trustee, county legislature, and state 
>assembly.  I agreed, but pointed out that going up the chain the paths 
>have to split.

I'm not at all sure I understand what Mr. Ketchum is saying. However, 
assuming I do, then I don't agree. The jurisdictions mentioned are upwardly 
inclusive, that is, the village is in the county which is in the state. I 
don't see at all why the paths "have to split." I think a single proxy 
system could serve all levels. This would have the advantage of thorough 
simplicity. However, where interests do diverge, there might also be some 
advantages to having separate proxy trees for each legislative body. Or at 
least the possibility of separate designations.

In my early thinking on delegable proxy, I assumed small-scale elections, 
i.e., ten people meet and elect a proxy, then ten of those meet, etc. A 
national election in 9 days. It might still work, but I actually think that 
the results could be wildly unpredictable if the electorate is seriously 
divided. Anytime there is an election there are winners and losers. I won't 
go into the details because I abandoned that idea thoroughly when I 
realized that elections weren't necessary at all in a proxy structure, that 
delegable proxy meant that the minority was never cut off. It is the cutoff 
of the minority that allows gerrymandering to work, for example.

>You cannot go to the top, combining such trees, for their tips have to end 
>in different bodies.

Ah, but what if a proxy at a level can choose the representative at that 
level. This is effectively automatic with delegable proxy.

Start with a single tree instead of thinking from the other direction. How 
could a single tree work to elect all three offices (village council rep, 
county council rep, state legislature rep). A proxy tree with its twigs in 
the village selects a village councilperson. That village councilperson is 
the twig in a tree which selects a county councilperson, and the county 
councilperson is a twig in the tree that selects the state legislator.

Of course, in the system as conceived, at least by me, there is not a 
single officer chose; rather, each council is effectively proportional 
representation through variable voting powers. The membership number might 
be fixed. If a "party", i.e., a single proxy tree, does not concentrate at 
a village person with sufficient proxies to qualify for the village 
council, some use of STV or the like could be used to allow the highest 
proxy in the tree in the village to assign votes at the village level to a 
member who does qualify, or who will qualify once assigned those votes.

And if a person in a village is unwilling to trust anyone to be on the 
village council, this does not disqualify the person from being represented 
up the scale; there might be enough people like this person elsewhere to 
have a representative, say, in the state legislature.

But it seems that Mr. Ketchum is not considering variable voting power; 
rather he is describing a system with more traditional proportional 
representation, which I think greatly inferior. For him, the proxy system 
generates, effectively, mini-parties.

Variable voting power of proxyholders is one of the key advantages. It 
would allow a much wider diversity in a body of fixed size than traditional 
PR, because of the effect I described previously.

>In the village, town, and county where I live, the meetings provide for 
>citizens to speak up.  However, each of those bodies have been elected to 
>do the voting, and I would expect the same of bodies "elected" via proxy.

I live in a Town Meeting town, where the citizens *are* the town council. 
(However, there is a small Board of Selectmen -- it seems to be common that 
it is three persons in these New England towns -- which does have some 
interim power.)

Frankly, once one is thinking of changing the system to a proxy system, I 
don't see any reason to not return to a phenomenally successful system 
(successful, that is, in very small towns. It can be a real pain when the 
towns get too large, absent proxy voting). I see no reason to prevent 
citizens from directly voting on legislation *if they are present at a 
meeting where the legislation is discussed*. But this *requires* variable 
voting. So there are at least two advantages to variable voting, i.e., to 
have the voting power of members of a council being elected (election is 
the constraint of this discussion) vary with the number of persons who 
trusted them by giving proxy to them, directly or indirectly. It would mean 
that nearly every voter in the town could not only participate directly 
(with the limitations on speaking and the entry of motions that I 
previously mentioned, which would not prevent, under most conditions, town 
individuals from doing these things, there merely would be some filtering), 
but would also have a personally chosen representative on the council, as 
long as the highest proxy representing the person in the village, even if 
not on the council, did give council proxy to a single member who *was* on 
the council, or who would qualify for the council if given the proxy. My 
expectation is that a council of 10, say, might include a member who 
represents only a fraction of a percent of the voters of the town, because 
of the concentration of proxy phenomenon.

And another advantage of variable voting is that it increases the power of 
those council members who are more widely trusted, *without* losing the 
advantages of broad discussion.

>Note that a shareholder meeting has votes by individual shareholders as it 
>purpose, though most usually do it by proxy.  Legislative bodies have 
>voting done by the members, not by whatever voters may attend.

Yes. That's the difference. But if we are going to change the rules of 
elections, it would theoretically be possible to change the operating 
procedure at the same time so that the whole structure becomes thoroughly 
democratic, with no unnecessary disenfranchisement of minorities.

(And, of course, my proposal is to form the fully democratic and equitable 
structure independently, which does not require changing any existing 
institutions, and *then* to work on existing institutions, which may or may 
not take on DP characteristics.)

>>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?
>I exclude the US Senate from the bodies to be considered because each 
>whole state elects one senator about every three years, so I see electing 
>them by officer rules.

Yes. Note that I covered this difference in what I wrote. The Senate as 
constructed could not be a proxy body, because it is fixed-district 
representation. PR is likewise impossible for the Senate as constructed. 
Yes, they are officers hired to represent the state at the national level. 
Not the voters, but the state. The House presumably represents the voters, 
and House delegations could be elected, within the delegation, by 
proportional representation. But the delegation size would severely 
restrict, for most states, the thoroughness of the representation. However, 
it is possible that this change would not require a constitutional 
amendment. Or it might. I haven't looked at this one. If it *does* require 
a constitutional amendment, I'd suggest divorcing the House from being 
divided by State. Rather, House district population would be a national 
constant, and might under some circumstances cross state lines.

Again, to me, this reform would be a tremendous advance, but far short of 
what I think possible.

>But, restating the thought in terms of an "elected" body, I stay with what 
>I said above about not letting non-members vote.

Non-member voting makes no sense unless there is variable voting. However, 
if governmental bodies were freely formed by persons familiar with the 
corporate model, I very much doubt that they would accept less than the 
voting rights that shareholders have in corporations. It is only because 
pre-existing forms are imposed that we expect less. The pre-existing forms 
came out of authoritarian structures, where single jurisdictions were ruled 
by a strong executive, and there was a strong presumption of single-person 
officeholders, and representation was considered just like any other 
office. One person represents a district....

>As I said at the top, we have conflicting ideas, so had best package them 
>as separate threads.

Except to the extent that they interact and bear upon each other. 
Definitely, a discussion of proxy elections is not complete without a 
consideration of how they would *differ* from traditional proxy systems, 
and why. And, frankly, I don't see why one would want them to, other than 
an artificial conformance to what I see as nondemocratic structures held 
over from the past.

>I see loops as not permitted - a complication with not enough value.

Loops are natural. To prohibit them means that people cannot freely assign 
proxies. Thus a free people will form, to some degree, loops. It is 
*eliminating* proxy loops that is a complication.

To explain, a loop is where proxy assignments, freeling given without 
external restraints, form a loop, such as A names B names A, the simplest 
loop and obvious to the persons in an open system, or A names B names C, 
which might not be so visible. One way of eliminating loops would be to 
have only certain persons available for choice as proxy, and making oneself 
available (it could be completely open) is consent to one's own proxy 
choices being public. Thus you could choose any person in the available 
list and not thereby create a loop, and anyone on the available list could 
choose any other person on the list and know whether or not it would create 
a loop, and loop creation might even be automatically rejected. At the 
highest levels, there are two possibilities: some people at a high level 
don't assign any proxy, which I consider undesirable, or loop formation is 
allowed. Perhaps a certain minimum loop size could be set, creating a loop 
larger than that would be permitted.

The size of a loop is defined as the number of people represented by the 
highest-level person in the loop. Note that in a loop, there is more than 
one such person; but to determine, for election purposes, the superproxy of 
the loop, one would neglect the loop-creating assignment, thus leaving a 
single tree culminating in a single person. (I haven't looked at all 
possibilities, but I suspect that the creation of a loop always involves 
someone assigning proxy to someone who, without that assignment, holds 
fewer proxies that the assigner. I'm sure someone topologically inclined 
might know the answer immediately....)

>>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.
>Being a member is VERY IMPORTANT, for members own rights and have 
>authority and responsibility to serve those who "elect" them.

Yes, but important to who? Frankly, someone who comes to me and says "I 
want to be your representative," is under a pall from the start. I only 
tolerate it because our system pretty much requires it. It's even worse 
when someone comes and says "I want to be your governor." But, yes, we need 
to know who is willing to serve. Politicians are aware of the negative 
effect of appearing to want the office, so they try to arrange to be 
"drafted," to at least appear to serve reluctantly. The truth behind this 
is that those who actually understand what a pain in the rump it is to 
serve in public office are quite likely the best to serve.

>Just as with current bodies, these hear their voters, and report (more or 
>less quality) to their voters.

This is the theory. It breaks down when the relationship between the 
representative and the represented is not based on free choices.

And anything short of full proxy involves less than free choices.

>>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.
>I make no sense of these words about rings. A proxy ring is another name 
>for a loop. If a loop exists, then there is a proxy path which includes 
>every member of the loop. (Other members may be represented by the loop; 
>those members could leave and the loop would not be changed.) Any member 
>of the loop who changes his or her proxy assignment to someone outside the 
>loop breaks the loop and connects it, with himself or herself as the loop 
>proxy, to the proxy chosen by that person. There are other consequences 
>and aspects to this that I'm not mentioning.

>Thanks for the more words, but I still do not see value.

Tell me how you see the reforms you propose coming to implementation, given 
the present political conditions and likely future ones....

Further, my concern is generic, organizational systems under many different 
conditions, not just legislative elections (and not specifically elections 
at all, though DP can be used for elections, hence this discussion.)

FA is the basic, generic, non-coercive, peer organization. They exist all 
over the place, but they are often so informal as not even to be named. And 
they are, in fact, the working core of democracy. But we don't know how to 
scale them. If we could, the whole scene would change. Election reform 
would be a small aspect of that....

>How does all this stop me, with 10,000 proxies, from disconnecting from 
>the member I had liked, and connecting to the one I now like better?

Nothing. However, the response of those you directly represent might give 
you pause. If your decision seems foolish to them, they might decide that 
they can't trust you, especially if they don't trust the person to whom you 
gave proxy.

Remember, I suggested that a criterion for choosing a direct proxy is 
availability for communication. That person has 10,000 proxies, but unless 
he or she is a media star (I can get to that in a moment), it is quite 
likely that the bulk of these proxies are indirect. If the system 
encourages the limitation of direct proxies to about twenty, each of these 
twenty can likely enjoy free and easy communication with the proxy they 
have chosen. So we could have a little talk....

Notice that leaving proxy assignments (and delegations) completely free 
seems to have certain salutary effects. In theory, at least.

Now, as to media stars. Yes, some people are going to give their proxy, if 
there are no restrictions, to media stars. However, I suggest that if such 
a proxy is accepted by the star, the star is accepting the right of the 
giver to communicate directly. It's a free country, and nothing can require 
the proxy acceptor to be actually available; but I think that people would 
very rapidly come to expect to be able to communicate with their proxies 
whenever they think it desirable. And, definitely, most people will refuse 
to accept more than a certain number of direct proxies, and this is one 
reason why I would require that proxies be accepted in order to be valid. 
That acceptance is a communication from the proxy to the giver. Proxy, as I 
conceive of it, is not merely an election method!

>What if my friends join me in making this switch?

Why, a veritable revolution in a flash! But consider how often this would 
take place. I think not very often. I think proxy assignments at high 
levels would be pretty stable, *especially if direct proxies are limited in 
some way*. The proxy system will select for reliability and 
trustworthiness, that's my expectation.

Wouldn't it be interesting to find out? This is another aspect to the FA 
proposal. It represents trying out the proxy system in an organization that 
doesn't own anything to damage.

>      In stockholder meetings the stockholders HAVE the voting power.
>      In the bodies I discus, the proxies unconditionally pass the voting 
> rights to the person acting as proxy.

Yes. Those are the conditions as defined by Mr. Ketchum. I consider the 
loss of the sovereignty of the individual a crucial element in the 
alienation that we experience from our government. And it is completely 
unnecessary. Corporations did not collapse because individual shareholders 
could vote directly. And Town Meetings work quite well under appropriate 

But it seems that Mr. Ketchum wants to discuss a proxy method of election 
in a system which is otherwise exactly the same as, say, the state House of 
Representatives. Except he'd like to see proportional representation, so 
two changes are being made. It's an arbitrary combination, hence some of 
the confusion here.

>LOOK above - B DOES DEFINE who she is via platform.

"Platforms" are, in my view, the death of deliberative democracy. The party 
platform only functions because politicians don't keep their promises. It's 
a setup. I.e., we expect politicians to do what they say they are going to 
do, but we also expect them to be wise. And a wise person doesn't always do 
what they expected to do, especially when faced with new information or 
analysis, which is what is supposed to happen in deliberation. So we expect 
the impossible. The politician is either a slave to what he promised, in 
which case he is irresponsible, and we call this pandering for votes, or he 
breaks his promises, confirming for us that we can't trust politicians. And 
this doesn't even address the fact that politicians might have to 
misrepresent their true views in order to get elected. (I can think of 
plenty of times that a politician simply told the truth to the public and 
lost office because of it, and I don't just mean the truth about the 
politician! People don't always want to hear the truth.)

>Consider village boards - a body to practice on, and work up from there.

I live in a Town Meeting town. There is, indeed, a Board of Selectmen. It's 
three people, as is typical, I think. This is far too small to make sense 
with PR. And there is no way in a hot place that the town is going to 
change the basics of Town Meeting, not as a first step, I don't care what 
high-faluting idea I might come up with. That is, it might be the best 
system of election ever thought of, and it doesn't have a prayer. Not as a 
first step!

So what is the first step? And this is the question I've been working on. 
And, to me, the first step is quite obvious. But I'll let Mr. Ketchum 
answer the question.

>>>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.
>I did not make the choice - it was done many decades ago.

By people who are no longer alive and who cannot therefore change their 
minds, cannot consider new conditions, etc. Yet these people have 
supermajority rights, because to change what they did requires a 
supermajority. Just how intelligent do we expect that they were? Was the 
writing of the Constitution a magical act, somehow superintelligent, 
surpassing the human capacities of the framers? Or was it simply the best 
thinking that a relatively free people could come up with at the time. 
Let's say that I think they did a good job, but it was also quite human and 
was not designed for the centuries; it was in many ways a compromise with 
the conditions of the timel

>>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?
>BECAUSE picking something that is REALLY BETTER is no trivial task.

Fagh! It is not picking something better that is difficult. It is 
overcoming entrenched inequitable power. The state-by-state 
all-to-the-plurality winner system is the most serious problem, the other 
inequities in the college are trivial. Sure, finding the *best* alternative 
is a problem, but there are some simple changes that I think would not even 
require a constitutional amendment, though they might. Basically, assigning 
electors according to the closest match to election ration, i.e, a form of 
proportional representation, would be obviously more equitable. But almost 
any somewhat similar change would be an improvement. And it does exist, in 
which states? I don't recall.

>Not clear where NGOs fit.  The bodies I talk of NEED structure.

Every body needs structure. But living organisms are generally structured 
through fractals.... Totally free delegable proxy is problematic for some 
of us because it is difficult to imagine the organizational structure, it 
is not a fixed thing. But, in fact, just as in living things, a few rules 
of association will create a structure with definite characteristics, even 
though the details might not be specifically predictable.

DP organizational structures are, in deed, fractals, they will be, largely, 
self-similar, i.e., the structure is pretty much the same no matter what 
scale is examined. But I do think that the defacto rules of association 
will shift a bit as the scale gets larger, because the character of the 
people and thus the kinds of choices they will make will vary with trust 
level. People who are massively trusted will not be just the same as people 
who are not.

[about the implementation of DP democracy by an occupying authority, i.e., 
set up from outside -- which I don't consider ideal, but which might be the 
only way it could be started under difficult conditions]
>Helps if the occupying authority has desire and ability to do some good!

It has the desire, and it has the ability. Problem is it also has some 
other things, such as ignorance and self-interest. But I think the desire 
to do good is there. Whether or not that will lead to wise action is 
another story.

In my view, wise and good action and true self-interest converge. It is 
only lack of vision which makes it seem otherwise. And self-interest can 
blind us, if we allow it.

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