[EM] Election via Proxies

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Sun May 29 21:47:13 PDT 2005

  At 12:36 AM 5/29/2005, Dave Ketchum wrote:
>Seems we have TWO ideas, which I am convinced, need to be kept separate:
>      A delegable proxy chain, which has been the center of this 
> discussion, needs to have a top proxy in each chain, which becomes a 
> member of the body being created, and is responsible to those who 
> "elected" him.

There are really a number of concepts to be disentangled here. The title of 
this thread is "Election via Proxies." A proxy is, by definition, chosen, 
not elected. However, it is possible that a proxy gains some special 
qualification if the proxy is chosen by a number of voters exceeding a 

If proxies are freely chosen, and if every person chooses a proxy, 
including persons who have themselves been chosen as a proxy, loops will be 
created. However, most of these loops can be resolved in the sense that 
there will be a top proxy within the loop; the person chosen by that proxy 
will be of lower "rank," i.e., would only serve to represent the top proxy 
in the absence of the top proxy.

There seems to be the idea that only the top proxy in a proxy chain would 
qualify as a member of the body. That is an artificial restriction. If 
there is someone who would qualify as a member of the body if that person's 
proxy is of lower rank, I'd expect that they would not be disqualified 
simply because they changed their proxy to one of higher rank.

I've suggested that what I call "fully qualified" members of an electoral 
college would consist of a collection of proxies carrying a certain number 
of votes or higher. That number might not be defined in advance; rather the 
number of members to qualify, N, could be defined, and, from the proxy 
patterns, the top N proxies would become qualified.

Alternatively, proxies might be qualified based on holding a certain 
minimum number of votes. I find that this would unnecessarily restrict the 
diversity of the college. The only reason to restrict the size of an 
assembly is to make discussion and debate manageable; and because diversity 
is to be valued, I hope we would agree, and because one of the 
characteristics of a proxy assembly is that it could represent wide 
diversity with a relatively small number of members (due to variable 
voting), it would seem that it would be ideal to define the assembly size 
rather than fixing the qualifying votes.

Further, the concept of responsibility is introduced. My concept of a proxy 
is quite different from that of an ordinary politician or elected 
representative. Like other officers, proxies might be pledged to some 
defined set of duties; however, a proxy democracy will work best, in my 
view, if proxies are completely free; I would not have proxies cast the 
votes of those they represent separately from their own votes: rather 
proxies would be expected and encouraged to cast their own votes based on 
their own understanding of what is best, in the context of an actual vote, 
presumably after discussion and debate. Whenever a formal tally is 
requested pursuant to the rules, the proxies votes would be collected; then 
to the vote of each proxy would be added the votes of those represented by 
the proxy.

I further see no reason to prohibit voting in an electoral assembly by 
*anyone*. In an electoral system with secret ballot, there would be two 
kinds of registration: registration to name a proxy by secret ballot, and 
registration to serve as a proxy. One would not do both. A person 
registered to serve as a proxy would retain his or her own voting right. 
Those who do not so register would, by secret ballot, add votes to 
registered proxies, but the registered proxies would not know who they are, 
nor would anyone else.

Note that the secret ballot aspect is a mechanism introduced for use where 
it is considered to retain the security features of secret ballot while 
still using a proxy system subsequent to the secret ballot. In a pure proxy 
system, this would not be done, rather all assignments of proxy would be 
public record.

But proxy assignments made by registered proxies would be public.

Now, a registered proxy might not receive any votes. This person would 
still have his or her own vote. It seems that in the concept of Mr. 
Ketchum, such a person could not cast that vote directly. Certainly I would 
think that such a person would be encouraged to name a proxy; and, under 
the conditions of large scale, an individual like that could not, for 
practical reasons, generally participate in discussion and debate, which 
would be reserved for fully qualified members (i.e., who hold a number of 
votes above the current threshold), but I see no reason to deprive such a 
person of the right to vote personally. Even without computers, such means 
could be provided; and we have means whereby persons may remotely follow 
discussion and debate.

Town Meeting has been abandoned because of the problem of scale. If the 
problem of scale is solved by the means suggested, I see no reason to avoid 
a return to direct democracy, where every citizen may vote directly. Most 
won't want to, just as most citizens don't ordinarily attend Town Meeting 
in towns that still have that form, but having the *right* to do so could 
make a huge difference.

>      What I will call an absence proxy may be included in the rules of 
> some bodies.  These give the proxy holder whatever authority the rules, 
> and the proxy giver, choose to permit - but, generally, expect the holder 
> to act in the interests of the giver - rather than getting extra power to 
> advance the holder's interests.

I disagree with the approach. The proxy should be a free agent, and should 
be chosen because the giver trusts the character and intelligence of the 
proxy. A proxy may represent many people with diverse points of view and 
opinions. I would think it a severe limitation if proxies must become 
political caricatures, who are then obligated to act as rubber stamps for 
predetermined positions.

Rather, I'd suggest that limitations should not be placed on the duties of 
the proxy, beyond a duty to honesty. The proxy should not misrepresent his 
or her opinions and views. But the proxy should not be bound by those view, 
and should be free to change them. The remedy, in a pure proxy system, if a 
proxy begins to fail to fairly represent those who have chosen him or her, 
is for those represented to revoke the proxy.

Secret ballot proxies would be assigned for a term. I'd suggest that it not 
be long. Further, I'd suggest that the system encourage proxies to be 
chosen at a very low level, people should personally know those they choose 
as proxy. I dislike, however, artificially constraining the choices in an 
attempt to force this.

Mr. Ketchum adds a new category, "absence proxy." I'll guess that this 
means someone who acts in the absence of a proxy who is otherwise a 
qualified member of a representative body. However, that is exactly what a 
proxy is, in general. I see no need for a special category.

>   These have no effect on membership in, or responsibility to, the 
> body.  I do not see value in these extending into loops, but would not 
> object if others see value in such.

If every person freely designates a proxy, loops will come to exist. The 
only way to prevent it is to (1) prohibit the free choice of proxies *and* 
(2) prevent "top level" proxies from naming any proxy at all.

>>>      A loop has no top proxy, since each points "up" to another voter 
>>> in the loop - so all the voters in the loop have deprived themselves of 
>>> representation in the governing body.
>Turning this the other way, permitting a loop and then identifying one 
>member to represent the loop in the governing body, would require rules 
>designed to solve that problem.

First of all, in a previous post, I considered the matter of a "downward" 
assignment of proxy by someone who would otherwise be a top proxy. This 
means that the top proxy chooses another member of his or her proxy tree as 
proxy. This kind of loop does not create a problem, unless the "top proxy" 
is not fully qualified as a member of the representative body. It is only 
loops without such a top proxy that are a special problem.

Mr. Ketchum creates part of the problem by assuming that it is only "top 
proxies" who would be part of the representative body. However, if someone 
who qualifies for the body names another qualified member, the namer is no 
longer a "top proxy", if the other qualified member had, before the 
assignment, as many or more votes than the namer, but this should actually 
be moot. The namer would remain a qualified member, and the proxy would 
only be effective if the namer were absent or incapacitated.

>As I have said, each member of a body has a weighted vote, according to 
>how many voter proxies the member holds, directly or indirectly.

That's the idea.

>   There are many possible ways to set this up.  There need to be limits 
> on how many members may exist, forcing small groups of voters with unique 
> interests to share a member - to have some voice together, rather than no 
> voice individually.  There also need to be limits on the voting power of 
> individual members - preventing a single person from being too close to a 
> majority.

It is actually not a problem *if* there are reconsideration rules that 
consider a vote cast by proxy to be the same as a vote cast directly. There 
may also be quorum rules, if it is deemed necessary.

Quorum in a delegable proxy democracy could be *much* higher than is 
practical in other forms. Quorum might be 90% or more of "votes". So if 
someone is actually a majority proxy, that person would have legitimately 
been chosen to represent the majority, not by an election, where many 
compromises are made and where the well-known quirks exist.

A superproxy (sometimes I use the term to mean a proxy who is a true top 
proxy, having been chosen by *everyone*, directly or indirectly, and 
sometimes, probably more usefully, to mean someone who holds a majority of 
votes, if no one else is present) would indeed be the voice of the 
majority. And would have the same reasons to respect minority views and to 
seek consensus that currently exist. A majority imposing its views on a 
minority is cause for trouble, it weakens society where it is done 

>My picture is each voter, V, enrolling as giving proxy to Y, much as the 
>voter enrolls in a political party.  Could be that Y gives his proxy to Z, 
>who thus inherits all that such as Y possess.  This is flexible in that V 
>and Y can update their enrollments at any time.  It also is public, in 
>that enrollment books cannot be dependably kept secret, even should this 
>be attempted.

If it is public, then it should simply be direct democracy, with the 
addition of meeting rules which restrict full rights to a more select 
number, but which still consider all voters to be members of the assembly, 
in the sense that their vote counts whenever they cast it.

In the hybrid system I've described, only registered proxies would be able 
to vote at meetings. And only fully qualified registered proxies would be 
able to address the meetings by right and to enter motions. If a 
non-qualified member wished to address the meeting or enter a motion, he or 
she could request his or her proxy to request permission for the member to 
speak or to enter the motion. The proxy would not be obligated to do so.

I really do see proxies as free agents, whose power is amplified by the 
level of trust accorded them. They vote for what *they* want, not for what 
they imagine those who have chosen them might want. In a secret ballot 
system, they won't really know. And I presume, indeed, that such proxies, 
those who hold significant votes, will be people who habitually act in the 
public interest.

>Could do some variation of PR elections.  No actual proxies here, but 
>secrecy is doable.  Preparing for weighted voting changes the requirements 
>a bit.  I propose that, after the election, those with too few votes to 
>become members combine forces to share a member.  I have not studied PR 
>enough to get into more detail.  Write-in candidates make sense, though 
>they might be required to register willingness.

It is described on the wiki:

This describes an election process; the election is actually an action of a 
delegable proxy electoral college. There are, as I described above, two 
classes of voter registration: ordinary voter and registered proxy. Any 
ordinary voter may register as available to serve as proxy. There is then a 
secret ballot, a means whereby ordinary voters choose proxies. Registered 
proxies would not vote in this election. They vote later, as members of the 
college. They would also name proxies, in a public record. These proxies 
would be revocable at any time.

>>I've been writing, off-list, a description of a delegable proxy election, 
>>designed for situations where security or other concerns require that 
>>most voters be able to assign proxy secretly. Essentially, prior to 
>>balloting, persons willing to be chosen as proxies so announce, they 
>>become registered proxies. Then there is balloting; in the balloting, a 
>>means is provided for voters to name their proxies. This is really like 
>>an ordinary election where vote counts are tabulated for each candidate; 
>>but the number of candidates might be quite large. I won't deal with the 
>>technical problems of ballot construction here, I think they could rather 
>>easily be solved. The outcome of the balloting and counting process is 
>>that registered proxies now have a number of votes assigned to them. 
>>Neither they nor anyone else knows who these proxy-givers are, only that 
>>they were voters.
>My previous paragraph is compatible with this one, except they lose all 
>excuse for using the word "proxy".

Actually, no. They are true proxies even if they don't know whom they 
represent. However, the communication aspect is lost with the secret 
proxy-givers. But if proxies are chosen on a small scale, there remains the 
delegable proxy network, which should function with the advantage of open 
communication. Essentially, each citizen may decide to participate publicly 
or privately. (However, under high-risk situations, it might be necessary 
to make secret ballot the norm; there might be a preliminary poll that 
would identify people to serve as registered proxies, then the actual proxy 
assignment balloting would take place.)

>   Agreed the ballot could be long, for each voter gets to choose among 
> ALL the prospective members.  Might be that a popular position could 
> attract more votes than a single member should be allowed - perhaps 
> slates of candidates could run for such positions.

I think that proxy democracy will demolish position politics. At least it 

>>(This is not how I'd prefer to see delegable proxy work, for it 
>>eliminates an essential communication aspect of the system, the personal 
>>relationship between representative and the one represented, but this is 
>>a design for difficult circumstances, or as a replacement for an ordinary 
>>The result of the election is that there is now a body of voters, the 
>>registered proxies, who collectively represent all voters, including 
>>themselves. Some of them might only represent themselves. (Registered 
>>proxies would not be allowed to vote in the secret ballot; they exercise 
>>their own vote in the subsequent process.)
>Somebody only representing themselves has been shown by the election to be 
>unpopular, thus not deserving to be a member of the body.

Everyone deserves to have a vote. Look, Town Meeting. People who only 
represent themselves are completely free to speak, to enter motions, the 
whole nine yards. It works. The only problem is that when the scale gets 
large, it breaks down, because the meetings become long and tedious. So I 
divide out what makes meetings break down (right to speak and enter 
motions) from what does not (right to vote).

>I choke on use of the phrase "electoral college" here - that body is off 
>in its own world.

I'm talking specifically about a delegable proxy process used to conduct an 
election. This is an "election methods" list, not a parliamentary rules list.

The electoral college may have been conceived to be something quite similar 
to proxy democracy. The electors were proxies for the states, they were 
chosen by the states. It is not the college that is the problem, but the 
state rules for choosing the electors.

>>The remainder of electors are regular electors, they still have the right 
>>to vote, but not to enter motions, nor to speak at the meeting absent 
>>permission from the meeting. (For some meetings, it might not be 
>>practical to allow regular electors to vote; in which case those electors 
>>may only exercise their vote by assigning proxy to a qualified member, 
>>or, in some cases, to one who becomes qualified by the act of assignment. 
>>I won't address bumping, where such an assignment causes a qualified 
>>member to lose qualification, other than to mention it.)
>Disagreed - I say above only that the remainder may combine forces, to get 
>representation of themselves by true body members (either by those inside 
>the quota, or by combining into a new member to displace a weak previous 

Since public proxies can be revoked and reassigned, membership in the body 
could become quite unstable. That may be fine, under some conditions. But 
if people have to travel to the meeting.... Rather, I would allow the 
meeting size to have some flexibility, so that a new member becoming fully 
qualified would not eject a previously qualified member (until the next 
session, perhaps). There is little harm in having a few extra members, 
because of variable voting.

Much of the problem is resolved by allowing non-qualified members to vote. 
The only loss from non-qualification would be the right to address the 
assembly and enter motions; and such people could still address qualified 
members individually and perhaps seek permission to address the assembly -- 
they only have to convince one qualified member to get the request before 
the assembly -- and likewise to ask for the entry of a motion.

So we visit the DP Congress; and we listen to the discussion, and, by 
golly, we think we know something about the matter at hand, that isn't 
being said, so we buttonhole a congenial representative and suggest that we 
be allowed to speak. If we can convince this person -- whom we chose 
because we think we might -- then the assembly will be asked; or at least 
we might be able to address a committee. And we get to vote, if we want. 
Our vote will be recorded and reported in the full record.

>Again I choke on loops, but have some words earlier.

Short loops at a low level are silly, long loops are somewhat unlikely. But 
in a free proxy system, there will be loops. And by eliminating the 
freedom, something will be lost. I'd leave the loops alone; perhaps the 
system would automatically notify people if their proxy designations create 
a loop that is not moot.

And I see nothing wrong with Joe Smith, who was named as a proxy by a top 
level proxy, and who represents nobody else, participating in the assembly 
in the place of that proxy. I just would not automatically rank Joe Smith 
as a qualified member. The top proxy is the qualified member (and possibly 
some of those who chose him or her). Joe Smith only qualifies in the 
absence of the top proxy.

But I think that ordinarily top proxies would try to choose a member 
expected to be qualified as their own proxy.

>>I see no reason to limit the creation of superproxies; however, the 
>>rights of superproxies may be restrained by absolute quorum rules, 
>>reconsideration rules allowing any member whose vote was cast for a 
>>motion, directly or indirectly, to move for reconsideration of the 
>>motion, and the like. A superproxy would be a total consensus president. 
>>Not terribly likely. More likely there would be a number of top-level 
>>proxies in a meeting of the college and each of them would contain a 
>>loop, assuming that all top-level proxies each name a proxy, presumably 
>>within their own group. (If they name a proxy outside their own group, 
>>they just merged two groups, with the top of the second group being the 
>>new top-level proxy.)
>Do not understand superproxy as used here.  The bodies would operate the 
>same as bodies elected by other methods.

Superproxy I explained above. Roberts Rules, as I recall, allows any person 
whose vote was cast with the prevailing side to move for the 
reconsideration of the motion. If proxy voting is allowed, it would need to 
be explicit that a person whose publicly assigned proxy so voted could move 
for reconsideration (in the case of nonqualified members, there would 
probably have to be some level of discontent established before the motion 
could be entered, since nonqualified members can't enter motions directly, 
so it *would* take some special procedure.)

>See no merit in next paragraph.
>>Then the electoral college proceeds to carry out the election process. It 
>>may use any election method. I'd suggest that it might start with an 
>>approval poll, but my purpose here is not to choose the optimal election 
>>method to be used by the college itself. It would choose that. It's a 
>>deliberative body. But I'd think that one very simple method would be an 
>>Approval Poll, followed by a motion to elect the winner of that poll. The 
>>motion might require a simple majority to pass. However, the college need 
>>not be restricted to any specific method, and the college may develop its 
>>own standing and special rules. It may also recommend overall election 
>>rules (including the first, secret-ballot phase) for referendum.

Mr. Ketchum seems to have forgotten the subject header, which he created. 
"Election via Proxies." I've taken it literally. It seems, however, that he 
is actually talking about the formation of a legislative body, and he 
refers to the qualification of members of that body as "election." I was 
writing about conduction an *election* by using delegable proxy, through 
the formation of a deliberative body which actually conducts the election.

The big problem with election methods in general is that they are 
non-deliberative. Rather, we think of an election as some process that 
measures the electorate at some point in time, following some procedure 
that will automatically select a winner. And it is probably impossible for 
this to uniformly produce intelligent results, though it is also clear that 
some election methods are better than others....

>Earlier I now discuss proxies, whose selection is public, and PR 
>elections, for which secrecy is normal.  What follows seems to mix the two.

No. There is a secret ballot which assigns extra votes, as it were, to 
registered proxies. Then registered proxies engage in a delegable proxy 
process to form a manageable deliberative body. The second part is public. 
The first part is not, but it is not PR, for it results in variable voting 
and no votes are wasted, ever.

>Trust is important but, thinking of defining marriage or right to life, 
>you want to be able to trust your proxy to fight for what you believe in.

Then you must choose a proxy who believes in what you believe in, so 
strongly, and who fights for what he or she believes in. Frankly, however, 
I'm not so fond of "belief." It has a terrible record. (I could write a 
tome about the meaning of the Arabic word that is often translated as 
"belief" but which actually means "trust." And the word that is usually 
translated as "unbeliever" actually means someone whose mind is made up, 
who refuses to consider the immediate and clear evidence.")

>Seems to me the U S Senate represents a rejection of this paragraph:
>     Originally, state government elected senators.
>     Now the voters elect senators.

Yes. Was that a great idea, or what?

Look, the original system was closer to proxy democracy. But it wasn't 
proxy democracy, because the choices were filtered through elections, which 
fail to represent the diversity of opinion in the electorate.

>"power to advise" does not sound like much muscle.

That's because you haven't thought about it.

My comment was made in connection with Free Associations, where the 
organization does not direct exercise power, it only serves to advise 
members and to coordinate their efforts. The power to advise will be weak 
if the advisor is not trusted. If the advisor is trusted, advice could as 
powerful as the one advised. Collectively, the members could have 
tremendous power.

This discussion, however, has not been about Free Associations, it has been 
held to the topic of election via proxy. Free Associations don't 
necessarily conduct elections. But they might advise members regarding 

What power does an advisor have, who advises a powerful person?

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