[EM] proxies and confidentiality (six variations)
Abd ul-Rahman Lomax
abd at lomaxdesign.com
Sat Apr 1 17:23:23 PST 2006
At 07:34 AM 3/30/2006, James Green-Armytage wrote:
> Overall, I'll say that delegable proxy, or indeed anything
>direct democracy, is not a very natural fit with very strong
>confidentiality. Perhaps accommodations can be made to provide this, but
>the system probably works best in a society where this kind of
>intimidation is not a major problem.
This is one of the reasons for my proposal to start DP (Delegable
Proxy) with NGOs, and in particular with Free Associations, which, as
I define the term, implies no collection of central power beyond the
power to persuade by generating consensus (which can be very powerful
indeed, but which is not necessarily centralized); so it is
relatively safe. This is possible in any reasonably free society;
indeed, it is my opinion that it is possible in China now,
immediately, for another major aspect of FAs is that they don't take
positions on issues of controversy. So an FA would *not*, as an
organization, take any position likely to offend the dragon. Instead,
it would work *with* the dragon, it would simply be patriotic
citizens, for the most part, communicating and cooperating toward a
better China. So far, I've seen no sign that the central power in
China wants to discourage such communication; it simply wants to
avoid the chaos of uncontrolled mob power, it was quite frightened by
Tiananmen Square. (And I don't know how much the readers of this list
know about that event: there really was a massive rebellion of the
citizens of Beijing, and it took bringing in troops from other areas
of China *who did not speak the local language* to quell it. Local
troops sympathized with the workers, as one might expect in a
It is my opinion that DP organizations will select for
trustworthiness and that such organizations will be quite capable of
dealing with local conditions and all the necessary subtleties. They
really will create democracy without offending the dragon. But, of
course, it is for the Chinese to work all this out. I'm working on
FA/DP here in the United States and for the English-speaking community.
Direct democracy, in the past, has required open participation. I've
not seen a town convert from town meeting to elected mayor-council
based on fear of intimidation. Rather the reason is that the meetings
have become tedious and tendentious, and mayor-council is perceived
as more efficient. As it is, compared to raw direct democracy without
proxy voting and without appropriate participation rules.
Given that proxy representation is a common-law right, it is amazing
to me that I find no historical record of attempts to apply it to
government in a direct democracy. Proxy representation *is* used, for
example, in the New York legislature, where representatives may cast
votes in committee by proxy, if I've got it right. I'm not convinced
that that application is a fair test of proxy representation, it is
happening at a high level in a fairly dysfunctional system, in my
opinion, that leaves most people unrepresented.
Anyway, I think we need to test DP in NGOs before we can seriously
propose it for governmental use. Fortunately, this is easy, at least
in theory. In fact, it is quite hard to get people to try it. Why?
I have my theory: it is a variation of what I called, in the past,
the "Lomax effect," more descriptively "the persistence of
inequities" effect. If a power structure is inequitable in some way,
restoring it to equity will remove power from those who currently
enjoy excess power. They will see this as a threat and will act to
prevent it from happening. And, by the terms of the problem, they
have excess power. It takes no evil conspiracy to explain this. Have
you ever noticed that those who are active and hold positions in an
organization often believe that they know and understand more about
how the organization should function than do the rank-and-file? I
have seen again and again such people fear that if the rank-and-file
gain power, they will ruin everything.
And indeed they might. Which is why power shifts must be done very,
very carefully. Delegable Proxy is a specific answer to this problem,
by concentrating trustworthiness. It is representative democracy
without elections, but through free choice. It is a solution to the
problem of scale in democracy. If it is first implemented in FAs, the
problems of corruption, as one example sometimes raised as an
objection to DP, do not have to be addressed until a time when we
know much more about how DP will actually work.
> Also note that there is sometime a tradeoff between
> confidentiality and
>the transparency, or integrity, of the process. When information about who
>voted for whom is not available, it becomes harder to verify that the
>final count is correct.
Absolutely. In an open DP system, with an open assignment list,
anyone can at any time analyze the structure and verify vote counts.
However, DP with base-level secret ballot can be pretty safe and
almost as good. To understand this, I think we have to look at
exactly what is and what is not dangerous, and what risks can be, and
routinely are, accepted in secret-ballot systems.
In particular, we have no problem with identifying the members, for
example, of a city council. Yet these are the people who are actually
voting on matters of substance, who, one might think, would be most
vulnerable to pressure. But they are not, of course, for a simple
reason: there are a relatively small number of them, so police
protection can be provided for them at an affordable cost. You could
not provide this level of protection for someone who only represents
a few neighbors, nor for individual voters.
So the solution is fairly simple: a governmental DP system under
difficult conditions would be secret ballot until a certain number of
votes have been collected. Essentially, the secret ballot system
would function in a hidden way until it collects enough votes to
qualify a candidate for open identification. Yes, this requires a
trusted mechanism. A trusted mechanism is essential to secret ballot,
if it is not to be merely one way in which a dictatorship pretends to
have the support of the people.
Consider Iraq. Those who actually have power there, I will not
presume to name them, if they are interested in democracy, could set
up a system where every citizen is invited to name a proxy, the
person they most trust. This would be done secretly and privately,
and in the process the citizen would be asked if they were being
coerced. If they were being coerced, their vote would be discounted,
but not in a way that could let it be traced back to them. I won't
give details, it can be done, such that, if people trust that they
will not be betrayed, the vote counts will not betray them
individually, and would only indicate to a coercer that something
went wrong. And, of course, with a high level of credible reports of
coercion, that coercer might be arrested....
Such a single assigment can create loops, but a community,
understanding this, can decide to give enough votes to at least one
rep to put that rep over the participation threshold for the open level.
The point of such a secret-ballot designation is that it would select
a representative who actually did represent a significant
constituency. He would largely know who they are, not in specific
detail, but he would be local and would generally be relatively
accessible (though, once elected, security concerns might make him
much less accessible).
And then the rest of the system functions openly. Iraq is a tribal
society, largely, and so what we would see at a high level would
largely be tribal representatives, but chosen freely by their
communities, rather than through pure power and intimidation (as well
as more legitimate tradition and respect). The key to delegable proxy
is that it brings everyone to the table. In open DP, it is literally
everyone who cares at all to participate. (My own proposals would
allow direct voting at any level, but not direct full participation:
the right to take up everyone's time must be limited in a large
organization, or it breaks down. That's what happens at Town Meeting
as the town grows.)
> Variation 1: If you do not choose the secret ballot option
> (mentioned in
>the proposal linked to above), then your choice of proxy is recorded on a
>public list, which you or anyone else can view at will.
As you have realized, this is transparent to a coercer, who will
simply require that the voter elect to be open. If you need secrecy,
and you need a simple system, it must be secret for everyone *except*
for people whom the society can afford to protect. Which means a
relative few under difficult conditions.
Under good conditions, coercion has become rare enough that police
resources can be brought to bear on the few exception.
I don't think, for example, that there would be any significant
problem with open DP in the U.S. It is enough that extortion is
illegal. Someone trying to coerce a voter would be taking a huge
risk, for a very small gain. One vote is just one vote. And if you
try to coerce thousands of votes, discovery becomes practically inevitable.
But, again, we can find out. We don't have to jump off the cliff. We
can do it outside of government.
> Variation 2: Base level voters can choose between secret ballot (no
>direct vote option), having their vote listed publicly, or having their
>vote known by the election authority but not listed publicly. Proxies must
>have their votes listed publicly.
>* Doesn't really solve the problem of people being pressured to vote for a
Yes. This leaves the same problem in place.
Direct vote, in my view, is desirable but not essential. It is enough
that relatively low-level proxies have direct voting privileges. The
people in general will have good access to those people, because they
will not represent many. Through them the people will have access to
the top level. Yes, blocks of opinion below a threshold will be off
the radar. But a society which needs secret assignments has much more
serious and urgent problems to deal with. It's enough, under those
conditions, that every major group be represented proportionally.
Asset Voting, by the way, accomplishes much the same thing, producing
a peer assembly. Ultimately, though, I think DP is simpler, and would
transition quite easily into full, open DP. Which is much, much more
than an election method.
> Variation 3: As long as you do not declare yourself as a proxy, the
>identity of your proxy is known to the election authority, but it is not
>publicly available. You can request a paper receipt for your proxy
>delegation, should you be unsure that your vote is being recorded
And, as you went on to note, this does not solve the secrecy problem,
for several reasons. If you request a receipt, you can then prove
that you voted as demanded. It must be impossible for you to prove
that, or small-scale coercion can work. Essentially, all
secret-ballot designations must be secret, and everyone must
designate by secret ballot. Secret-ballot DP elects representatives,
it cannot be ongoing. However, those representatives will ideally be
serving on a relatively small scale; the number of votes they have
received will be public record, but not who gave them those votes,
and their subsequent choice of proxy will be public. And changeable
at will. It is a direct democracy of those elected in the first round.
Simple open DP is *much* more straightforward. I think it has
implications that few, so far, have noticed, though I keep harping
away at them....
>* Although the information about base level is not officially public, it
>is known, and thus can potentially be leaked.
The problem only exists if you want to have specific interactivity
between base-level voters and the proxies they choose, and if you
want to allow direct voting on issues. Clearly, if you allow direct
voting, you would need to know who chose whom, so that the votes
would not be counted twice for some. Direct voting as a routine
matter, on all issues, which would be one possible solution, with the
proxies only serving to negotiate consensus, is a possible solution,
but it does require frequent voting with everyone participating,
which, in my view, is largely impractical and even inadvisable, for
reasons that I don't think I have to elaborate.
>* It is still possible for someone to put pressure on you to declare
>yourself as a proxy, and thus make your delegation a matter of public
Those who act, subsequent to the secret ballot, must be willing to be
public, and perhaps should be declared candidates. But that they are
willing to be public should not be enough for their identities to be
confirmed by the voting agency. All that will be announced by the
agency is the identity of those receiving a threshold level of votes,
and the number of votes they received. In one implementation, even
the agency would not know who actually voted. So pressure on a voter
to declare consent to serve will not be sufficient to make that
voter's actions visible. The voter would have to actually *receive*
the required votes, and since the ballots would be secret and thus
presumably not coerced, what would have happened is that the coercer
would simply have created a candidate with votes. Coercion is not
necessary for that!
However, there is one problem, which is loops. In standard DP, loops
are easy to deal with. It is commonly overlooked that loops in full
DP are necessary, for if everyone designates a proxy, then a
top-ranked proxy designates someone of a lower rank. The
relationships could get quite complex; but what has happened in this
case is simply that a top "official" has designated a stand-in, to
serve in his absence, which is what a proxy is, anyway. But in secret
ballot DP, how could we deal with "wasted votes"? i.e., votes that do
not end up being assigned to a candidate with sufficient votes to be
identified publicaly and to act at a higher level.
In open DP, one simply informs those "trapped" in such a loop. Any
member of the loop may break or at least enlarge it by designating
someone outside the loop. Loops are harmful only when they result in
lack of representation, which is much less of a problem in open DP
because all can review the record and vote directly, and it is simple
to join a proxy group by designating the proxy.
(Actually, in the FA/DP implementations I'm working on, proxies must
be *accepted* to be effective. A proxy is like a professional, and
the constituents are like clients. Indeed, I'm coming to use the word
"client" for the one who is served by a proxy. Anyway, it may not be
so easy to just grab a proxy when needed. The proxy must agree to
serve, and service means much more than voting.)
> Comments: Perhaps this is what Abd had in mind? Seems like
> a reasonable
>compromise if there is some worry about coercion, but not an intense
>amount of worry.
I think it is easy to adjust the level of secrecy to the need. FA/DP
implementations will almost certainly not require secrecy, though,
paradoxically, secrecy becomes much easier to obtain with little or
no harm. This is because FAs don't really make binding decisions; for
FAs, what is important is communication and measurement of consensus,
and when you are trying to measure consensus, a few votes here or
there don't really matter. And even if someone fakes a whole slew of
votes, even a *majority* of votes, they end up with a handful of
straw, because nobody will actually salute the flag they raise. FAs
don't collect power to be grabbed through fraud. Rather, they
communicate, and someone who creates a whole fake caucus in an FA in
order to appear strong will be spending tremendous effort for a tiny
gain, if any gain at all.
So participants in FAs can be anonymous. The proof that one is not
dealing with an illusion of a large number of people will come when a
caucus has gathered the support of supposedly 10,000 people to
contribute to a PAC, with polls indicating they will contribute an
average of $50 each. And what actually shows up at the PAC is what
the fraud behind the show can afford to personally contribute.... FAs
do not leverage power, which is where they differ radically from
traditional organizations, and which is why they may be able to
accomplish things that have so far eluded us. The power remains with
the people, until they individually choose to collect it and apply it
for a specific purpose. That purpose may create a traditional
board-controlled organization with a charter as chosen and supported
by the voluntary donations. And there is a whole history behind this,
it does work, quite well.
> Variation 5: Non-proxy voters vote by strictly secret ballot, thus
>ensuring anonymity, but also losing their ability to cast direct votes.
>(If it isn't known who your proxy is, then your vote can't be subtracted
>from his usual total if you vote directly, and thus direct voting can't
>* Direct voting can't work
>* It is still possible to pressure someone into declaring themselves as a
>proxy and voting for the favored candidate.
Not if the declaration alone is not sufficient to allow participation
uplevel. The wasted-vote problem does exist, possibly, but there are
ways around that, which can get more complex; again, I won't get into it now.
The major thing to realize is that secrecy is not a normal condition.
It is only necessary under circumstances of great instability and the
breakdown of the social fabric, where lawlessness is rampant. We
institutionalized the secret ballot, and I suspect it has been
useful, but I have never heard of an attempt at vote coercion at a
Town Meeting. I've never seen a recorded vote at Town Meeting, but
anyone who cares can see how people vote. Cummington is a very
liberal town; from what people say publicly, you'd never know that
Bush got one-third of the vote here. A town resolution to advise
Massachusetts representatives to act to remove the national guard
from Iraq passed with, I think, only one or two dissenting votes. I
sensed no pressure at that meeting. But, then again, there may be
subtle pressure. But there will always be subtle pressure, and
periodic secret ballot validation of what is going on may well be
advisable. Indeed, if FA/DP in Non-Governmental Organizations does
what I expect it can and will do, the existing structure does not
have to change at all. FA/DP will have organized the electorate,
which can then manage the existing electoral structure. You can do
practically anything you want if you can find consensus (including
change the constitution, which really only takes a distributed
plurality), and if it is working correctly, there is no harm in
periodic secret ballots for the selection of officers. I'd expect
them to rubber-stamp the extra-governmental consensus (or, if there
is no consensus, to match quite closely the FA/DP poll results). If
they did not, something is drastically wrong, and we'd be grateful to find out!
(For close match with secret ballot, the FA/DP organization would
require identity validation, which is relatively easy. We would know
if it was necessary by such results. There would also be a skewing of
ballot results from the difference between the FA voting body and the
registered and actually voting public in the secret ballot, but that
should be relatively easy to compensate for.)
> Comments: I can't really recommend this, as the direct vote
> option is one
>of the major benefits of the system.
Absolutely. Many critics of DP don't seem to get that what we are
recommending is direct democracy, but with something added: the
option to vote by proxy, plus, with DP, the routine delegability of
such proxy assignments. Nobody has to exercise that option, but
everyone who does so potentially gains flexibility and access.
> Variation 6: Give up on delegable proxy altogether and just
> use STV with
>the entire nation as one district.
> Comments: This, the actual legislators are the only people
> whose votes
>are formally recorded; hopefully at least the members of the legislature
>can be protected from coercion! If not, then I guess the next step is just
>to give up on democracy altogether, which resolves the problem by
>realizing its worst consequence.
Asset Voting accomplishes the creation of an almost perfectly
proportional assembly, if the assembly is large enough. Asset Voting
is really a variation on DP, creating a set of proxies who have equal
I don't know what legal system we will end up with. It is enough for
me that I can see how to create the structures that will allow us to
manage the system. They do not have to be part of the legal
structure, it is enough that the electorate be organized *outside*
the legal structure, voluntarily, by free choice, without coercion of
any kind, including the common coercion of "our way or the highway,"
that is, "agree with us or form your own damn organization," which is
so difficult that most people will give up. (This is a form of the
dictatorship of the majority, but it is not necessarily even the
majority, merely the first to open shop.) But FA/DP, theoretically,
should make it extremely easy to "form your own organization," while,
at the same time, creating the potential of a superstructure that
could negotiate broad consensus. And implement it.
BeyondPolitics.org, an FA/DP organization dedicated to the
development of FA/DP concepts and the facilitation of the use of
these concepts by all kinds of peer associations. Wiki at
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