[EM] proxies and confidentiality

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Wed Mar 1 06:31:47 PST 2006

At 01:36 AM 3/1/2006, Jobst Heitzig wrote:
>A question concerning proxy voting: Does anyone know of a mechanism for
>delegable proxy which assures that nobody knows what any other voted?

Sure, though it adds "cumber" :-) to the process. Just how cumbersome 
depends on just how far one wants to take the secrecy.

Asset Voting, and my own Delegable Proxy election process on the 
electorama wiki, involve secret ballot for the first level of 
proxies. With a succession of secret ballots, one could theoretically 
keep proxy assignment secret all the way to the top. But I think it's 
a very, very bad idea.

First of all, there is a cost to secrecy, and I don't mean the cost 
of keeping votes secret. That is actually very simple and easy. I 
mean the cost in terms of the ability of a proxy to know who is being 
represented. This cost exists even at the first level, in Asset 
Voting, but it is less serious if there is only one level of secrecy.

If the second level is also secret (the second level is the 
assignment of proxies by those who received votes in the first secret 
ballot), then A, who gave his proxy to B, will have no way of knowing 
if B acted responsibly in passing on the vote. Thus responsibility is 
removed from the process, people having no way of knowing the 
ultimate effect of their votes. If everything above the intial, 
primary, direct proxies is secret, not only do the ultimate 
representatives have no idea who their constituents are, but the 
constituents don't know who their representative is, unless they 
happen to have voted directly for a proxy who ends up in the assembly.

With open proxies, running for office would be a negative sign as to 
the character of the proxy. I think that this is an aspect of 
delegable proxy which is often overlooked, it is part of the reason 
why I chose the domain name BeyondPolitics.org. Running for office is 
no longer necessary. At all. Rather, you would generally name someone 
you know and trust. Know personally. Standard proxy can be the same, 
but only when the organization is small. With delegable proxy, the 
proxy relationships are between peers or almost-peers.

Just as in the human nervous system, where one synapse only collects 
into one nerve cell a limited number of connections. Too many 
connections, and the traffic becomes unintelligible. Intelligence 
depends on good filtering, and the main function of direct proxies is 
to filter information, both to protect the member from having to 
attend to organization business instead of work, family, etc., and to 
protect the center from raw, unfiltered traffic. In present 
organizations, traffic for high-level representatives is filtered by 
a top-down structure, selected usually by the representative, 
typically as paid staff. In delegable proxy, the structure is 
mutually created from the bottom (by the assignment of the proxy) and 
from the top (by acceptance of the proxy.)

"Acceptance of the proxy" is meaningless in a secret ballot system. 
Imagine that you are part of the human central nervous system. Raw 
traffic from sensory nerves is anonymized so that the center has no 
way of knowing where it comes from. Silly, isn't it?

Without openness in both directions, there cannot be the full and 
complete feedback and deliberation which is essential in functioning 
democracy (that is, the more of it the better, up to a limit which is 
secured through the filtering process). Thus the intelligence of the 
overall process becomes limited. I think *severely* limited compared 
to what is possible. Not compared to what exists. Compared to what 
exists, usually, standard proxy is a vast improvement, and it remains 
a wonder to me why it is such a rare idea in the political arena. 
Except that I know the history of political structure. We don't have 
proxy representation in politics because it would have taken too much 
power, too quickly, from the oligarchs. Present systems are generally 
designed like the standard English keyboard: to slow things down. 
That is, the electoral system was designed, at least in the U.S. 
where it is very clear, to keep functional power in the hands of an elite few.

>  In
>particular, it seems to me that no person X must know whether or not
>s/he is a proxy for some other person Y, and Y must not have a
>possibility of proving to X that X is Y's proxy. Otherwise Y could force
>X to name him as proxy!

Yes. However, if we want open representation (which is a necessity 
for full democracy), we are led, I think, inexorably to the Free 
Association concept, where power remains *entirely* in the hands of 
the members. The Association itself is just a communications mechanism.

The actual exercise of power may be through secret ballot, or it is a 
distributed action, as where members send funds, openly or 
anonymously, to a dedicated project. In some places such transfer of 
funds must be open if substantial, but if the transfers are small, 
they can be fully anonymous. Just pop a dollar or five into an 
envelope, put a label on it, and mail it.

If the would-be coercer can force you to send money, then the coercer 
already has significant power over you and could simply take your 
money and spend it, delegable proxy adds nothing to his power.

*This* is why FAs don't collect funds more than is needed for 
immediate purpose, such as paying for domain space or rent for 
meetings. They don't own more property than is necessary for that, 
which is very, very little, so little that nobody can control the 
organization by controlling the purse strings. Alcoholics Anonymous 
was set up in a way that meant that the central organization would 
remain almost totally dependent upon the members for continued small 
donations. Large donations are prohibited. Get this: AA will refuse 
donations *and bequests* larger than a certain amount. It used to be 
$1000. For an organization with millions of members. Even that, in my 
view, is high. But AA maintains a central office, paid staff, etc. 
Many FA/DP organizations will be operated entirely through volunteer 
labor; when something needs to be done that requires paid work, 
donations would be solicited for that specific purpose and would be 
provided directly to that specific project by the members.

Members who trust their proxies would be able to delegate fund 
transfer power from a special account to their proxies, so they 
aren't nickled and dimed to death.

People might note that, if applied to government, this would set up a 
Libertarian or Anarchist society, coercion-free. In my view, the 
feasibility of that is questionable. Maybe someday. But we *can* do 
it, immediately, with NGOs, Free Associations that do nothing more 
than communicate and coordinate.

The proxy advises, she does not command. The AA slogan: "Our leaders 
are but trusted servants, they do not govern." The proxy *may* 
exercise direct power, but only as long as the member specifically allows it.

Understand this, and you will understand why the actual voting 
mechanisms become almost irrelevant, they are simply ways to measure 
the degree of consensus that exists on an issue. If substantial 
consensus has not been obtained, the pressure is to seek it rather 
than proceed to immediate action; however, any caucus remains free to 
act whenever it considers it appropriate. But if the caucus is in the 
minority, and the issue is considered important by the majority, the 
caucus is simply going to waste its resources, it will be outspent 
("spending" includes all kinds of donations, cash and labor and 
materials). And the majority will surely understand that if *it* 
proceeds prior to finding substantial consent, its activities are 
going to be weakened. How weakened they will be depends on the 
consensus gap. Beyond a certain point that gap will be small enough 
that the majority (by now an almost unanimity) will decide that 
deliberation has gone on long enough, and the advice will go back 
down through the proxy tree.

(Yes, there will be a central publication with poll results. The 
results of polls aren't controversial, they are just facts. Who 
decides when the polls happen, and the content of the polls, and what 
goes into the central publication? The majority. Standard 
parliamentary procedure, though the assembly may decide to use 
supermajority rules for more things than are standard. 
Ultimately,protection exists in the fact that FA/DP organhizations 
can very easily fragment, it is a feature, not a bug (because they 
can just as easily merge, all it takes is for one member of caucus A 
to give a proxy to a member of caucus B and the two caucuses are 
effectively merged. There is no central control of the proxy 
communications mechanism, there are on central mechanisms which make 
it easy. If that mechanism is hijacked by a faction or by an enemy of 
the process, it can be substantially reconstituted in no more than a 
few days, at only a trivial cost. Less than $10 for a new domain 
name, and a few dollars a month for domain space. The necessary 
contact information is held by the proxies in addition to being 
centrally registered. And this is how the *real* organization can 
defend itself against proxy fraud. Essentially, it simply ignores it, 
and it only takes one member to monitor the fraud just in case there 
is something valuable there. FA/DP is, in theory, highly efficient.)

As readers of this list know, I can go on and on. Please, if you are 
interested in Proxy Democracy, Delegable Proxy, and/or the Free 
Association process, register at BeyondPolitics.org so that we can 
begin to develop consensus positions and analysis of these things, to 
support the formation of real organizations.

The Finnish organization which we have just learned about, how does 
it govern itself? I'll note that this is a critical question. All too 
often, democratic reform organizations are organized oligarchically. 
In fact, I don't know of any major exceptions here. Distrust of 
democracy is endemic, it is considered, among other things, highly 
inefficient. That can be fixed; DP will do it.

If the Finnish organization is itself a proxy democracy, then it 
could become FA and/or DP overnight. There is no need to wait for the 
public governmental structure to change. If you can grow the 
organization itself, so that participation becomes broader and 
broader, changes to the public structure may take place must faster 
than you would expect. Because you will have the coordinated power to 
do it, you will have developed consensus proposals *before* trying to 
get them passed into law. The actual changes, once you are ready, will be easy.

And, I suspect, those changes will consider the needs of those who 
currently are the oligarchs. The oligarchs actually don't want to 
control (most of them); rather their goals are private and they only 
want to control in order to secure their private goals, such as 
wealth and the power to command organized effort (for which they can 
pay if they have the wealth, it call comes with wealth). The FA/DP 
organization will *include* them, it will not oppose them. They will 
only experience opposition if they try to stop others from organizing 
and acting freely. And in this case they would clearly deserve what 
they would get, which with an FA/DP revolution, would be that they 
would waste their resources trying to stop it. FA/DP organizations 
don't punish, period. They simply withdraw support from someone or 
some organization which they no longer trust.

Special interest wealth depends upon continued support from at least 
a large segment of the public. Corporations depend on customers as 
well as employees. The wealthy depend on the willingness of enough 
people to sell themselves. Once people have a choice, do we think 
that they will choose to be slaves contrary to their own interest?

Some of them will rationally choose to be slaves, but only because 
they trust the masters whom they voluntarily choose. As there were in 
times of slavery, there will be good masters, "benevolent dictators," 
or people who might simply be called "honorable leaders."

>  Is this possible without the use of advanced
>technology like, say, public key cryptography?

Yes. It's called secret ballot, and it is standard process. If you 
want it to be electronic on an unsecured network, then you need good 
cryptography or the like. But just to do it you only need a ballot 
and a ballot box and a voting booth with curtains.

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