[EM] Trees by Proxy

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Mon Mar 26 07:08:03 PDT 2007

At 01:51 AM 3/26/2007, Dave Ketchum wrote:
Responding to Abd with a clarification on time:

>If a change in proxies means a legislator loses floor rights 
>tomorrow, tomorrow is when those changes affect his voting power.

What Ketchum has done is to connect floor rights with voting power, 
rigidly. But voting power, as I've mentioned, properly comes from the 
voters, not from the assembly, and participation rights in a meeting 
-- generally, of any kind -- come from the meeting, i.e., the 
assembly. You can elect a representative from New York, but if the 
House considers the participation of that person offensive, it can 
censure him or her and prevent what it considers disruption. Proxy 
voting allows the disconnection of voting rights from participation 
rights. It would seem that Ketchum has overlooked this, except that 
he also disconnected them *to a degree*. That is, he provided for a 
certain level of proxies in order to be able to vote in the assembly, 
and for a higher number in order to have floor rights. So he knows 
they are different.

If proxy voting is allowed in an assembly, the assembly might be able 
to censure the representative, but this would not interrupt, 
necessarily, his power to vote.

Conversely, if a loss of proxies results in a loss of automatic floor 
rights, the assembly can continue to grant them, without continuing 
to consider proxies that have been revoked. Floor rights might 
continue, for example, to the end of the session. Even if the proxy 
loses *all* assigned proxies, he or she would still have one vote. 
And if it no longer serves the assembly for the person to 
participate, it can revoke these extended rights.

One must consider the harm involved in latency. I would argue that 
the citizen is harmed if a proxy may, without permission, continue to 
cast the citizen's vote, and society is also harmed because the goal 
is for decisions to reflect as broad a consensus as possible, minimum 
majority, and when this is not true, society is weakened. But who is 
harmed by the continued participation of a proxy who has lost 
support? Only the assembly. So only the assembly has the proper right 
to regulate it.

Ketchum is trying to set up rigid rules that an assembly would be 
obligated to follow, instead of simply a suggested framework. The 
U.S. Constitution doesn't even set up that framework, apparently 
assuming that the House and Senate will adopt their own rules. 
Certain actions require a certain degree of consensus, 
constitutionally, that's all.

>>>Abd claims familiarity with Robert's Rules, as do I.  I notice 
>>>that a body must obey laws, and any rules established for it by 
>>>superior bodies.  It also may establish rules that cannot be too 
>>>easily changed without serious thought.
>To Abd:  Sure, the US Senate has less laws to obey than village 
>boards - SO WHAT?

I didn't say what one might think from this response. So what, indeed!

>A quick glance at Robert's Rules:
>Bylaws HAD BETTER see to requiring a quorum.

Indeed. Did I imply otherwise?

>They BETTER say something like the paragraph I quote:  "These bylaws 
>may be amended at any regular meeting of the Society by a two-thirds 
>vote, provided that the amendment has been submitted in writing at 
>the previous regular meeting."

Ketchum is overlooking something quite important. The above is the 
standard process, in organizations where it is difficult to assembly 
a majority of members and it might even, sometimes, be difficult to 
assemble quorum.

(This was a constant problem with Cummington Town Meeting, there 
would often be a lot of phone-calling to try to pull in enough voters 
to constitute a quorum, and quorum was pretty low. 5%? But if there 
was some big controversy before the Meeting, the hall would be 
packed. When the Town voted on a resolution to instruct our 
congressional representatives to act to withdraw National Guard 
troops from Iraq, it was packed. And there were lots of passionate 
speeches, on both sides. Rachel Maddow has her residence in 
Cummington, and was there, and spoke. Quite cogent, she is. One of 
the members of the Board of Selectmen argued against the resolution 
on the grounds of our obligations under international law, as an 
occupying power, to maintain order. He's correct on the obligation 
but not, in my opinion, on the application. The vote was something 
like 100 to 2 in favor of the resolution.... I'd say that every 
dissenter spoke. A secret ballot election, held at a different time, 
however, would quite likely have uncovered a lot of No votes, those 
who would have voted No preferentially staying away from the meeting, 
knowing the sense of the town and considering it useless to attend. A 
proxy system would have allowed all these No votes to be represented 
through even a single proxy. I'm not suggesting that such proxy votes 
be binding, but that they would be reported, to give a more accurate 
measure of town opinion, and I think that such proxy votes would more 
closely match what a convenient secret ballot election would turn up.)

But what I referred to was an alternate rule, that bypasses the rule 
stated. The two-thirds rule is two-thirds of a quorum. But two-thirds 
of the total number of eligible voters isn't required, what is 
required is at most an absolute majority.  Here is the full rule, 
from the 1915 edition:

>Constitutions, by-laws, and rules of order, that have been adopted 
>and contain no rule for their amendment, may be amended at any 
>regular business meeting by a vote of the majority of the entire 
>membership; or, if the amendment was submitted in writing at the 
>previous regular business meeting, then they may be amended by a 
>two-thirds vote of those voting, a quorum being present.

Now, this refers to bylaws and rules with no incorporated provision 
for amendment, it is the default. Often the rules incorporated will 
set a two-thirds vote of a quorum restriction, being silent on the 
matter of an absolute majority, since it is so rare (*without proxy 
voting*) to assemble such a majority, two-thirds of a quorum is 
normally a much smaller number, except in small and relatively 
intimate organizations with very high participation. If an assembly 
is free, however, not subject to rules from some higher authority, an 
absolute majority can, without notice, effectively do just about 
anything. It can simply rule that the bylaws permit immediate 
amendment, because the majority is itself the arbiter of the rules, 
there is no higher authority (in a free assembly, not constrained by, 
say, state law). If it were considered that it could not amend the 
bylaws, it could, for example, create a new organization with 
whatever bylaws it chooses and transfer all the assets of the 
existing organization to it.

This is why an absolute majority has such power over the constitution 
and bylaws. It can do everything else! Notice is not required because 
it is presumably moot. Even if every otherwise absent member were to 
show up, they could not prevail against an absolute majority.

Now, that an absolute majority has such power does not mean that it 
should necessarily use it. I'd consider it rude to take drastic 
action without notice, because to do so would deprive the minority of 
the ability to present countering arguments, and it is impossible to 
predict, in general, whether or not these arguments would prevail. An 
absolute majority would ordinarily be interested in hearing these 
arguments. There may be *elements* within the majority which would 
not want that, fearing the loss of support, but it would be 
extraordinarily foolish for all members to think that way. (They have 
to be ignorant of their true position in order to think this.)

>That combination does not prevent stupidity such as setting 
>quorum=1, but it does prevent a wannabe czar from doing such without 

The rules properly prevent it. The notice requirements, even if 
quorum were set as one, which is insane, prevent a czar from pulling 
it off without some kind of consent. Note, however, that quorum could 
include those who are present by proxy. So a single person could 
manage it, if that person represented two-thirds of the members. 
Indeed, if the person represented a majority of members, it might be 
possible. This is why, indeed, I'd provide for some latency before 
resolutions are implemented, where they involve such a small number 
of actual participants. But that latency need not be long, and if 
direct voting is allowed, say by internet or mail, all it would take 
is a number of relatively high-level proxies, clients of the 
superproxy, intervening to either block or confirm the action of the 

>Assuming there is someone holding a single proxy who is ready to 
>contribute usefully, their obvious next step is to get to hold 
>enough proxies to demonstrate backing.

Why? That's a lot of work, and it has nothing to do with whether or 
not the voter is competent. All we are talking about is the voter 
having the right to be counted, not to take up the time of everyone, 
and it is the latter consideration that leads inexorably to 
representative democracy. The arguments of incompetence and 
incapacity are essentially anti-democratic.

Basically, if we assume that a voter is incompetent to vote, does 
this mean that the voter *must* vote through a proxy? Why? Only if a 
large number of voters are similarly incompetent and simultaneously 
determined to vote directly would it affect outcomes negatively. And 
if they *can't* vote, what we are doing is to act for them without 
their permission. We are *requiring* them to pass this power on to 
someone. We have made it better than present practice, to be sure, 
since there will be a wide range of people they can choose as proxy.

But why give them less power than would have, say, the owner of one 
share in a corporation which has millions of shares outstanding? Such 
an owner can attend the annual meeting and vote. And this is totally 
proper. Sometimes corporations have developed rules that prevent such 
an isolated shareholder from entering motions, and, again, this is, 
perhaps, proper.

Ketchum is arguing for limiting voting rights without having *at all* 
stated a reason to do so. It is, apparently, simply assumed that this 
is what should be done.

Now, I've stated again and again, when proposing direct voting be 
allowed even in high assemblies, that this might be sometimes 
restricted for practical considerations. These consideration, under 
present conditions, in most assemblies, would not limit direct 
voting. The internet has made this far more practical that it would 
have otherwise been, but it was always possible. Without the 
internet, and without a meeting space adequate to admit all who might 
desire to attend, perhaps a resolution, for the final vote -- not 
intermediate process votes, but the vote on the Main Motion -- would 
be posted, together with the immediate vote of the assembly and a 
tentative proxy expansion, and then direct votes accepted by written 
ballot. This involves a small delay, and I would presume that the 
delay could be bypassed upon a declaration of emergency, but such a 
declaration better be for good reason, or there might be a lot of 
proxy changes..... I'd be offended if it were done simply to avoid 
the possibility of reversal by an electorate not prepared to accept 
the actions of its proxies! And I think I'd pull the proxy of any 
proxy who voted to do this without good cause.

What I'm suggesting is that direct voting be the default, that it is 
routinely allowed whenever it is practically possible. This keeps us 
completely within the traditional definition of "proxy."

This is *not* the same as the many direct democracy proposals that 
have been made over the last few years, because the institution of 
the proxy allows representation and avoids the impossible 
inefficiency of requiring all to vote or lose power. I've seen many 
organizations that kept with direct democracy and did not allow proxy 
voting fail, because what happens is that, ultimately, the 
organization falls into the hands of a few who are willing to endure 
the long meetings..... and this is a biased sample, often the most 
fanatic of the members. This explains how many advocacy organizations 
become more and more radical, to the left or right. Communists were 
famously able to take over labor organizations by simply being 
persistent at meetings, whereas ordinary workers had families to care 
for, and perhaps cared about their job performance as well.

>Abd talks of "majority consent" as if not noticing that a holder of 
>51% of the proxies would be, by that, a majority.

I don't know why Ketchum thinks I haven't noticed that. I gave it as 
one alternate definition of a superproxy. Remember, I'm arguing for 
allowing direct voting, and probably remote voting as part of that, 
though not necessarily. If direct voting is allowed, and if, for 
example, any voter whose vote was counted as part of the winning 
majority can move, directly or through a new proxy, for 
Reconsideration, the action of a superproxy must effectively enjoy 
the continued consent of a majority. If direct voting is allowed, the 
clients of the superproxy may see the tentative outcome and the vote 
of the superproxy and decide to vote directly, and it might only take 
just one of them, if this voter was himself a high-level proxy, 
enough to pull away the majority.

The requirements to limit the number of exercisable proxies come from 
the disallowance of direct voting, coupled with the required delay in 
proxy reassignment that Ketchum would institute. He has argued for 
the necessity of neither of these. He simply assumes them, and then 
tries to explain that it could work.

>>>Proxies held give the elder powers discussed above in village government:
>>>     Holding enough, they can be active.
>>>     Holding too few, two or more can combine strengths to make 
>>> one of their number active in village government.  While this 
>>> could be called a proxy, I see no reason to apply the same 
>>> restrictions as are discussed above.
>Abd objects, but I see no useful response.

I objected that the significance of what was written was unclear. 
Ketchum may take this protest as not useful, though "not useful" to *whom*?

If he wants his writing to be clear, I'd presume that *he* would find 
it useful that a reader who has spent twenty years considering 
precisely this topic finds what he has written unclear. But it is up to him....

What he described in what was quoted above is simply standard 
delegable proxy. He sees "no reason" to apply the "same restrictions" 
at the village level, but he has never given us reasons to apply 
those restrictions above that level. He just stated it as a rule, and 
what he has now written implies that there are reasons for the rule, 
but he has not shared them with us.

Given that I've come up with hosts of reasons for such restrictive 
rules, and have rejected them on deeper consideration, should I, in 
response, dredge up all of these rejected reasons and then argue 
against them. I already write far too much! I've mentioned a few of 
them where they seemed to me to be the most common ones, and Ketchum 
has already complained that this was not useful.... Perhaps that's 
because they are not *his* reasons.

But what *are* his reasons? Should we guess?

Why should direct voting be disallowed?

Why should there be an artificial delay -- more than procedurally 
necessary -- in changes of proxy assignments?

Why should there be a limitation on the number of proxies exercisable 
by a single proxy?

The third question has been answered to some degree, but the answers 
depend upon the disallowance of direct voting and the proxy 
assignment latency. The first two questions, the most important, 
haven't been answered at all, as far as I can tell.

In standard corporate practice, which might involve billions of 
dollars in assets, more than the budget of a small country, a single 
proxy can make whatever lawful decisions are possible, if the proxy 
enjoys a majority of active shareholders (those who cast votes 
directly or by proxy). There is no restriction, nor should there be 
an intrinsic one. (There are some legal requirements that bind the 
majority in some ways, and they bind any kind of majority, they are 
not related to how many votes have been exercised by one proxy. For 
example, a majority cannot vote to give itself all the shares and 
revoke the shares of all other shareholders. It must consider the 
welfare of *all* shareholders. This rule is, to be sure, sometimes 
violated. And sometimes the violators end up in jail....)

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