[EM] Path to a Proxy Legislature

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Wed Mar 28 11:02:01 PDT 2007

In discussions here under the thread "Trees by Proxy," a proxy 
legislature was under consideration. As part of this discussion, the 
question of practicality came up, i.e., of this or that provision, 
which might possibly, as representing a greater change, prevent implementation.

It occurred to me to outline a possible path from here to there.

It begins with Asset Voting. Asset Voting preserves secret ballot at 
the first stage but effectively becomes delegable proxy for the 
purpose of electing the assembly. The basic concept of Asset is that 
voters choose one or more candidates to receive their votes, called 
Assets. If more than one is chosen, in the original version by Warren 
Smith, voters could assign any three-place decimal fraction in the 
range of 0 to 1 to the candidates. There are other implementations 
which are simpler for voters, including what I called Fractional 
Approval Asset Voting, FAAV. It is approval because the voter may 
vote for more than one. It is fractional because if the voter votes 
for more than one, the vote is divided among them. As a practical 
matter, it is possible that a voter could get, say, 10 votes and 
could destribute them as desired. In that, it is like cumulative voting.

However, FAAV is Asset Voting because the votes then received by the 
candidates are disposable by the candidates in order to elect 
winners. We are here assuming a multiwinner election, and in 
particular, of a legislature with a single district, state-wide. A 
quota of votes is required for election to the legislature. So if a 
candidate receives the quota or more, directly, that candidate -- at 
his or her option -- is immediately elected. In any case, votes not 
used up to elect a winner remain disposable, at the discretion of the 
candidate holding them. This is essentially proxy or delegable proxy 
(and I recommend it be delegable proxy because it makes it more 
practical for votes to be assigned in relatively small numbers and 
still concentrate rapidly).

Asset Voting converts the private, secret votes of individual voters 
into public electors, who then determine, as the proxies of those who 
voted for them, the winner(s). Because they can bargain and use 
deliberative process, the results are not predictable. I will note, 
however, that if write-in votes are allowed, anyone can serve as an 
elector, including the voter himself or herself. There are, in some 
contexts, security considerations that might require secret 
reassignment of voters where the voter-candidate holds less than a 
certain number of votes. Beyond that number it becomes practical for 
the society to protect the electors.

Perhaps for this discussion it would be better to assume, from the 
outset, that candidates must be registered as such; if the 
registration requirements are simple, and if a means is provided to 
clearly specify from a large number of candidates on the ballot, this 
may be very little loss of democratic power.

I have elsewhere described that Asset may be used to elect a 
legislature that is *mostly* district-based, with the districts being 
defined on-the-fly by the electors. If votes are reassigned in 
precinct blocks, it becomes, then, possible to create winners whose 
votes come from specific areas as shown in the voting records. It is 
likely, then, that most voters would have a local representative, 
with a district including their location; districts, of course, will 
overlap, and there might be a few legislators with a district that 
includes the entire state. This provides maximum representation to 
minorities, without needing to define them. They are defined by how 
they amalgamate their votes.

Okay, so now we have a fully-proportional, *chosen* legislature.

The next step is obvious. The electors remain, and may reassign their 
votes at any time. Again, the simplest way to do this is probably 
through delegable proxy, where every elector assigns a proxy to 
another; every elector may directly change their proxy assignment, 
effective immediately; and this propagates up the hierarchy it 
creates until it actually changes the vote assignments of legislators.

(Some worry about proxy loops. Loops are inevitable at the highest 
levels, if everyone assigns a proxy; the only problem with loops is 
when they take place at a low level. And there is an extremely simple 
solution: if a loop leaves someone unrepresented, that elector is 
notified and if any elector in a loop changes their proxy assignment 
to someone outside the loop, the loop is broken and connected to a 
larger group.)

I have considered it possible that schemes could be set up whereby a 
peer legislature is maintained. But it is far more flexible if the 
voting power of legislators varies with their current proxy assignments.

As long as the secret ballot assignment of votes to electors is 
maintained, direct voting on the part of citizens remains impossible, 
for there is no way to reconcile these votes with the votes cast by 
the legislator-proxies. However, direct voting *could* be implemented 
for electors, since their vote assignments are known. Votes in the 
legislature then become continuously representative of the electors, 
who either vote directly or by proxy.

What, then, does it mean to be "elected"? It means that the 
legislator gains "floor rights." This is the right, subject to 
assembly rules, to speak in the assembly and to enter motions. It has 
been pointed out that some level of uncertainty and practical 
disturbance would exist if floor rights depended continuously on 
proxy counts. But I see no reason why these have to be rigidly 
connected. There is little harm if a legislator maintains floor 
rights beyond the time when he or she holds a quota of proxies. All 
that changes is the number of votes cast. And when a new legislator 
gains floor rights, the proxy of that legislator remains active until 
the legislator takes his or her seat -- and even beyond then, because 
I assume that legislators, even though having floor rights, may still 
vote by proxy. So the implementation of actual floor rights may under 
some circumstances be delayed a time. All this would be a matter of 
assembly rules, and if direct voting is maintained by electors, the 
electors can control those rules, effectively excluding some of 
themselves in the name of legislative efficiency, but never thereby 
losing voting power.

The largest step here is Asset Voting.

Oddly enough, when I first heard of Single Transferable Vote, and it 
was before I knew of Smith's Asset Voting, I thought that this was 
what it meant: that the candidates receiving votes could transfer 
them.... It must not be such a terribly strange idea.....

The problem, of course, with STV and similar schemes is that it is 
not flexible, it rigidly determines outcomes at the time of the 
election can has no power to adjust to ongoing circumstances. STV for 
a large-district many-winner legislature could produce similar 
initial composition of the legislature, though Asset has the 
potential of making expensive campaigning a fish bicycle; with Asset 
no votes are wasted, even those cast for someone who gets very few. 
(None at all would be the result if not for security concerns; if I 
want to coerce your vote, I could require you to vote for yourself. 
And then, from that point on, I know exactly how you vote.... And I 
know if you did not vote for yourself as well....)

(Of course, some votes could be wasted: a holder of votes could 
refuse to use them to create winners; but if direct voting is 
allowed, even then there is little harm, since the voting power remains.)

Proposals for direct democracy are typically rejected, even by 
progressives, because of the problem of scale. But the problem of 
scale is a problem of deliberation, not of voting power. This may be 
one of the most important realizations to come out of these 
discussions. There is a solution to the problem of scale in 
democracy. Delegable Proxy. With appropriate assembly rules, it 
creates a deliberative body of manageable size, while leaving the 
voting power in the hands of the public, but, normally, exercised 
through proxies who can become informed regarding the business of the 
assembly. The everyday citizen is not required to follow all this, 
except to the extent that he or she is specifically interested; the 
important choice that citizens may make is: whom do you trust?

All forms of representative democracy involve such a delegation of 
trust. What is new is the idea of using this to elect 
representatives, rather than only for deliberation in a representative body.

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