[EM] Advanced Voting Systems: the Dirty Little Secret

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Wed Dec 24 09:28:33 PST 2008

At 11:33 PM 12/21/2008, Michael Allan wrote:
>Hi Abd,
> > His solution just could make advanced voting systems moot, intellectual
> > curiosities, unusual of application. Allow the first preference candidate
> > on the ballot to "own" the votes, to be reassigned at the discretion of
> > this candidate, "as if it were their own property." Smith used the "asset"
> > metaphor, which is the same. Candidate proxy, though, is more descriptive,
> > that's what it is, so here I will use that term.
>I'm interested in how this meshes with continuous voting.  I haven't
>read Carroll's pamphlet [1].  I read some of Duncan Black's analysis
>of it.  He says that the votes are alienated from the original
>casters.  Candidates treat them "as if they were their own private
>property" [2, quoting Carroll].

I haven't been able to find the original pamphlet yet, it's expensive 
to buy the collection it is in. Eventually, I'll get it.

"Alienated" should be considered a relative term. Compared to what? 
Compared to standard representative democracy, far, far less. Sure, 
voters could change their minds, and are stuck until the next 
election. But how likely is this when voters have almost total 
freedom to pick the candidate they most trust? If access to 
"candidacy" is made easy, this is really, in practice, unrestricted; 
in particular, if the voter doesn't trust anyone sufficiently, the 
voter *could* register as a candidate, if it is made easy enough. In 
fact, what I've proposed is that registration, per se, is free. What 
one gets is a number or unique code that can be used on the ballot. 
What may cost a (small) fee is baving one's availability printed in a 
directory, a booklet available on-line and at polling places. The 
polling place booklet would have a deadline sufficient to allow 
printing. Etc....

Continuous voting has a problem with public elections where control 
of sovereign power is involved, and that is security. If the 
mechanisms of vote transfer are hidden, how can we be sure, as the 
public, that those who control the site have not subverted it, or 
that others haven't hacked it. It becomes a relatively vulnerable 
target, compared to the possible benefits, to the fraud, of success. 
Put a trillion dollars behind hacking a supposedly secure system, 
which side would you bet on?

In this "secure system," it's almost certain that *somebody* can 
access true identities. Wholesale. Thus the protections of secret 
ballot are lost. An Asset system creates a subset of voters who are 
"public voters." Under difficult conditions, public voters can be 
restricted to those who represent enough voters that providing 
security is practical. That security is not practical for single 
voters; there is also a possible problem in allowing electors only 
supported by one or two: possible small-scale coercion. However, my 
own opinion is that this would be rare enough, and could be address 
through ordinary laws against coercion and intimidation, that it 
would have no effect on outcomes. I mention it because the possible 
examples *are* raised: Spouse says to spouse: vote for me or else 
I'll beat you to a pulp or freeze you out in some way. Spouse gets no 
vote, except his or her own? But intimidated people, on that scale, 
if it's likely to succeed, are already intimidated and quite likely 
to vote as coerced. I don't think it is or will be a big enough 
factor to stand public policy on it. I'm much more worried about 
organized violence against voters who vote the "wrong" way, and an 
ordinary secret ballot/Asset system isn't exposed to that to any 
significant degree.

>But if the votes were open to recasting in real time, then they'd no
>longer be alienable.  They'd remain the "property" of the original
>casters, firmly in their hands *despite* the fact of delegation.
>(This is an interesting combination.)

It's Delegable Proxy. That is the principal difference between 
Delegable Proxy -- which is continuously reassignable -- and Asset 
Voting. Asset is DP with a secret ballot layer, done with elections 
on some interval, with some possibility of special elections with 
certain triggers. Given that voting in an Asset election could be 
made very easy, that campaign costs disappear, that all that needs to 
happen is that voters affirm whom they most trust, and they will 
presumably know this person well and many will watch closely what the 
Asset elector does, many of our assumptions about elections might go 
away. Some people still won't vote, but they will be people who 
generally trust what the rest of the public is doing. Seriously 
discontented? Why not vote? The voter *will* be counted, it will do 
something. Under current conditions, serious discontent will often 
result in effective apathy. Or, in the other direction, in violent 
action against governmental power, with an anger that is against the 
majority and all who conspire with it. This is the kind of response 
that motivated Timothy McVeigh.

It is possible to avoid this except with the truly insane.

>Who was the first to explore the idea of recasting votes in a
>continuous proxy election?  Do you know of any sources?

I don't know. Continuous proxy exists, shareholders can change their 
proxies at any time; but *normally* proxies only count at the annual 
meeting. However, in theory, shareholders can demand a special 
meeting, if they can assemble enough votes. (i.e., share proxies). 
Any organization which allows proxy voting is, for practical 
purposes, continuous proxy. And that's very, very old, it's common 
law with property rights. It's been generally shut out when property 
rights aren't involved; however, the reasons seem to mostly have to 
do with proxies *not* normally being used; a sudden gathering of 
proxies can then unfairly shift results. There are easy ways to deal 
with this, though. The other reason wouldn't be formally stated: not 
allowing proxy voting preserves the power of the highly involved, 
those with the strongest interests *and* the time to pursue them by 
attending meetings in person, too bad for single parents, etc.

The fear is the basic fear of democracy. However, I consider directed 
voting, which is what many seem to associate with proxy voting in 
small organizations which have prohibited it, to be something quite 
different from a proxy who simply votes the proxy's own best opinion, 
which vote may then be weighted according to the number of voters 
assigning trust. Thus we are *not* looking at a dangerous populist 
system, especially of proxies come to be assigned on a small scale, 
people understanding that if they give their votes to a massively 
popular politician, they get far less than they do if they give it to 
someone they can sit down and talk with on occasion. In the latter 
case, they gain a communications channel, in the former, they simply 
support an image they have been presented.

It's common to mistrust politicians. The mistrust is well-founded: 
present systems encourage politicians to tell people what they know 
people want to hear. People will, at present, vote for someone who is 
telling them what they want to hear, *even though they suspect the 
person is lying,* because they hope that, to some degree at least, 
the politician will perform or attempt to perform on those promises, 
to preserve his or her own power. It makes sense. Given the present 
system, where they really don't have a better choice.

>   [1]. Lewis Carroll.  1884.  The Principles of Parliamentary
>        Representation.  Harrison and Sons.  London.
>   [2]. Duncan Black.  1969.  Lewis Carroll and the theory of games.
>        The American Economic Review.  59(2), p. 210.

Carroll was the first I know of to propose votes transferable by the 
first preference candidate. He was concerned with proportional 
representation and how to deal with the problem of voters not knowing 
enough to intelligently rank more than one or maybe a few candidates, 
and thus the alternate problems of exhausted, unused ballots or 
useless rankings that reflect, if anything, nothing more than name 
recognition without hatred attached to it.

I don't know that he realized the deeper implications, that this 
tweak to STV could become the whole show, and lead to quasi-direct 
democracy. Once there are electors holding votes, and those votes are 
cast publicly, the problem of scale that afflicts direct democracy 
and is generally considered insoluble, is solved -- or reduced by an 
order or by orders of magnitude.

Representative democracy arose from two directions: systems where the 
representatives were appointed by the sovereign became 
representatives appointed by an election process, or direct 
democracies ran into the problem of scale and then decided to use 
elections, not knowing an alternative. Pure Asset isn't really an 
election, it's the naming of a proxy, a pure and possibly 
unconstrained choice, except for the time constraint. (The proxy 
isn't revocable until the next election.)

Beyond that initial election, however, votes may be continuously 
reassignable, that's possible and even desirable. I.e., the electors 
may use a form of delegable proxy to facilitate amalgamation to 
create seats -- or to remove them or advise them. (And to be advised.)

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