[EM] proxy ideas: continual consideration, and proxy committees

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Fri Mar 26 12:49:02 PDT 2010

Glad to see you back, James. I hoped you'd go where you are going. 
I've done quite a bit of work in the field now, have a much clearer 
idea about much of it.

At 06:54 AM 3/26/2010, James Green-Armytage wrote:
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>Dear election methods fans,
>It's good to see that this list is still alive and well. I attended 
>the public choice society meeting in Monterey two weeks ago, and it 
>made me think of the list. Really there is a lot of overlap between the two.

This list and the Public Choice Society? In terms of membership or in 
terms of topics, or both?

>Anyway, as some of you know, I've been thinking about proxy voting 
>systems for a long time, but for some reason I've been a bit leery 
>about attempting to publish anything formally. Well, I've decided 
>that this is silly of me. There is already a fairly recent (2006) 
>paper about proxy voting in the Public Choice journal (by Dan 
>Alger), so there's no need to write a paper that simply introduces 
>the concept. What I'd like to do instead is to write a paper that 
>reviews as many as possible of the different ideas and applications 
>that people have come up with (I'd like the online literature to get 
>some recognition in the academic literature), and then introduces an 
>idea or two of my own, probably focusing around the idea of 
>"continual consideration of all issues".

A review of the idea and its history could be quite useful. For 
reference, the Dan Alger paper, which, unfortunately, I have not 

>So, I have two topics to address with you all:
>1. To ask for any references that you think I should include.
>2. To introduce and discuss the idea that I will probably want to 
>focus on, which is "continual consideration of all issues", plus one 
>more idea, which is the idea of "proxy committees".

My opinion is that some study of the field attempts to leapfrog what 
should be intermediate steps, i.e., trying to work out how delegable 
proxy might function in a political environment, excercising 
sovereign power. I believe we need more experience with it in NGOs, 
and, even more importantly than for the exercise of power, for 
negotiating consensus and thus organizational unity and efficiency.

To begin the practical study or application of delegable proxy, it 
should be as simple as possible, and the general function of what I 
call the client/proxy relationship should be considered. I have an 
operating opinion that single-proxy will produce more effective 
communication, particularly in the non-secret-ballot environment, 
which is where work should start. However, effective committees would 
arise naturally, but it's important that every member be *connected* 
with the whole by an identified link. Alternate links can exist. I'll 
get into this more below.

>Let's start with the call for references. Basically anyone who can 
>shed any light on the history of the proxy democracy concept will be 
>helpful at this stage. Citable papers (whether published formally, 
>published online, or unpublished as long as some date of origin can 
>be established or reliably vouched for) are useful, and 
>organizations who have promoted proxy voting are useful as well. So 
>far I've found a few excellent sources via the wikipedia page for 
>proxy voting, so thank you to those of you who helped to build that 
>page. Here are a few of the references that I want to include so far:
>Tullock, Gordon: Toward a Mathematics of Politics. University of 
>Michigan Press, 144-157.
>Miller, James: A Program for Direct and Proxy Voting in the 
>Legislative Process. Public Choice 7 (Fall 1969), 107-113.
>Black, Duncan: Lewis Carroll and the Theory of Games. The American 
>Economic Review 59:2 (May 1969), 206-210.
>Ford, Bryan: Delegative Democracy. Unpublished manuscript, dated 2002.
>Alger, Dan: Voting by Proxy. Public Choice 126 (2006), 1-26.
>Yamakawa, Hiroshi, Michiko Yoshida, and Motohiro Tsuchiya: Toward 
>Delegated Democracy: Vote by Yourself, or Trust Your Network. World 
>Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology (Spring 2007), 146-150
>Plus one or two of my own online papers, I suppose.

The deleted Wikipedia article had more, you can find it at the 
electorama wiki, I believe, associated with this list. If it's not 
there, I may have a copy.

I'm glad you have Black, but you should cite the original paper by 
Carroll. The other important point to note is that delegable proxy is 
already a reality, in the sense that a proxy generally has the power 
to further delegate the actual exercise of power. What we are talking 
about is a system that extends this so that delegation is routine.

We should also realize that *informal* delegable proxy is how human 
societies operate. All we are doing is making something formal, and 
thus more easily accessible to anyone, that already exists, but in a 
less open and less reliable form.

>I'd like to say something about Demoex, but I'm not quite sure what 
>paper to use. There is one called "Flexible Representation by Use of 
>Delegated Voting", which seems pretty good. It's in Swedish, but I 
>can probably get the gist using google translate. Likewise I'd like 
>to say something about Vivarto, but I'm not sure exactly what. I'd 
>like to say something about Abd's work on free association delegable 
>proxy, and I'd like to know if there's a specific core document that 
>I can cite for that. I see references to something called Liquid 
>Democracy here and there, but so far I haven't been able to find a 
>specific document for that either. Does anyone know about this? If 
>there's anything else important that I'm missing so far (and I would 
>have to imagine that there is), please let me know.

There is no single document showing my work, which has matured, 
generally, over the time I've been writing about it. FA/DP is a 
special application of DP where it is used only for the negotiation 
of consensus and other commnication between individuals and the whole 
association, in an FA, the power remains almost entirely with the 
individual members. FAs work, Alcoholics Anonymous may be the best 
known. Applying delegable proxy to it, and using the concept for 
general purposes, is new.

But we do have, now, one example of an election using Asset Voting. 
The formal rules weren't well-considered, being tossed up ad-hoc by 
Clay Shentrup, but the power of the Asset principle was so great that 
the prodecural obstacles didn't matter. This was the election of a 
3-member steering committee for the Election Science Foundation, by 
secret ballot, with 17 persons voting. The results were unexpected. 
Yet the results were clearly completely fair, and resulted in either 
complete representation, or representation of all but one. (There was 
one person who later said he didn't understand how it would work, but 
it's not clear at all that he'd have chosen anyone different.)

>=== 2. NEW PROXY IDEAS ===
>Now on to the introduction of new ideas.
>2.1. "Continual consideration of all issues": (One of the more 
>futuristic, utopian versions of the proxy democracy concept.) The 
>basic idea here is that everyone has a computer account that stores 
>their vote on every single political issue in their nation or 
>jurisdiction, of which there may be thousands. Included are issues 
>that may have already been voted on, but have ongoing effects, and 
>can be feasibly changed or reversed in the future. Anyone can go 
>ahead and change their vote on one of these issues at any time, and 
>there will be a central database that keeps track of these changes, 
>and continues to aggregate them into a majority position, which may 
>change over time. In the interest of stability, I'd say that policy 
>doesn't change immediately when this majority position changes, but 
>rather that the legislature and/or executive have some discretion in 
>terms of delaying any policy change until a period of public focus 
>and discussion on the issue can take place.

Let me suggest something. Don't focus, at first, on new ideas that 
haven't been discussed. Don't use the paper as a platform for your 
own new ideas. Rather, keep it more academic, and focus on the ideas 
of others, keeping your own proposals to a minimum.

Why this proposal is utterly impractical should be made clear. It 
isn't delegable proxy, and it runs into the same problem as any 
direct democratic process runs into: the deliberation. What works is 
deliberative democracy. On a small scale, it can be direct democracy, 
but even there, the practical reality is that a few vote for the 
many, based on who shows up. This, in fact, is range voting, if you 
think about it, whenever an issue is known in advance.

"Continual consideration" is the norm in peer societies, following 
specific rules of procedure. Basically, any decision can be 
reconsidered under the rules, there are limits only to prevent 
holding the same argument over and over.

>The reasoning behind this idea, of course, is that it would vastly 
>expand the number of issues that people can formally act on at any 
>given time. Without this system, there may be many issues on which 
>the majority opinion differs substantially from the status quo, but 
>the political system does not take notice, because it can only 
>handle a few things at a time.
>Of course, this idea would be ridiculously impractical without the 
>use of some kind of proxy system. For example, when you first sign 
>on to the system (e.g. at age 18 or whatever), you have nothing but 
>thousands of blank issues with no preference registered. Rather than 
>filling them all out one by one, which would take far too long, you 
>can start by simply naming a proxy, i.e. someone who has elected to 
>make their own votes known. Then, immediately you have all of your 
>issues filled in, and they will track any vote changes that your 
>proxy makes. Beyond this, you can go on to customize it as much as 
>you like. You can view your votes as they stand, and change them 
>individually if you find that you disagree with your proxy's 
>position. You can, for a single issue or for a category of issues, 
>indicate a different proxy. And so on.

Yes. This idea works if delegable proxy is in place, and if proxies 
are chosen based on individual trustworthiness, as perceived by the voter.

Note that Asset Voting can function like this, with one difference: 
the "continuous consideration" is that of the electors, i.e., all 
those who received votes in the Assembly election. That allows secret 
ballot, the other big problem with direct democracy and those 
computer voting ideas. If anyone can run as a candidate, at minimal 
cost, this really only means that voters can choose if they want to 
participate further or to leave it to others while they get on with 
their lives....

>2.2. "Proxy committees": Instead of naming a single person as my 
>proxy, I can name a list of people, to serve as sort of a virtual 
>committee that decides just my own vote. Perhaps I should be able to 
>assign them different voting weights, but this doesn't seem 
>important. Now, my vote will be cast according to the majority 
>opinion of my committee. For example, if I create a committee with 9 
>proxies, and 6 vote yes on an issue while 3 vote no, then I 
>automatically vote yes on that issue.

Warren Smith's Asset Voting paper gave every voter one full vote, and 
they could divide it however they chose. Only a mathematician.... The 
simplest version, usable with a standard ballot listing candidates, 
is FAAV, Fractional Approval Asset Voting. You can vote for one, 
which is what most people, I predict, will do. Or you can vote for 
more than one, and your vote will be divided fractionally.

The original Asset Voting idea by Carroll was a tweak on STV, it was 
simply a way to deal with exhausted ballots. Carroll realized that 
most people only had enough information to bullet vote, and so he 
wanted to enfranchise those, in an STV system, by allowing them to 
still be represented, through the device allowing candidates named in 
first position on exhausted ballots to vote them on behalf of the 
voter, "as if it were their property."

>The reasoning behind this idea is that I may be aware of several 
>people whose views are likely to be fairly close to my own, but I 
>may not know whose views are the closest. One way of looking at it 
>is that I view others' positions with some error, and I'm reducing 
>the risk that my vote will be cast very far from my own. Actually, 
>if I think of current politicians (e.g. on a national scale), I 
>would personally feel more comfortable creating a committee than 
>choosing one person to be my sole representative. Another 
>interesting feature of this is that I could program the computer to 
>alert me whenever the vote on my committee is relatively close. In 
>this case, it would be more likely than most to be something that 
>I'd like to take a look at for myself.

FAAV allows you to choose a committee, but then, whom, exactly, do 
you hold responsible? What I've come to is that single, responsible 
representation is a stronger connection between the individual and 
the society. I'd suggest that you start by imaginging that this is 
all open and public. Suppose someone you chose is elected. Now, you 
want to talk to that person. Are you more likely to get personal 
access if you voted for the person, as your most-trusted 
representative, or if you spread your vote?

The very idea that you don't trust "current politicians" is rooted in 
the system that requires candidates to be politicans for votes for 
them not to be wasted. You are thinking, I suspect, of a system with 
only a few choices on the ballot. Asset would generate so many 
candidates, I predict, that there will be *no* names on the ballot. 
And whom will you vote for? You will vote for the person you know 
personally, with whom you can sit down and chat, or you can call them 
up on the phone. For the vast majority of people, this will not be 
someone who ends up getting a seat in the Assembly. But they will be 
someone who, generally, will be able to visit the assembly member and 
be received as what they are, the "power broker" who got the member 
elected. Compare that with the present system, where someone who gets 
elected is, instead, in debt to those who contributed the most cash 
to their campaign fund.

Asset doesn't waste votes, so the voter becomes completely free. 
Anyone could run, the cost should be minimal. (It would be the cost 
of printing a unique name for the candidate in a directory; at 
present this would be a cheaply printed booklist. Off the top of my 
head, I'm thinking of $5 per listing, if the election is reasonably 
local. Might be more than that if it's state-wide. And forget 
thinking about national elections; I point out that we currently 
don't have any, the Presidential election only looks like it's a 
national election, but it's actually a kind of concealed proxy 
voting, with narrow restrictions on the proxies, a corruption of the 
original intention.)

>Note of course that these two ideas can be combined, i.e. proxy 
>committees can be readily worked into the continual consideration framework.

I have called this a "virtual committee," in discussing FAAV, but it 
might be simpler to just refer to it as a spread proxy. There has 
been, James, a focus on voting. Rather, I suggest, the more general 
concept is representation, and the representation is in both 
directions. This is very clear in non-secret assignment situations. 
The proxy represents the client to the association and -- it may be 
even more important! -- the association to the client. This is much 
more visible in voluntary associations. Suppose the association needs 
money in a hurry. Who will contact the members to ask them to send 
money, who can be most effective in convincing them that it's needed? 
The proxies, of course, who were chosen based on trust.

Someone who didn't choose anyone specific to trust isn't so strongly 
represented, and won't be so responsive, I'd predict. I'm not sure of 
the social value of introducing the complications of multiple 
choices, but I wouldn't prohibit it if its practical.

Now, suppose I have ten clients who chose me uniquely, and five more 
who shared my choice with others. Whom am I responsible to call? To 
whom will I be more responsive? At this level, James, I don't care 
about the "power." If I did, I'd make a bad proxy, I'm sure. The 
proxy, in these systems, as I see it, isn't actually a specific-issue 
representative. There are complicated systems proposed that try to do 
this, it's a mess. Rather, it is simply a trusted person, someone 
who, on the topic of the organization, I think is as likely as me, or 
more likely, to make a sound decision. That's needed for efficiency, 
or else I'm tempted to review everything, in which case 
representation hasn't saved me anything. Remember, if it's 
direct/representative democracy, as can easily be done with Asset 
Voting, if I want to I can run as a candidate, vote for myself, and, 
depending on exact rules, then vote directly on everything. But I 
don't want to do that. I want to trust somebody. If I can't find 
someone to trust, and don't want to do it directly, sure, I can 
spread the proxy, but I'd probably do better just picking one, my 
best hunch, then watching this person. Is it easier to watch one or 
to watch a "committee"?

However, note the reality: there will be lots of cross-connections. 
Suppose I have an idea I want to get to the Assembly. I'll assume I'm 
an elector, a public voter, but I don't have a seat. And delegable 
proxy is in effect so make continuous representation possible without 
cumbersome process. My proxy is negative on my idea. I could 
theoretically switch proxies, but there is a simpler way. Just find a 
friend with a different proxy. If I can't convince any friends of my 
idea, it is probably a Bad Idea, or at least one whose time has not 
come. That's a cross-connection.

As well, I expect that seats would have, say, a mailing list for all 
the electors who voted for them. And higher-level proxies in the DP 
network would have mailing lists for their clients. Lots of 
cross-connections, discussion groups, controlled by the proxy (for 
noise filtering), leading to someone with a seat in the Assembly. 
What is set up is a vast, distributed network for deliberation, 
voluntarily assembled from the bottom. It's the deliberation that's 
really important.

So important that I believe the development of political FA/DP 
organizations would transform the society even if the legal political 
structure didn't change at all. What if people could get advice that 
they could trust, through a system designed to do that? These would 
be FAs which would mean that they would not take organizational 
positions on controversial issues. But they can discuss those issues 
and can seek to find and measure consensus among their participants. 
They would not directly collect power, but the proxies could 
recommend to their clients that they send a check to such and such a 
candidate or political action committee.

This is really a fully realization of Montesquieu's separate of the 
executive and judicial powers. It's judgment, pure judgment, leaving 
the executive power with the people (or, for that matter, in the 
independent mechanisms of government). It generates advice, not coercive power.

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