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

Michael Allan mike at zelea.com
Mon Mar 29 09:33:27 PDT 2010

Hi James,

Thanks for sharing these:

> 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 Unpublished manuscript, dated 2002.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
> ...
> http://fc.antioch.edu/~james_green-armytage/vm/proxy2007.htm

I hope I can contribute some sources of my own to your review.  One
thing I've written (for lack of finding it) is some theory.  If
nothing else, you may find additional references here:


I'm mostly an engineer, though.  Half of my work is in contributing to
Votorola, a pollserver for transitive delegation:


We're also developing common facilities that cut across multiple
voting projects, including those that are non-delegative:


> ... 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? ...

It's a popular term in Germany.  (I'm told it has a nice ring in
German.)  See for example: http://liqd.net/

> 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. ...

Continuous voting is crucial, I agree.  If a voter is ever divorced
from her vote, yet would shift it if she could, then she is
misrepresented by that vote.  The vote is false.

> ... 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.

I found support for this in social theory (Habermas).  Administrative
systems and the public sphere must be decoupled.  Their independence
is fundamental to modern society (post 1700's).  We therefore want to
avoid any systematic cross-interference between the two.  The needs of
administrative systems (governments etc) should not force themselves
on the public voting facilities, in a way that distorts them; nor
should the results of the public voting force themselves on the

> 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....

I believe that Adhocracy does something like this.  Friedrich
Lindenberg has a version of it running somewhere (it has moved since I
last checked).  But here's the FAQ:

I look forward to seeing your review.  I hope you can share early
drafts.  (Some comments follow.)

> ========================
> === 2007 PROXY PAPER ===
> ========================
> 2A.  Basic system
>        Let's say that I'm a voter arriving at my local polling station on
> the day that one or more issues are to be decided via direct vote.  I have
> the option of voting directly on each issue (or formally abstaining).  I
> also have the option of deferring my vote to a proxy of my choosing. 
> There is no minimum threshold of votes needed for anyone to serve as a
> proxy.

I think only online systems are practical.  They must interface
seamlessly with the public sphere (distributed everywhere, and running
24x7) else the results will be systematically distorted.  People
should not have to serve the nature/needs of the voting system, rather
it should serve their nature/needs.

Also crucial are the interfaces among voting, drafting and discussion
media (and probably others too), which cannot be implemented without

> 2B.  Provision for multiple options
>        It is worth mentioning here that very few substantial social
> decisions can be reduced to a simple up or down vote.  Hence, in order to
> make this an effective social choice process, it's important to allow
> voters to express preferences between an appropriately wide range of
> options.  ...

This is where the interface with drafting media comes in.  If the
voter does not like any of the existing options, or wishes to make
changes to them, then she is free to draft her own (a kind of write-in
on the ballot).  But it then becomes an option for others to choose,
too (so it is a form of nomination, too).  This is feasible, and we
are implementing it already.

> 2C.  Frequency and bindingness
>        The legal standing of the direct votes, and their frequency (the
> number of ballots per year and the number of issues per ballot), are
> simply matters of political choice.  For example, the system itself could
> be initially non-binding, but with most elected officials pledged to
> follow the results except in extraordinary circumstances.  Or, it could be
> legally binding, but subject to veto by the legislature, executive,
> judiciary, etc.  Direct votes could take place once per year, once per
> month, etc. 

I think it must never be binding (reasons above).

All direct votes must be continuous, 24x7 (above).

> 2D.  Logistics and privacy
>        I primarily envision the voting taking place at officially
> designated polling stations (although internet voting might also be
> possible, if security and privacy can be assured, and if it can be done
> without disadvantaging those without internet service).  Prior to voting
> day, a computer file is compiled that lists all those who have volunteered
> to serve as proxies; when voters arrive at the polls, they can then choose
> the person whom they would like to represent them.  I would suggest that
> proxies' votes should be a matter of public record, unless bribery or
> political intimidation seems to be an especially serious problem.  The
> advantage of this is that voters will be able to directly verify that
> their proxy voted in a certain way, if necessary.  (A possible alternative
> would be to keep each proxy's voting record in a secure file, and allow
> them to distribute the password to the file at their own discretion.)

In theory, private voting will remove the necessary supports and
incentives for intercommunication among the voters.  This is
problematic.  If decision making is to be rational, then the decision
makers must be talking together - they must engage in person-to-person
dialogue on a very large scale.  Otherwise the results will be
determined not by the rational choices of ordinary people, but via
mass media, by money and power.

On the practical side too, I doubt that private voting (online) can be
verified in a manner that would secure public trust.  If people cannot
see the votes, and count them themselves, they are unlikely to confer
legitimacy on the results.

> 2E.  Issue generation ...
> 2F.  Option generation ...

We currently allow anyone to raise an issue, and others to immediately
start voting on it.  Options for the issue are also ad hoc, and no
restrictions on either of these.  (Most online systems are like this,
more or less.)

> 2H.  Model voting
>        Under current election systems, when voters do not have a great
> deal of information about the candidates or issues that they're voting on,
> they often choose based on endorsements, i.e.  recommendations from people
> and organizations whose opinions they value...

In theory, the public sphere has no trouble with information.  The
challenge is to design a practical system of voting that can penetrate
the public sphere without systematically distorting it.  Then voter
mis-information and ignorance (weaknesses of our current voting
systems) are no longer a problem.
> 3.  Representation by proxy
>        In this section, I discuss how a proxy system can be used as a
> basis for political representation, i.e.  as a method to determine the
> composition of the legislature and the relative voting power of its
> members.  What I propose is as follows ...

Your proposal would entail constitutional changes.  But I gather that
you only wish to encourage the elected members to pay attention to the
results of the public voting (despite decoupling, non-binding, etc).

A simpler solution would be to let the public vote 24x7 on the
re-election prospects of the sitting members.  So people aren't voting
exclusively on normative issues (laws, plans, policies), but also on
electoral issues.  The voting on each particular seat would function
as a kind of primary election (albeit a continuous one).  As such it
would dovetail with the existing electoral process (no constitutional
change needed).

> 4.  Continual recalculation of majority positions...

(This seems to be an earlier version of your idea of "continual
 consideration", above.)

> ...  When I indicate a proxy, the system gives my voting power to my
> proxy on all of the issues that I haven't voted on...

We forsee "autocasters" as the means for this kind of thing (Friedrich
Lindenberg and Thomas von der Elbe have initiated thought on this).
An autocaster is personal tool that stands in for the voter and casts
votes, as it is "programmed" to do.  By distributing the system out in
this fashion (literally putting it in the hands of the voters) we hope
to avoid the systematic biases that would be introduced by a more
centralized scheme.

Very best,
Michael Allan

Toronto, +1 647-436-4521

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