[EM] Sociological issues of elections

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Thu Sep 12 10:08:24 PDT 2013

Warning: long!

At 04:00 PM 9/11/2013, Fred Gohlke wrote:
>You mentioned a town meeting arrangement, and I'd like examine that 
>for background on the inclusiveness of a political system.  Although 
>a town meeting structure is often thought of as the purest form of 
>democracy, it has flaws.

Every human institution has and will have flaws. *And* Town Meeting 
is the purest form of democracy routinely experienced in government.

>Town meetings tend to favor assertive individuals,

Do they *favor* assertive individuals, or are assertive individuals 
more successful in most endeavors? Some people don't *like* assertive 
individuals. An assertive individuals who asserts unpopular views at 
Town Meeting will not be "favored." However, an assertive individual, 
with skill, may indeed be able to preferentially influence others.

>  and the decisions made in the meetings tend to be made by cliques, 
> usually under the guidance of the same assertive individuals.

I don't believe what I'm going to say, but suppose it were true: 
assertive individuals are *smarter* and know better what the town 
should do, and others trust them for that reason. They are assertive 
because they have found that it works.

>   Understanding how and why this happens is important if we are to 
> construct an inclusive system.

If, in our investigation, we assume that there is something wrong 
with being assertive, our "inclusive" system may well be *dumb*. 
However, there are ways to be inclusive, in substance, without losing 
the *advantages* of the existing system. I have long argued that we 
must first understand what exists before we "reform it," and this is 
especially true if what exists has been long standing, because it 
developed and was adopted and continued *because it worked.* At least 
in some ways, and those ways may be important.

>Jane Mansbridge examined such an arrangement in a town she gave the 
>fictional name of Selby, Vermont, and described her findings in 
>Beyond Adversary Democracy[1].  Her descriptions matched my personal 
>experience in a village in a farming community in Western New York 
>State in the 1930s and 1940s so accurately that I'll use excerpts 
>from her book to describe the weaknesses in 'town meeting' democracy 
>(showing the page references in brackets).

1930s and 1940s. That's over sixty years ago. Fred, you were a child. 
You had the understanding of what was going on around you of a child. 
Nothing wrong with that, but your views would be heavily biased by 
your family environment and the story you were developing of what 
life is about.

>Over the two hundred twenty six years of the United States' 
>existence, our political system has gradually broken down.  We are 
>now experiencing a political situation foretold by Jean Jacques 
>Rousseau in a passage quoted by Mansfield:

The description is of loss of human connection. Each person is 
floating in an ocean of currents and waves, buffeted by them, seeking 
personal survival. The tribal unity, essentially instinctive, has 
been lost. This development, from a larger perspective, may be 
necessary, because tribal identity was not adequate to meet the 
challenges of technological development; a larger identity was being 
forged, and it began with much larger-scale identities, and it is 
inexorably leading to "human identity."

Rousseau is describing a heavily dysfunctional stage, chaotic, 
incoherent, and ultimately unstable.

>   "Finally, when the State, on the eve of ruin, maintains
>    only a vain, illusory, and formal existence, when in
>    every heart the social bond is broken, and the meanest
>    interest brazenly lays hold of the sacred name of 'public
>    good', the general will becomes mute, all men, guided by
>    secret motives, no more give their views as citizens
>    than if the State had never been, and iniquitous decrees
>    directed solely to private interest get passed under the
>    name of laws." [page 19]

Yet the rule of law is an essential development.

>Rousseau's description accurately fits the present state of politics 
>in the United States.

Horse pucky. It's a very *partial* description, selected for 
emotional impact. Rousseau is telling a *story*, not providing an 
objective description. Others may read this story and think, at last, 
someone is telling it like it is. However, these are simply people 
who have developed the same story.

That story is heavily disempowering, because if it were "accurate," 
the matter would be hopeless. If we carry about a story that others 
are acting as described, we will be completely unable to interact 
positively with them, because they will not trust us. Our only choice 
is to become as we imagine they are: self-interested, secretive, 
etc., or, alternatively, to become martyrs to "the truth." I.e, the 
stories we have, ourselves, made up.

I'm not saying that the stories are "false," but that they are 
neither true nor false, they are *stories*, you could call them 
*theories*, invented as an attempt to explain what we see, and 
generally they can be traced back to that early judgment of a child: 
there is something wrong here.

It's not that the child was wrong. It is that the response was the 
invention of a child. And yet, we live on, much older, with far more 
experience, relying on those childhood inventions *as if they are 
simply the truth.* We develop an identity and simply believe that 
this identity -- which typically limits us more than it expands and 
empowers us -- is "just the way I am." And our understanding of 
people, cartoonish, heavily colored with crayons, is "just the way it is."

This is what we do, almost all of us if not all. If that were all 
that is possible for human beings, if I believed that, I'd be stuck 
in *exactly the same trap.*

I'm talling a story, myself, but it is a story developed by adults 
who have discovered that our human capacity to develop stories has a 
function. It's *creative.* And we can *choose* the stories we tell.

We easily don't see this, we will commonly think that we are simply 
telling the truth. What I'm describing is a *technology,* and I saw, 
in myself, as I learned this, that I was heavily attached to my 
"truth." That "truth" was obviously damaging my life and my 
effectiveness, but, wasn't it just the truth?

We create the future through story. That's the function.

It's not magic, but it can certainly look like it. Whenever we 
declare the future, and our "expectations" are a hidden form of 
declaration, and if we act consistently with our declaration, it 
*usually* happens. I do not know the limits of this, but I've seen it 
work, again and again. Part of the "secret" is that individual 
declaration is relatively weak. Collective declaration, two people or 
more, is far more powerful.

I suggest The Starfish and the Spider, a study of how major social 
transformations followed when an individual had an idea. One person 
was not enough. When a second was inspired to action, *that* is when 
the idea moved to transform society.


>The need to envision an alternative to the present system is 
>compelling, but, before we can do so, we must consider the human 
>traits that deter us from achieving a truly democratic form of 
>government, so we can devise a process that lessens their impact.

That may seem logical, but it incorporates the judgmental vision that 
creates the compulsion. Notice: "truly democratic" is placed in 
opposition to "human traits."

Yes. There are human traits that, undistinguished, can damage social 
structure. But what is the *function* of social structure, and how 
does it come to be that "true democracy" is set up as the goal? There 
is clearly some vision of "true democracy," and it's *different* from 
the actual institutions observed. We will see how this shows up. I 
would suggest another idea for consideration: some of these ideas are 
utterly unworkable, actually *undesirable*, in that they would result 
in *more damage.* However, there is something behind them, a wish or 
an intuition, that is a reflection of a deep urge or insight.

My sense is that to fully understand this would require intense 
*involvement* in social process, as well as a rigorous examination of oneself.

>Although called democratic, the participation in town meetings is 
>limited.  As Mansbridge said about Selby, the Town Hall could not 
>even accommodate the entire electorate:
>    [Page 47] "... the little building could never seat more
>    than half the town's potential voters."
>    [Page 48] "On this particular day, ninety of Selby's 350
>    or so potential voters were present for at least part of
>    the meeting."
>    [Page 76] "... some groups in Selby are more likely than
>    others to attend the town meeting.  The mechanism of one
>    citizen/one vote, majority rule in an open assembly
>    therefore consistently over-represents certain interests.

I have called this "participation bias." What Fred may not understand 
-- I don't know Mansbridge's view -- is that reduced participation is 
*necessary.* If every voter shows up for Town Meeting, Town Meeting 
could do little but vote on an issue developed by a different 
process, or only on very poorly deliberated motions.

The *real* issue is whether or not those who participate *represent* 
the Town. That is not obvious or easy to judge, but it will be 
*generally so," for a reason I'll detail.

>Here, we see that although the process is nominally open to everyone 
>in the community, and thus is deemed democratic, the reality is that 
>only about one quarter of the people actually participate in any 
>part of the process.

That's a judgment heavily colored by expectation and limitation. The 
"process" is much larger than the Town Meeting itself.

I lived, fairly recently, in a Town Meeting town, Cummington, 
Massachusetts. The Town Hall could accomodate at most about 300 
people, packed in. That was probably about half of the registered 
voters. And, I'm sure, this is common, typical every town. Most towns 
could not afford to have a building that would accommodate all the 
town's voters. They *could* hold an open meeting in the open, on the 
Fairgrounds, for example.

I think that quorum was something like thirty. And it was not 
uncommon for participants to be scrambling, calling people, to reach 
a quorum for a scheduled Town Meeting. Does this mean that it isn't democratic?

Certainly not! Exactly what is going on can vary from time to time 
and place to place, but when Town Meeting was considering an issue 
over which people had high personal interest, that Town Hall was 
packed. What would happen, generally, is that there would be some 
speeches made on the issue, and any actual decision was postponed; in 
one case that I know of, a series of hearings were scheduled, where 
anyone in the town could come and discuss the issue.

Low participation in meetings does *not* indicate a loss of 
democracy, not by itself. It does indicate what should be obvious: 
most people have little interest in town-level decisions, or, 
alternatively, they trust those who *do* participate.

Here, some anecdotes are recited, to attempt to establish a different view:

>   To give us a little insight into why this is so, I will cite the 
> comments of two citizens:
>    [Page 61] Elizabeth Hurley, who "has not attended a
>    town meeting in the last ten years", said:
>    "I don't care to -- well, to tell my part, you know,
>     right agin a whole mess of people ... I don't know,
>     I don't like to get up in town meeting and say, well,
>     this and that ... well, everybody's looking, or doing
>     something, and they'll say [whisper], "She's a fool!"
>     There's one man in particular [Bedell], that's up on
>     this road here, boy oh boy, he's into hot water all
>     the time.  [JM: He talks up in town meetings?]  Oh!
>     Gracious to Betsy, I guess he did.  [JM: Do people
>     pay attention to him?]  Hah, hah, no they don't, boy,
>     we just, ah ..."

This means? In fact, "Bedell" goes to Town Meeting and participates, 
even though "Hurley" thinks he's in "hot water." Hurley doesn't want 
to get involved, simply does not care enough about Town issues to 
face disagreement. That would mean that she expects her views would 
not be popular. What if she's right? Regardless, she's not willing to 
take the risk. And taking that risk is what is necessary for 
*participation* in democracy. It's her choice. Almost certainly, if 
she really cared about a Town issue, she'd go, unless she is a total coward.

And she is a part of that social rejection, notice, in her story. 
Bedell is a fool. She is not willing to subject herself to how *she* 
thinks about other people.

>    [Page 61] Florence Johnson, who "has never gone to a
>    town meeting.  Asked why she thinks so few people go,
>    she answers" ...
>    "I don't know.  If you go there, and you speak up, they
>     make fun of you for speaking up and so on, and I guess
>     people just don't want to go and be made fun of.  Why
>     I don't say anything so they don't just laugh it off
>     anyway.
>    "I mean we have some friends [Bedell] that went last year,
>     and the guy stood up, and he said some things about a few
>     issues ... and they just laughed at him.  So what good
>     did it do him to open his mouth?  I mean, he'd have been
>     better off if he had stayed home."

Notice that the *same* person, Bedell, is involved. Florence is 
heavily sensitive to social judgment. She seems to have no concept 
that Bedell might sleep better at night for giving his opinion. To 
her, being laughed at is the ultimate disaster, and she thinks that's 
so for him.

Bedell is either a brave man, or a crank, or both. In either case, 
it's possible for Bedell to develop skills at speaking so that he can 
create different responses from people. This is *likely* to happen if 
Bedell goes to Town Meeting regularly, does this for a few years, and 
probably keeps his mouth shut for a while, listening, until he's 
thoroughly familiar with the "language." I know Bedell's position, 
I've been there. What I learned to do was to stop speaking for 
myself, and my own idiosyncratic -- if brilliant -- ideas, but for 
"us." People instinctively recognize when others are doing this, and 
they listen. After all, the person is speaking for *them.* A naive 
speaker will see the group process and thinking and will criticize it 
*from outside,* with a hidden story: "You are all fools." And this 
judgment will then show up in the reflection from the group.

An individual may well be the first in a group to see what is 
missing. Communicating this effectively is a *skill*. Some may have 
it naturally, others may need to develop it.

>It is commonplace to condemn the electorate for not participating in 
>the political process, but we must not ignore the very real, very 
>natural, reactions of humans to the atmosphere prevalent in meetings 
>of large groups of people.

Essentially, most of us are not trained as speakers and 
communicators, or poorly trained. In the training I've been 
following, now, it is very common for people to reveal that they are 
shy about speaking in public. And then, as the original of this 
"identity" -- because that's what it is -- is grasped, as the tools 
are developed for setting that identity aside, they become powerful 
speakers, it's like clockwork. People who were "shy" become able to 
speak to hundreds of people with apparent ease.

In fact, they still experience what they always did, a moment of 
fear, based on remembered childhood experiences, where they spoke up 
and were ridiculed. And then they, with increasing facility from 
practice, *drop that* as something that happened in the past, that 
has *nothing to do* with what is present and developing.

>The material in this section of the book describes the feelings of 
>personal discomfort participants experience in large meetings.  Yet, 
>those who experienced this discomfort were able to discuss political 
>issues in a one-on-one setting (with Mansbridge). This suggests, if 
>we want the entire electorate to participate in the political 
>process, it is important to avoid large assemblies.

I'd agree with the conclusion, but not with the reasoning, or, I'd 
make it more specific. We would avoid "large assemblies," i.e., 
assemblies of the full electorate. Those aren't possible anyway!

What we would do is to set up structure such that all citizens can 
*participate* in the *full process* if they choose to. Many will 
still choose not to participate, and *there is nothing wrong with this.*

The size of the actual Town Meeting, the decision-making body with 
legal authority, would need to be, then, whatever is necessary so 
that *all citizens* are represented, who care to be so.

*This already happens informally.*

I proposed a delegable proxy system in my small town. The most 
influential individual in Town, as to being widely trusted, was 
probably the minister at the Community Church. He thought it was a 
brilliant idea, and set up a meeting to discuss it. Only his wife and 
one or two other people showed up. Why? Basically, people don't think 
the system is broken, so why fix it?

I discussed it with the chair of the Board of Selectmen. This person 
had always been completely welcoming, inviting us, as newcomers, to 
fully participate in town government. His thinking was that it wasn't 
necessary, that the existing process already worked.

Now, I saw how it didn't work. There was, in fact, a gap between Town 
Meeting decisions and those of the voters, because there was a 
measure passed by Town Meeting, by a substantial majority, that state 
law required be submitted to the voters -- and that would be common. 
The law *does*, in effect, recognize the problem of participation 
bias. So, for some decisions, Town Meeting is simply nominating a 
measure for submission to the voters. The measure failed. 
Essentially, the need for the expenditure had not been communicated 
to the voters. What I was suggesting would practically guarantee that 
Town Meeting and the full electorate would track each other, more reliably.

But the chair was right, also. The existing system *usually* works.

I now know how to communicate new ideas more effectively. I don't 
live there any more, and I live in a Mayor/Council town. I have not 
become locally involved politically, but I do see that those who 
*are* involved are always soliciting citizen input. Because 
vote-for-one, single-member districts are used, there can be a larger 
gap. Still, my town is considered one of the nicest small towns in 
North America, that, indeed, is why we moved there. There is a very 
strong sense of an inclusive "us," this is our "Home Town," the title 
of a book about the town by Tracy Kidder.

But I did not really get that feeling about the town until I went out 
and walked about the downtown for about six months, talking to 
everyone who would talk with me. I *created* it, through real, 
face-to-face interactions with people.

>Another flaw in the town meeting concept is the tendency of the 
>process to resolve public issues in private, outside the process.

Yet that is *necessary*. It is *not* "outside the process," that is, 
in fact, how Town Meeting *works.* It's an error to consider that the 
outside discussions "resolve" the issues. Rather, they develop 
resolutions that are then accepted by the public meeting. This is 
normal for *all democratic organizations,* including private 
nonprofits. If something is controversial, it's not necessarily wise 
to attempt to introduce it without establishing at least a wider 
agreement on it than might exist, knee-jerk, if a motion is made in a meeting.

Standard democratic process, when something is controversial, is to 
refer it to committee. Committees, in small towns, tend to be whoever 
cares enough to participate. I mentioned that the Town Meeting, on a 
controversial issue, scheduled a series of hearings. Were these 
"outside" the process, or a part of it? (Actually, the Board of 
Selectmen makes decisions for Town Meeting, ad hoc, between meetings, 
and so it was the Board that did this.)

Ultimately, the voters approved the measure, which built a new Public 
Safety Complex. It is very possible that the plans were modified in 
the process, reflecting public input. It looks like the system 
worked, and what I'd have suggested might simply have allowed it to 
work a little more efficiently. My sense is that a delegable proxy 
system, which would have no *legal* authority, but which would 
mutually advise the Town Meeting and the voters, would increase the 
already strong sense among citizens that this is "our town."

The non-attendees described above did, I'd guess, have a strong sense 
of "our town," but not necessarily that they were an important part 
of town process. It's unclear. Those non-attendees did not express 
any sense that decisions being made were outside what they might 
generally approve. Rather, those stories were viewed from a context 
that thinks of democracy as requiring "full participation," with a 
very primitive concept of what full participation would mean.

There was nothing stopping these neighbors from talking with others 
about issues coming up before Town Meeting, and those issues are 
formally *noticed,* if they cared about them. As noted, they were not 
shy about expressing their opinions to other individuals. So 
*already*, if they wanted to be represented, they were.

What I've suggested would formalize this informal structure, but very 
simply and without anything more than trivial cost. No elections. No 
new formal deliberative bodies. Just individual conversations and 
maybe a few informal get-togethers. Social stuff.

>    [Page 62] "To counter the anxiety of speaking in public,
>    groups will sometimes caucus before they anticipate a
>    major conflict, delegate some of their number to speak,
>    and rev up the motors of self-confidence by assuring one
>    another that they are right."

Well, that's a view of the process as one of conflict, of "right" and 
"wrong." Certainly, though, this is quite what happens. However, this 
is not necessarily done to "counter the anxiety of speaking in 
public." That would only apply to those who actually go to the Town 
Meeting, and many Town Meeting participants don't have that fear, or 
are not dominated by it.

The process described is similar to delegable proxy, but informal, ad 
hoc. What delegable proxy would add is some way of *measuring* 
participation and a priori consensus.

>    Thus, as James Pedley said:
>    [Page 69] "Sometimes a few people get together and sort
>    of cut and dry things.  Someone will get up and make a
>    nomination, someone second it, and someone else get up
>    and move the nominations close.  It's very cut and dried."

*If accepted.* It was common in Cummington elections that there was 
only one candidate for each office. That's efficient, in fact, the 
election is a *ratification*, and write-ins were, in theory, 
accepted. Small towns tend to avoid contentious process. This is not, 
however, "cut and dried." That motion to close nominations must pass 
with a majority, at least. (Under some rules it might need a supermajority).

Basically, if it's quite clear to the Town Meeting that existing 
nominations are adequate, and Town Meeting time is precious, as it 
is, why take it up for something that will have no practical effect? 
If someone has a serious candidacy, they would have developed prior 
support, and even a fairly small faction can ensure that a nomination 
is made, *unless Town Meeting is dead-set against it, by a majority.*

The discussion above assumes that the motion to close is instant. A 
skilled moderator will ask, after the first nomination, if there are 
any other nominations, and that motion to close will ordinarily not 
be recognized by the moderator unless there is no immediate response. 
A great deal of the effective function of Town Meeting process is 
bound up with the skill of the moderator. If a moderator is biased, 
the Town Meeting is in trouble.

If the moderator is biased toward the view of the majority, what is 
in trouble is the unity of the town. Skilled moderators understand 
this, and will act, as is the job of the moderator, to protect 
minority opinion from being crushed without opportunity to be heard. 
That's crucial for the continuity of Town unity. Practically everone 
is in the minority on some issue or other.

I'll say this: the minority is usually "wrong," but is "right" often 
enough that it is well worth some substantial effort to ensure that 
significant minority opinion is heard. Under normal rules of 
deliberative process, it's difficult to "shut up" a one-third 
minority. Smaller than that, yes. And it's totally appropriate to 
suggest to such a minority that they discuss their views *outside of 
the meeting* to develop support for them *first.*

>    [Page 75] "The divergent views of young and old, high and
>    low taxpayers, and villagers and non-villagers on the issue
>    of school expenses and transportation never surfaced, for
>    example.  Not bringing conflicts into the open like this
>    usually gives more power to the members of whatever inside
>    group settles things before or after the meeting."

Yet if a substantial minority of the town wants open consideration, 
they can ensure it. There is a concept here that there is a faction 
that resolves matters outside of the meeting, but such a faction is 
ad-hoc and only has special power in the meeting to the extent that 
it influences a majority of Town Meeting participants.

What is actually happening, in the above story, is that some members 
are informally organized, and some members are not, and it is no 
surprise that those who are organized are more effective.

Once we understand Range Voting and how it works, we can start to 
understand the importance of *preference strength.* Those who have 
low *real* preference strength may not bother to vote on an issue, 
may not bother to discuss it, and if this low preference strength 
covers all Town issues, may not *ever* bother to go to Town Meeting.

Yet, when they talk with someone, they may voice complaints. Given 
that in a Town Meeting town, they actully *can* do something about 
the situation, there are two possibilities: they simply like to 
complain, as many do, or they are in despair that they could be 
heard. Logically, that indicates that they believe they are in a 
minority, for if they believed that they were in the majority, and 
given how Town Meeting works, they could *easily* prevail, if they 
make the effort. Yet they have already an understanding, perhaps, 
that a minority *can* prevail. Isn't that what is being implied in 
the discussion? What's the difference?

The difference is that, to prevail, a minority must be more organized 
than the majority. That indicates, generally, higher preference 
strength. "Majority Rule" implies, to some extent, equal preference 
strength. We know that Majority Rule is defective, we can come up 
with clear examples, but, in fact, real deliberative process 
*handles* those examples. Real process *includes* that entire 
outside-the-meeting structure, it *depends* on it. It formalizes it, 
sometimes, by forming a committee, or by organizing hearings.

And it works.

There is, behind the claim above, it could be, a view that there is 
something "wrong" with some members having more power than others. 
Yet, if that power has effectively been delegated to those members, 
it is not "personal power," it is *collective power.*

It is *representative democracy*, only informal.

There are systems for formalizing this. The question in small towns 
is how necessary they are, if existing systems work well enough.

What really happens to Town Meeting democracy is that towns grow and 
the Town Meeting becomes more and more cumbersome. The Town of 
Amherst, Massachusetts has what is still called Town Meeting, but it 
is an elected, representative body. It's very large, and it is 
*famously* cumbersome. The Town narrowly avoided the loss of this 
structure, specifically enabled by the State, in two recent public 
votes, very close, so unpopular is it. Basically, they created 
representation through single-winner elections with very small 
districts. Bad Idea. The largest problem with that Town Meeting is 
that it is *way too large* to function efficiently. It would need to 
be substantially smaller. Asset Voting would be spectacular there, 
and could create a Town Meeting of the most desirable size, that 
*fully represents* the voters.

It's not "Town Meeting" though it is still called that. Mess.

>    [Page 75] "As a result, when interests do conflict, the
>    town's officers are not representative of the citizenry
>    and may have both interests and preferences at odds with
>    those of the majority. This elite is also likely. consciously
>    or unconsciously, to prevent some decisions from reaching
>    the policy arena at all."

The Town's officers do represent the citizenry, but not perfectly. 
The picture being presented is of an unorganized majority. Within the 
system, the solution is obvious, but it does take some effort, and 
the problem is that *people won't put in that effort.* So they 
*tolerate* the existing system, and by tolerating it, they *allow* 
those town officers to represent them. They have *consented*, in 
actual fact, consented by not objecting.

When a moderator says, at a meeting in formal session, "Without 
objection ...." and proposes a ruling, and nobody speaks up, the 
meeting *has legally consented, unanimously*, when the moderator 
gavels that issue closed. That does give every member an opportunity, 
under most rules, to reverse their decision, to request 
Reconsideration, but disempowered majorities are frequently without 
undertanding of the Rules. They haven't cared enough about the 
process to learn them.


>This material tells us that, if we are to increase the inclusiveness 
>of the political process, if we are to empower every member of the 
>electorate by letting them participate in the practice of politics 
>to the full extent of each individual's desire and ability, we must 
>devise a process that does not expose the people to ridicule for 
>expressing their views.

Yet if they talk individually with their neighbor about their 
feelings, they expose themselves to ridicule by that neighbor. I 
wonder how far we would go to protect the sensitivity of extremely 
shy people. Delegable proxy does go very far to allow full input. I 
have generally suggested that people would choose, as their proxy, 
the person they are most free in conversation with, with whom they 
feel the most safe.

Yet this conversation could already take place, and does already take 
place. These people are *not*, as pretended, excluded from the 
political process. Rather, their shyness self-excludes from Town 
Meeting process, that's all. They could still go to Town Meeting and 
vote, or are they also afraid to be identified as a member of a 
minority faction? Even if so, most laws require major decisions to be 
ratified by secret ballot elections. Yes, if they are afraid to speak 
up, and if they don't engage a neighbor to speak for them, and if 
they won't even attend or vote at Town Meeting, they can still vote 
in a public election, on offices and measures.

*They already can participate to the "Full extent of the individual's 
desire and ability."* We can make that process more efficent, but 
it's not that it's not already possible.

>One may argue that voting does not expose anyone to ridicule, but 
>the efficacy of the vote is open to question.

Indeed. If a position is a minority position, voting does not seem to 
be efficacious. However, it still is. If voters vote sincerely, they 
then can see the extent of the acceptance of their position. If it's 
not truly small, then they can see that organizing might be effective.

>   The right to vote would be an essential element of democracy if 
> the people were able to select the people and the issues for which they vote.

They are, in Town Meeting government. In other locations, with 
representative government, the access is through representatives. We 
have defective election systems that clear prevent form 
representative bodies from being truly representative.

Town Meeting is effectively a representative body, but not formally. 
Every registered voter has an equal right to be present and to debate 
and vote. Voting is essentially inalienable as a right, unless the 
voter is actively excluded from Town Meeting, which is possible but 
rare. Debate is conditional upon the consent of the assembly, that's 
true for every assembly with formal process under traditional rules.

The people *are already able.* Most of us, though, are in despair of 
some kind or other about the utility of attempting to participate.

>However, in the United States, the people's right to select the 
>candidates and decide the issues on which the people vote has been 
>usurped by the political parties.  They have arrogated to themselves 
>the right to name the candidates for public office.

We have consented to this. There is a contradiction in Fred's 
thinking. Do we, as individuals, have the "right to name candidates" 
for office?

In most places, yes. But we may have to act collectively to do it. 
And a political party is an organized collection of people. We 
created political parties for this very purpose, and we choose to 
support parties or not, and we choose what parties to support and how.


Individuals and organizations may be arrogant, but arrogance, itself, 
gives them no power, it only enables an attempt. We consent to this, 
mostly by silence. We are responsible, I'll claim, for what we allow 
to happen without objection. And, indeed, we suffer for it, as would 
be expected, where what we allow to happen causes harm.

>Voting, as carried on in elections for public office, has been 
>transformed from an intellectual exercise to an emotional one, and 
>we suffer badly because of it.

Whether or not we suffer "because of it" is a *choice.*

Notice the implied superiority of "intellectual exercise" to 
"emotional exercise." I'll just say it: this is the arrogance of an 
intellectual, someone divorced from real connection with people, who 
is standing, he imagines, outside the halls of power, making it all wrong.

What I can easily see as missing from public process in the United 
States, generally, is what I'd call *deep consideration*, such that 
decisions are *fully deliberated.* Mostly, and for most of us, we 
don't know how to do that. It is only partially true that deep 
consideration is avoided because it would harm certain interests. 
Mostly, the matter is much simpler. We don't have a clue, most of us 
have no experience with genuine consensus process -- which *requires* 
deep consideration.

>   In America, the right to vote is not evidence of democracy, it 
> expresses our status as subjects of the political parties that gave 
> us our options.  If we are to improve our political infrastructure, 
> we must recognize that:

The right to vote is very direct and simple evidence of democracy. 
It's not the only element; if the citizens have *no control* over 
whom they can vote for, if political parties cannot be formed anew; 
if, essentially, what we vote for is no subject to our choice, then 
we may have elections, and choices may be made by vote, but only from 
a very limited set. They had elections in what most of us would 
consider to be brutal dictatorships. So there are certain additional 
elements necessary beyond the right to vote. In the U.S., generally, 
those additional elements are present, but there is constant attack 
on them, by organized party power, generally. They are being chipped 
ways, seen as "unnecessary," etc.

For example, the California constitution requires that write-in votes 
be allowed and counted in all elections. In standard deliberative 
process, if an election fails to find a majority, there is a *new 
election.* It's not subsidiary to the original election, which 
*failed* and became moot.

In California law, then, some elections have required a majority in 
the first round. If that failed, then a *new election* was held. 
Routinely, the top two candidates from the first election were placed 
on the ballot. Should write-ins be allowed? Routinely, they were, for 
a long time. In San Francisco, they require write-in candidates to be 
registered, to have their votes counted. That was considered to be 
reasonably close to the constitutional requirement to be acceptable. 
(Basically, especially with a large jurisdiction, identifying 
write-in votes can be a serious problem for an election clerk.)

Just before RCV was implemented in San Francisco, the last election 
under the prior runoff system, the Board of Supervisors passed a rule 
that write-ins were not allowed in the runoff, torpedoing an existing 
write-in candidacy that might have had a chance of winning. This was 
ultimately taken to the California Supreme Court, which ruled that 
the city had the right to do this, because write-ins were allowed in 
"the election." Yet the first election had failed and there was a new 
one, merely with different rules for being on the ballot. Now, where 
were all the voting systems activists when this decision was made? I 
see no sign that we were even aware of it. Most of us, I think, had 
concluded that runoff voting was a Bad Idea anyway.

Yet Runoff Voting is the most widely-implemented reformed voting 
system, it was all the rage among political scientists years ago. 
Yes, it's defective. But write-in voting *can fix those defects*, and 
that has been actually observed.

My point: for narrow political purpose, an important aspect of the 
voting system, giving voters a certain freedom, was demolished. And 
we did nothing. We consented to it. We are responsible.


Yes. Now, who controls the options. Indeed, suppose it's, say, the 
Democratic Party. Who controls the Democratic Party, and how?

>You made the critical point that, with an electorate in the 
>multi-millions of people,
>   "... we need somebody to act for us, but few enough that
>    that they can still govern by deliberation.  Hence,
>    representative, elected democracy."

Yes. Classic argument, and sound. The problem is that most election 
systems avoid full representation, and, my suspicion, the reason for 
this is that we don't trust full democracy.

>In the United States, the number of representatives in the two 
>Houses of Congress seem (to me) reasonable.

It's not, unless Congress is considered to be a device to appoint and 
review the process in smaller bodies. That is how it actually 
functions, almost everything is done in committee.

The party system is relatively inflexible, there is high investment 
in structure and thus structure becomes highly conservative, usually. 
It's not reliably representative, is how I'd put it.

>   That leaves the question of how the representatives are to be 
> selected.  You mentioned that delegable proxy lets the deliberation 
> happen "on the outside", presumably before the representative is chosen.

I don't know who the "you" is. Fred did not identify to whom he was responding.

>   However, I'm not sure if that approach requires or allows 
> political campaigning, which is a corrosive activity that demands 
> huge expenditures to manipulate the voting public.

Delegable proxy, by nature, requires no campaigning. Delegable proxy 
systems are generally constructed to be very low-cost. Investment is 
minimal, trivial.

In the general Free Association/Delegable Proxy process, "outside" 
deliberation generates advice that is designed to be trustworthy. 
That advice is *not* necessarily a unified position, it may be 
divided. Under those conditions, the advice may come in factional 
flavors. Thus the system will roughly measure the support for each 
position. Taking this into an actual process or political campaign, 
it becomes possible to estimate what will be successful. And then to 
avoid wasting effort and scarce funds on campaigns that aren't going 
to succeed.

Rather, a faction that sees that its campaign is unlikely to be 
successful, in an immediate effort, will conserve its resources instead.

Or it can decide not to trust the process, to risk it all, etc.

On the other hand, if it identifies, through the process, that the 
campaign is likely to be successful, this will indicate that there is 
already broad support, and the *structure* that FA/DP process sets up 
creates, by default, a means of collecting funds *outside the FA/DP 
organization*. The FA/DP organization's function is only to 
facilitate communication, cooperation, and coordination, not to 
*control* it. Otherwise, it would become yet another corruptible 
structure, subject to the Iron Law of Oligarchy, which, by the way, 
is worth understanding. It's real. There is a way around it, to, 
essentially, *use* it.

People like Fred think that Oligarchy is "bad," the enemy of 
democracy, etc. Since this *is* called the Iron Law for a reason, 
that is, then, a disempowering stand. It's like spitting in the wind, 
the results are inevitable.

>re: "But on the other extreme, consider you have an emperor (or
>      an elected king).  If you suspect corruption from power is
>      a real problem, then you have to set up some form of
>      oversight.  The oversight doesn't automatically arise from
>      the system itself, but rather has to be separately
>      implemented."

I don't think I wrote this, but it's expressing a basic idea, first 
expressed well by Montesquieu, the separation of the judicial 
function from the executive. FA/DP organizations would set up a *pure 
judicial function* with *no* executive power. They are designed that 
way, to avoid corruption. However, they generate *advice*, through 
massively distributed discussion and consideration. This process is, 
again by design, *efficient.* That is, the discussions are generally 
small, among people with rapport. High-level discussions allow 
negotiation of broader consensus, and this requires a heavier 
participation burden, but the reward is precisely broader consensus, 
which is *powerful.*

The power, though, is exercised, not by the FA/DP organization, but 
by those *advised*. Which would be, on the one hand, voters who are 
watching the process, and who receive advice either by reviewing the 
overall discussion, or, more efficiently, by *trusting their proxy." 
On the other hand, the advice will be seen by executives, who can, 
then, efficiently understand how their activities are seen by the 
public, and including by experts and others, through a process that 
shows how representative all these opinions actually are.

>Personally, I don't consider either a viable option, but you make 
>the excellent point that neither automatically accommodates oversight.

FA/DP already exists. I have seen a value to participation in an 
FA/DP process by *two people.* What takes place in FA/DP already 
takes place, but without the formalization that creates a "directed 
graph." There is very low cost to adding the formalization. When the 
group is very small, many people will think of it as a fish bicycle, 
simply not needed, and in a very small group, that's mostly true. 
However, if the group should grow and the process is in place, DP 
process will become invaluable, that's my prediction.

DP allows the informal process that makes small group process work, 
to become scalable.

>   In a democracy, oversight should be exercised 'before' a 
> candidate is elected to public office.  The electors need a way to 
> assure themselves that the candidate's internal gyroscope is 
> aligned with their objective(s) 'before' they make their choice.

The entire concept is flawed. There is an accepted concept of 
large-scale elections that require massive agreement before the 
election. Asset Voting pulls the rug out from under that assumption. 
However, *if we have large-scale direct elections*, then, 
pre-election process becomes critical. How do we, as voters, know 
what the candidates are *really like*?

As a "modest proposal" that could point out a path to this, years 
ago, I proposed an election rule: to vote for a candidate, you must 
*personally know* the candidate.

Obviously that would not work as a simple rule. However, DP was 
invented, as to my own work, to make *indirect knowledge* possible. 
If I want to meet my Senator, personally, it can be difficult. But if 
I have established that I represent N voters, it can be quite easy. 
If N is large enough, the Senator will want to meet me! How large is N?

It's actually not very large!

>   Therefore, the electoral method must ensure that candidates are 
> carefully examined by people with a direct interest in uncovering 
> any aspect of a candidate's intentions that is at odds with the 
> public interest.

And how are these people chosen? FA/DP sets up this process, in 
effect, and avoids any "institutionalization" of the investigational 
body. I can imagine a detective agency that is hired by groups of 
voters, routinely. There can be many such. The groups, through their 
own trusted representatives, would hire them. That's going to take money.

The money will *not* be provided by the FA/DP organization. Period. 
That would create an opening for corruption, it would *attract* 
corruption. FA/DP organizations are designed to avoid major 
collections of direct power. They will function best for this if 
proxy assignments take place on a *small scale,* such that, 
routinely, proxy and client can directly communicate. That is not 
difficult to manage, I suspect, by the development of expectations of 
*service.* I.e. I want my proxy to accept my phone calls! (And I may 
decline, as a client, someone who won't talk with me. I may shove 
them off to another of my clients who might be willing to handle this 
person, and if there is nobody such, *I don't need the client.* For anything.)

A client who will not respond to my advice is *useless*. I suppose 
that they might send me money....

>re: "(In a multiparty democracy, the different parties are
>      supposed to check one another, and in a coalition system,
>      the opposition is supposed to check the position, where
>      the respective coalitions may change from time to time,
>      again lessening the chance that corruption can set in.)
>Does it actually work this way in practice?

To a degree, yes. Don't mistake anecdotal failure with complete failure.

>   I have no experience with multiparty democracy, and cannot make 
> an informed comment on the practice.  However, systems based on the 
> organized pursuit of power seem (to me) susceptible to corruption.

Of course. And since we are talking about the collective power, the 
power of the *entire society* there is power present. FA/DP, as set 
up within a generally democratic society, can supervise the 
executives, who are, by definition, those who "execute," i.e., who 
exercise power. The FA/DP organization itself takes no position on 
any controversial issue, that's *essential* to its function, because 
the goal is, within it, full participation of *all interested*, no 
matter what their personal position on an issue. FA/DP organizations 
make no decision on what are called "outside issues" by vote, and 
routinely, they make internal decisions -- about their own process -- 
by supermajority, majority vote being only an emergency fallback.

However, a *political* FA will indeed set up discussions of political 
issues, on various scales. I think that it is likely to avoid massive 
discussions with *many* participants, because this generates noise. 
Such discussions will exist, though, for sure, but they will not be 
the meat and potatoes of FA/DP process. Rather, there will be a 
central discussion process, where direct participation, the right to 
"enter motions" and to debate them, is restricted to those who 
represent many, as determined, ad-hoc, by the proxy structure. That 
central discussion process *might* involve participants elected by 
Asset Voting, if we want to set a specific size for it. "Voting," 
however, except on internal Assembly process, what are called 
Questions of Privilege, could be *completely open* to all members.

(This is a general realization, that the problem of scale in 
democracy is about deliberation, not about voting, per se. We assume 
that voters should participate in deliberation, that's why, often, 
proxy voting is not allowed. However, this is based on a 
misunderstanding of proxy voting as being "remote voting." I.e, 
directed votes. I understand proxy voting in an FA/DP concept, as 
well as in other contexts, as "delegated voting." Where the delegate 
is *trusted* to decide, in context, based on participation in 
deliberation, *without instructions.* And the proxy only votes, 
strictly, for himself or herself. The proxy cannot, as I imagine the 
situation, cast so many votes Yes and so many votes No, attributing 
those votes to clients.

(If fractional votes are allowed, that is entirely a separate issue. 
The proxy is responsible for *all the votes the proxy casts.*)

(That distinction is essential for the system to build and concentrate trust.)

>re: "Perhaps a bicameral approach could work. Use a general
>      election for one of the houses and the hybrid method for
>      the other. Or for that matter, use your triad method
>      (with declared "parties" as we've discussed) for one
>      and the hybrid for the other."
>This may be a superior suggestion, but it's not my place to make 
>that decision because the method I outlined has never been subjected 
>to the kind of analytical scrutiny necessary to validate 
>it.  Suffice it to say the method must allow the dynamic formation 
>of parties so we can be sure fresh perspectives on the conduct of 
>society are considered.  At the same time, the method must guarantee 
>that the parties cannot commandeer the process.  That's best done by 
>ensuring that non-partisans have a voice.

What I saw was that most engaged in developing utopian solutions did 
not have any concept of how to get there. Essentially, a public 
process is being proposed for something that hasn't been used 
*anywhere*, ever. Or if it was used, somewhere, there is no broad 
experience with it.

Hence my suggestion that advanced systems for democracy be first 
tested and used in voluntary organizations. If the theory is 
accurate, these organizations will experience enhanced success. My 
sense is that any open political party, for example, that implements 
Asset Voting for its own governance, with decent rules that would 
encourage wide participation, will do nothing but grow. And it will 
then be imitated.

What is truly nifty about FA/DP organizations is that, because they 
do not concentrate power, other than possibly the power to 
collectively advise (collective advice can be *complicated*, i.e, 
half of it could be *this way* and half could be *that*), they can 
readily merge. It's almost trivial to combine two FA/DP 
organizations, or, alternatively, to set up connecting structures.

By the same token, they are protected from corruption, overall, by 
their ability to fission easily. If a proxy doesn't like something 
that the *whole organization* is deciding to do, they can simply form 
their own damn organization. They already have the structure to do 
it. Unless they are isolated, in which they can still do it. And it 
will work or not.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, my general inspiration for Free Association 
structure, the saying is, "All you need to start a meeting is a 
resentment and a coffee pot." And that's really so. And as a result, 
AA meetings multiplied like rabbits, making them more and more 
available to people, and less and less subject to individual 
domination. AA *harnessed* resentment. But, then, the rest of the AA 
traditions suggested that all these meetings could cooperate for 
common purpose, and they did. The basic thing that they did was to 
organize local intergroups that maintain meeting lists. Sometimes 
they worked together to create an independent organization, as with 
treatment centers and clubhouses. Those are *not* funded by AA. Quite 
the reverse!

>re: "I'm imagining the election method for the hybrid to be
>      proportional, also, so that if 10 of the 500 think that
>      advocates for position X should be on the legislature,
>      then 3 (same proportion) will, assuming they vote according
>      to that opinion."

That may happen, but that would reflect undeliberated opinion. What 
happens if there is a thorough deliberation process? This idea also 
thinks of people as "advocates" for a postion, rather than as 
representative participants in a process that generates positions and 
makes decision.

The concept is common. The entire concept of "proportional 
representation" is based on this assumption, usually based on 
political party. An Asset Assembly might not consider, for election, 
party affiliation at all. Rather an Asset Assembly is designed to 
maximize "trusted representation," which, quite simply, may 
*resemble* issue representation but which is actually that.

In full deliberative process, it would be important that every 
substantial position be *expressed* in the process. Proportional 
representation of that position is *not* necessary. The concept 
thinks of the representatives as having fixed positions, which is 
actually inimical to deliberative democracy. In theory, decisions are 
made *after* there has been adequate debate or discussion. That's 
*essential*. It is not deliberative democracy if voting is based on a 
priori positions, it is mere aggregation.

Aggregation without deliberation is part of our own survival 
mechanism, to be exercised in an emergency. Tiger is after you, and 
you come to two paths. You make an immediate choice, based on a kind 
of internal range voting, and if you fail to choose quickly, tiger 
eats you. We are fairly good at making choices like this, we are 
obviously designed for it. But the design does not allow deeper 
decision-making, and we have learned to employ much more complex 
processes when there is time.

In my training, it's the lizard brain, the amygdala, and the cerebral 
cortex. The cortex assists the lizard brain, sometimes, but only 
primitively, by comparison with what is possible when the lizard is 
quieted and reflection and connection with what is called the "higher 
self" awakens. The higher self is what Alcoholics Anonmous calls the 
"group conscience," and a measure of it is the degree of consensus.

Basically, when the conditions allow it, two or three or more can be 
*much* smarter than any individual.

And this is precisely why the historical trend, accelerating over the 
past few centuries, has been toward democracy and away from tight 
oligarchy or dictatorship. The latter, especially, unless the 
dictator is wise and sets up advisory process *and listens to it*, 
can be *very foolish.*

But if the democracy that is set up is purely aggregative, it can be 
even stupider than a single dictator. It becomes mob rule, and we 
have seen, again and again, that mob rule degenerates back to 
dictatorship, not full democracy.

>I'm not clear on this point.  By proportional, do you mean the 
>number of random choices will be proportional to party size?  That 
>is, if party 'A' is 23% of the electorate, 23% of the total 
>candidates selected will be chosen, at random, from party 'A'?  If 
>so, may I suggest that non-partisans be treated in the same way?  If 
>57% of the electorate is non-partisan, 57% of the candidates are 
>chosen, at random, from the non-partisans?  (I will avoid 
>consideration of the treatment of advocates of a particular position 
>until I have a clearer understanding of your idea.)

It wasn't my expression, but, let's say, that if we attempt to create 
such an assembly that rigidly follows such a pattern, it will fail to 
realize a much more significant goal, full representation.

>re: "A system can be pushed more towards "not alienating those
>      further away" by increasing the threshold for action (e.g.
>      supermajority rule), and that's what I noticed."
>At the risk of diverting attention from the critical issues we are 
>discussing, I'd like to suggest that, instead of using a 
>supermajority rule, we consider the sunsetting of legislation, that 
>is, varying a law's life depending on the percentage of legislators 
>supporting the law, with all laws subject to repeal at any time by a 
>simple majority. Perhaps, something like:
>     Approval Rate      Term of Legislation
>     -------------      -------------------
>     Less than 52%      law expires in one year
>     52% to 60%         law expires in two years
>     60% to 75%         law expires in five years
>     75% to 90%         law expires in ten years
>     over 90%           no automatic expiration
>These terms are, of course, only for illustration.  The actual terms 
>should be determined by study.  Given the harm done by bad 
>legislation, this might be a topic worthy of thought and discussion.
>Fred Gohlke
>[1] Beyond Adversary Democracy, Jane J. Mansbridge, The University 
>of Chicago Press, 1980.

When we don't understand the *basic issue*, we create all kinds of 
Rube Goldberg devices to limit the freedom of the people. The device 
Fred suggests could indeed be done. Notice, though, that the majority 
would be disempowering itself. Is that likely?

Sunset laws are possible. If the majority wants them, fine. But what 
is more sensible to me is individual sunset provisions in specific 
laws that then generate broader consensus for the law. That allows a 
voting member to essentially say, "Okay, we can try this for a year," 
or whatever time is incorporated.

Laws often create constituencies, making it difficult to change later.

I see the central task as being creating and maintaining an Assembly 
as *fully representative* of all who care to be represented. Asset 
Voting allows *total freedom* on the part of the voter to choose 
their representative, from a very broad set. Their vote will *count*, 
every vote, as long as they cast it for someone who doesn't just 
throw it away. And that makes the *voter* responsible for the choice made.

And how do we get there? Do we attempt to decide specific rules for 
the Assembly, and promote an initiative to implement it?

I don't think so. As a first step, this is likely a total waste of 
time as to any public elections.

Rather, we can set up Asset Voting to create such representative 
bodies in nonprofit or other voluntary organizations. Very easy to 
do, actually.

It's been done, once, to my knowledge. It worked. However, there were 
expectations of the body elected that were not met. Basically, it was 
a steering committee, not a working committee. It represented the 
unified trust of the members, not their activity. It was there, in my 
view, to approve of proposals, on behalf of the entire interested 
membership. No proposals were presented. So it did nothing.


Ultimately, other members put together a board-centered organization 
and selected members of the board from among themselves. This is an 
old pattern, it is quite how FairVote was started. There are some 
members of the organization, including a Board member, who want to 
set up an FA/DP advisory structure, and that may happen. I'm largely 
involved elsewhere, but I'd certainly support such.

Nobody can stop an FA/DP organization from being formed if there are 
at least two people interested in doing it. If there is only one who 
is williing to invest the time, *it is likely to go nowhere.* And, in 
spite of the structure being rigorously nonpartisan, *it will likely 
be attacked.*

Nevertheless, I see it as possible to set up FA/DP organizations even 
under conditions of very limited democracy, as in China. The key 
would be to very carefully avoid any attack on the existing 
oligarchy, to, indeed, organize to *support* it, in accord with 
declared public policy.

But the medium is the message. The FA/DP structure, once created, 
makes collective consciousness possible on a large scale. And that is 
truly revolutionary. Without attacking anyone, without defining 
anyone as the enemy.

The revolution in Iran was largely made possible by the development 
of a collective consciousness. But the people were naive, not aware 
of the risk of the process being corrupted. As soon as power devolved 
into the hands of individuals, as it normally will, that revolution 
was massively corrupted. From this and many other experiences, FA/DP 
organizations should be very wary of *success.* The temptation is 
always to take power, and to use it "for the public welfare," and, 
then, to define those who might disagree as "against the public."

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