Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Delegated Democracy - Part 1

So lately I've been reading a lot about voting and election systems. One that's caught my interest as of late is a form of proxy voting called "delegated voting" - in short, a voter is allowed to designate a proxy to vote on his/her behalf, and that proxy can also designate someone else, and so on. The reason I like this is because I think it has the potential to be used on a much wider scale, even at a national level as a method of implementing a working direct democracy.

However, I have serious doubts about the existing delegated voting experiments.
  • One issue is anonymity in voting, which projects like World Parliament Experiment do not have and I think is critical in order to prevent coercion through vote buying and threats of violence. The basic problem is that you either have the right to see where your vote goes (which exposes your delegate's choice) or your delegate has the right to anonymity, which means you can't even see your own vote!
  • The second problem is that of security. With any internet voting system (like the WPE or Demoex), there is a vulnerability to man-in-the-middle attacks, hacking people's home computers, and to a lesser extent the voting server.
  • Even a delegated voting system can be restrictive. By being forced to select a single delegate, you cannot instead delegate the average of your three most political friends, the result of your own crazy formula, or any other automated method.
  • Delegated voting systems can also cause recursion problems. If you select a friend as your delegate who selects you, or there is any other chain that ultimately goes full circle, there is no clear way to determine the vote.
  • Complexity can also be an issue - in addition to the security implications of rising complexity, the more complex the software the harder it will be to get people to agree on it.
The concept is still a damn good idea, though. I've got a couple ideas as to how this can be improved, so I'll post more on that later. For now I just want to get back in the habit of writing here...

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Blogger James said...

interesting post, I'd like to see part II. That said, what are your thoughts on world parliament if you've been checking out the WPE?

6:23 AM, April 16, 2008  
Blogger Explodicle said...

I think it's a nice idea, but needs some more refinement before it's ready for prime time.

7:45 AM, April 16, 2008  
Anonymous Parallax said...

It is an interesting idea, but the issues you state are VERY hard to overcome unless you do local caucus for all votes followed by public trail of delegate vote records.

11:58 AM, April 16, 2008  
Blogger AbdLomax said...

If you are seriously interested in this, you should look at http://beyondpolitics.org/wiki and consider joining the mailing list fa-dp@yahoogroups.com. There are a number of groups around the world working on the ideas. FA/DP is about generic applications (not government, but possibly voluntary organizations with political concerns); my opinion is that if Demoex had gone the Free Association route instead of becoming yet another political party, they'd have transformed Swedish politics by now. Most people looking at delegable proxy, first pass, think about voting. It's really about bidirectional communication in a formal network, and it will have applications we can't even image now. But we can do delegable proxy in free associations *now*, and in that context, the security issue is somewhere between minor and nonexistent. The problem with public applications is that the basic idea was laid out by Lewis Carroll 120 years ago. So what happened? It's not going to go public until it is tried and proven outside of government. Turns out that it's very simple to do delegable proxy, and it isn't a software thing. Yes, software can be written, and it will make things easier, but when consensus is the goal, exact votes usually don't count. I wouldn't want to do it every day with a large organization, but a proxy expansion is easy with, say, an Excel spreadsheet. What's essential is (1) a list of proxies and (2) a list of participants in some process. If that is public, anyone can do the expansion. Now, as limitations: the consensus became with people involved with BeyondPolitics.org that the simplicity of one proxy per organization outweighed the flexibility of multiple proxies, which really raise a host of problems. However, there is a very simple compromise: special proxy lists. So, say, some committee is formed to study a particular topic. A special proxy table can be created for that committee. Proxy assignments in that list override the general proxy assignment (but only for that committee's work). So if members want to name a special proxy, they can. If not, their general proxy stands. And if they name no proxy at all, they can still, of course, participate personally. Flexible. Simple. Efficient.

As to secrecy, it's a negative in itself, it adds complications and most solutions create defacto central control. (One of the features of a DP (delegable proxy) network is that it can reconstruct itself, *if* the members using it have direct contact information. Because groups of members can reconstitute themselves, independently from an existing central structure, the central structure becomes a convenience, not a necessity. There is already a lot of experience on this kind of human networking..... FA/DP is a generic solution to the problem of how to apply anarchist/libertarian/consensus process, which is pretty well known and successful when the scale is small, to larger-scale situations. What it does is to break down the large group into smaller ones that remain connected; the organizational structure is a fractal, self-similar regardless of scale. When we neglect loops, it creates pyramidal hierarchies, but, in fact, if everyone names a proxy, and if power is not transferred but the naming of a proxy simply sets up communications and noise filtering, the proxy/client relationship is actually bidirectional, and far more complex than a simple pyramid. But to each member, it looks very simple: I see my proxy, and I can see a single line up to someone very highly connected (or to a loop of such people), and similarly I may be in communication with another in the other direction, leading out to individual members who have not received any assignments, and who don't directly participate very often. But DP keeps them connected, through someone they trust, and who, presumably, knows something about them and their interests and can tell them if something comes up they would like to know about. And if the organization needs support, the proxy is the ideal person to solicit it.

4:58 PM, June 05, 2008  

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