Democracy is a difficult business. Direct Democracy, the kind practiced in Athens, is fairest but needs to be done in communities small enough to fit into a single space, and with a highly engaged populace with plenty of free time. Modern forms of Representative Democracy are simpler to run, but we all know, far from perfect. You probably don’t agree with your representative on all issues, forcing compromises. You may want to withdraw support between election cycles. Wasted votes are endemic. The list goes on.

There are some who believe that democracy can be shifted online – that’s probably unfeasible at present, but there is one proposal that is worth investigating right now – it’s called Liquid Democracy.

Liquid Democracy is “direct democracy for people who know they’re not experts on a subject, but know of people that they trust who who know more about a subject than themselves“. It’s currently used by several branches of the Pirate Party, particularly in Germany. Their dedication to transparency, and nifty tech skills, have led to this form of democracy being used in order for their elected representatives to instantly get feedback on proposals from the membership.

There are two main factors which differentiate liquid democracy from representative or direct democracy.

  1. A citizen may transfer their voting power to a proxy or proxies (and this delegation can be revoked at any time)
  2. Voting occurs on issues, not just candidates for representation

Personally, I favour Liquid Democracy systems as a supplement to policy making and conferences. Hear me out.

Every Liberal Democrat member downloads a piece of software. The Pirate Party use one called Liquid Feedback. It’s rather too technical for many, including myself, and the interface isn’t exactly easy on the eyes, but the API has been released openly so new front-ends for desktop, browser or smartphone could be developed.

Any member can submit a proposal. If it receives a certain level of support (the pirates use 10%), then it becomes an official proposal. People can debate its merits, and submit counter-proposals.

Each individual has one vote on any given issue – they can choose to directly support one or other of the proposals on any given issue. Their vote counts towards the total.

But what if you don’t know enough about a given issue or policy field? Say, the Health and Social Care Bill or health policy in general. In that case, you delegate your vote to a trustee, who is effectively a proxy voter. For example, I know nothing about an upcoming debate on nuclear power, or generally about further education policy. My friend Alice studied engineering and knows a lot about nuclear power plants, and my friend Zachary is a teacher at an FE college. I trust their opinions on the issues and we’re largely in agreement. I, on the other hand, am a policy wonk for foreign relations. I can delegate

a) my vote on the single debate on nuclear power to Alice  [Issue Delegation]

b) my vote on all debates relating to further education to Zachary [Subject Area/Category Delegation]

c) If I had a period of inactivity, or simply trusted another member hugely, I could offer a Global Delegation, where they would vote on all issues on my behalf.

I would be notified automatically when they vote, and if I don’t agree, I can either talk to them and one can attempt to persuade the other, or else I can withdraw my vote (either from the issue, from the policy category, or permanently).

When a foreign policy vote comes up, five of my friends agree with and trust me enough on foreign policy to make me their trustee on this issue, and two friends agree wholeheartedly with me and I vote for them in total. When a debate starts up on Syria, I have a voting power of 8 – my two complete votes, five on this policy, and my own. Eventually, during the debate I become respected and people trust my opinion. Three others decide to give me their vote for the single issue, pushing my total up to 11.

It would work a little like in this image:-

Illustration Liquid Democracy via Wikipedia

This system is not only being used by the Pirate Party. An alternative system, Adhocracy (more user-friendly than Liquid Feedback) is being used by the German SPD and the federal Parliament is using Adhocracy for a commission on digital policy.

What do you think? I feel that this would be an excellent way to supplement Liberal Democrat policy making and conferences.

  • We could all take part, from wherever we are in the country.
  • It’s reasonably cheap to produce and maintain,
  • It’s far more responsive, providing instant feedback and response.
  • It’s open and transparent, provides records of debates etc.
  • It builds cooperation within the party.
  • It helps keep all members engaged on all issues.
  • It produces immediate accountability.
  • Decision-making will be largely well-informed, with ‘experts’ responsible for recommending votes…
  • …while still keeping to the principle of one person one vote.
  • It keeps the grassroots and the upper echelons of the party in constant touch…
  • …which helps engage with the members and keep our elected officials accountable.
Essentially, it’s like if every MP, MEP and councillor we have was like Tim Farron, constantly on twitter talking to us foot soldiers.

I’m fascinated by this topic and I’d love to get as much feedback as possible on this topic. We need to work out and develop a lot of this concept, so feel free to comment below with your views. I respond to all comments.

  • Do you know how we’d trial it?
  • Would it be anonymous?
  • How would we prevent selling votes?
  • How would we deal with corruption?
  • How would we deal with votes being coerced?
  • How would people be able to ‘meet up’ with the people who may want to give them votes?
  • How would we select proposals?
  • How would we select categories?
  • Would it be on-going, or build to an online conference of sorts?
  • Will people respond to it?
  • Would it be secure?
  • Will it help combat voter apathy?
  • Will it really keep the grassroots engaged?
  • Would voters get compensation?
  • And keep the leadership accountable?
  • Who will be allowed to vote? All members, just elected representatives, open to all supporters…?
  • How do we detect and deal with cycles? Do we need to?
  • How would we break down voting on proposals vs clauses vs amendments etc
  • Will the individuals with the most votes go mad with the power?
  • Would our ‘executive’ have the ability to over-ride Liquid Democracy voting?
  • Will Liquid Democracy someday remove the need for our Representative Democracy?
Answers in the comments!

[this is the main link that’s going around Twitter at the moment]

NEW: Does it answer these 76 reasonable questions to ask about any technology?