Delegable proxy, sometimes referred to as liquid democracy or fractal democracy, is a system that allows members of an organization to delegate their voting rights to proxies who can in turn delegate those rights to others. The system is a hybrid of direct democracy and representative democracy designed to address problems that have been observed in the two systems.
How it works
In a proxy system, each member of the electorate is allowed to delegate his right to vote directly on proposals to another person. The term "proxy" can refer can refer both to the delegation of voting rights itself and to the person chosen to exercise them.<ref>RONR (10th ed.) p. 414.</ref> A proxy only represents those individual members who chose him as proxy. This distinguishes it from a typical representative system, in which groups of members pool their votes to elect a representative to represent both the winning faction and the dissenting members of the group. The use of a proxy is designed to help minimize participation bias problems associated with direct democracy<ref>http://lists.electorama.com/pipermail/election-methods-electorama.com/2007-August/020651.html</ref> which result from some members having insufficient time or information to make an informed decision.<ref name=Green-Armytage/>
In typical implementations of proxy systems, members retain the right to vote on their own behalf. Thus, if A selects B as proxy, but A decides he would like to vote on a proposal directly, he can do so, and B's vote on that issue will not count for him. Bruce Simpson calls this type of system "recoverable proxy" and notes that, if applied to political systems, it would allow citizens to vote down unpopular proposals supported by their representatives.<ref name=Simpson>http://aardvark.co.nz/rproxy.shtml</ref> Dave Ketchum has proposed a system in which proxies would have "a have a monopoly on performing their tasks"; this alters the nature of the system to such an extent that he prefers to refer to it by a different name, "trees by proxy."<ref name=Ketchum>http://email@example.com/msg02782.html</ref>
Generally, proxy systems also allow members to retain the right to revoke their proxy at any time. For instance, Boeing's proxy statement allows shareholders to revoke their proxy on short notice by notifying the Secretary by mail or by appearing at the meeting and delivering a notice to that effect to an inspector of elections.<ref>http://www.boeing.com/companyoffices/financial/finreports/annual/96proxy/general.htm</ref> Abd Lomax notes that proxy revocation may be an expedient course of action if a member frequently disagrees with his proxy or loses trust in him,<ref name=FAQ/> and suggests that the delay in doing so should only be limited to whatever unavoidable latency is involved in executing the revocation.<ref>http://listas.apesol.org/pipermail/election-methods-electorama.com/2007-March/020005.html</ref> Systems in which the proxy cannot be revoked until after a certain time period have been referred to by R. Marsh as "static recoverable proxy."<ref>http://marsh.orcon.net.nz/stumpy/drp.htm</ref> Bryan Ford suggests having election days which would be more frequent than typically seen under current systems.<ref>http://web.archive.org/web/20050903035026/http://www.indrep.org/</ref>
A delegable proxy system allows a proxy to choose his own proxy, who can then cast votes for the member, the member's proxy, and the proxy's proxy. In this way, proxy chains can be formed in which, for instance, A appoints B, B appoints C, and C casts votes on behalf of all three of them. These chains can be of infinite length. In a direct democracy proxy system, this can help counteract nonparticipation problems by allowing votes to keep flowing down the chain to proxies' proxies when members do not exercise their voting rights.
It is even possible for the chains to form loops, in which, for example, A appoints B, B appoints C, and C appoints A. In this case, if B and C did not vote, A could vote for all three of them. In a system in which every member has a proxy, loops are inevitable. They may be even be desirable as a way to increase the robustness of the system, since members can form a large loop that will still cast votes even if only one member of the loop participates.
Delegable proxy could create a situation similar to that generated by a representative system, in which on a day-to-day basis, power is exercised by a small number of trusted individuals chosen by the electorate. Abd Lomax notes that in theory, a delegable proxy organization, without ever holding an election, could select a superproxy who alone represents the entire organization, simply as a result of the choices made by members as to whom to trust as proxy. According to Ant's Eye View, delegable proxy involves "the formation of a class roughly analogous to what political scientists would call 'opinion leaders'."<ref>http://www.antseyeview.com/archives/000709.html</ref>
Implementation details and options
Under some proposed implementations, members can appoint multiple proxies, and even rank them. Green proposes this as a means of overcoming loops in which all the members do not vote; if a vote goes all the way around a proxy loop to the original member, it could then go to the member's second choice and begin traveling down a different proxy chain. This would further enhance robustness of the system against nonparticipation. Lomax views multiple proxies as complicating the system.<ref name=WorkingPaper>http://listas.apesol.org/pipermail/election-methods-electorama.com/2005-November/017458.html</ref>
There are many ideas for generation of proposals under a delegable proxy system. One idea is for a legislature to introduce bills that would be approved or rejected through the delegable proxy system. Citizens or their proxies could also directly propose bills. Carl Milsted notes that direct democracies can run into parliamentary nightmares: "Who gets to introduce a bill? How is debate to be carried out? How do we deal with proposed amendments? Go to a convention where there are a thousand people in the room debating using Robertâ€™s Rules of Order sometime. Boring! Now scale that up to millions of people. Even with modern electronics, the process is unmanageable."<ref>http://www.holisticpolitics.org/Power/Direct.php</ref> However, Abd Lomax notes that if it were desired to limit the number of bills placed under consideration, a single transferable vote system could be used in which bills have to reach a certain vote threshold to be placed on the agenda. Abd Lomax has proposed separating the right to vote and the right to participate in discussions in large assemblies where it is not practical for everyone to speak.<ref name=Ketchum/> The Liquid Democracy Voting System notes that the voting period could be adjusted to taste and "wildly different liquid democracies could be formed by choosing to emphasize snap decision making or lengthy contemplation."<ref>http://web.archive.org/web/20031105204552/http://twistedmatrix.com/users/jh.twistd/python/moin.cgi/LiquidDemocracyVotingSystem</ref>
Lomax proposes that proxies have back-and-forth communication with those whom they represent. The individual would then know his proxy's opinions and intentions, and in the event of a conflict, could vote directly. If issues of trust, or frequent differences in opinion arose, it would be more efficient to change proxies. Lomax proposes that a proxy relationship between two people not be created unless the proxy accepts it, as "to carry a proxy is a burden; accepting it is accepting the right of the one represented to communicate with you, perhaps to telephone you or meet you in person." In Lomax's view, the aspect of communication between the proxy and the person represented is crucial to the system working properly. Moreover, by initiating communication, the proxy can determine that the request is not fraudulent. A person receiving proxy requests from more people than he wishes to represent can recommend another proxy.<ref name=FAQ>http://lists.electorama.com/htdig.cgi/election-methods-electorama.com/2006-March/017909.html</ref>
Issue independence would allow members to pick different proxies to handle different issues.<ref name=Green-Armytage>http://fc.antioch.edu/~james_green-armytage/vm/proxy.htm</ref> One might wish to select an expert on a particular subject matter to make decisions in that realm.<ref>http://wiki.uniteddiversity.com/gdr</ref> For instance, one might select Greenpeace to vote on environmental issues and the Democratic Party to vote on social issues. A CommunityWiki page recommends that users subscribe to an issue categorization service of their choice that would facilitate delegating votes on different topics to different proxies.<ref>http://www.communitywiki.org/en/CategorizationOfVotes </ref> Nathan Larson proposes that this could be done by ranking the proxies and making arrangements with the proxies to only vote on certain issues. Thus, if Greenpeace is ranked first, and a non-environment-related issue comes up, then Greenpeace will abstain from voting that proxy, and it will pass to the second-choice proxy.<ref>Template:Cite paper</ref>
There are differing opinions on whether citizens' votes should be public or secret. Roedy Green notes that it is "technically difficult to simultaneously provide both anonymity and fraud prevention."<ref>http://mindprod.com/politics/proxyvoting.html</ref> Lomax proposes that votes be open for security reasons, noting the precedent of jurisdictions that make decisions through town meetings. Rob Lanphier suggests having certain votes, such as presidential elections, remain secret; citizens would have to continue showing up to the polls and voting directly on those issues in order to participate. In other votes, the names of those on each side would be a matter of public record, in these cases, one would be allowed to vote by proxy. The reason for these votes to be public is so that people can make informed decisions about who to choose as proxy.<ref>http://robla.net/1996/steward/</ref>
Template:Section-stub BeyondPolitics notes, "The organizational structure of a delegable proxy democracy is a fractal, hence the term 'fractal democracy.' Because it would be fluid and subject to rapid change, it has also been called 'liquid democracy,' but at least one worker in the field has rejected that name because it could imply a lack of structure, which is not accurate. Delegable proxy democracies could be highly efficient, quick-response structures."<ref>http://www.beyondpolitics.org/wiki/tiki-index.php?page=WhatIsDelegableProxyDemocracy</ref>
History and use
Template:Section-stub Some early delegable proxy pioneers were Abd Lomax, James Green-Armytage, and Mikael Nordfors.<ref name=WorkingPaper/> It has also been claimed that delegable proxy was originally designed circa 2000 for small, stealthy, distributed teams of anarchist kung-fu badasses.<ref name=Manifesto>http://wiki.uniteddiversity.com/tiki-index.php?page=LiquidDemocracy</ref>
The Election Methods Interest Group uses delegable proxy.<ref>http://groups.yahoo.com/group/electionmethods/</ref> Demoex was a Swedish experiment in delegable proxy.<ref>http://demoex.net/en</ref> BeyondPolitics was formed to raise public awareness of the system.<ref>http://www.beyondpolitics.org/</ref> A proposal is being developed to use delegable proxy in certain Wikipedia decisions. It would first be used in an advisory capacity, and later a decision could be made as to whether to implement it as an aspect of Wikipedia's control mechanisms.<ref>http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Delegable_proxy</ref>
Advantages and disadvantages
It is argued that some countries, such as the United States, have simply outgrown their current representative democracy systems. Bryan Ford argues that the size of the United States House of Representatives is already too large for each member to take an active role in studying and debating any particular issue at hand; yet the ratio of members to constituents makes any real voter-representative relationship impossible.<ref>http://www.bford.info/deleg/deleg.pdf</ref>
Bruce Simpson claims, "Through this system, the voters of the country will have the democratic right to over-ride the government on any issue and we will have a truly democratic political system...It leaves the day-to-day running of the country in the hands of those who have been elected (and are paid) to do so – yet it ensures that these people no longer have unbridled power to make decisions against the will of the majority of voters. In effect, it provides true democracy with minimal overhead."<ref name=Simpson/> Lomax views delegable proxy as being a good way to provide more accurate representation. In a first past the post system such as the United States, a candidate for President can be rejected by the majority of voters in a state but still win by plurality. According to the Economics, Science and Communications Institute, under this system, "a citizen can express his individual and rational opinion without having to dilute it or adapt it."<ref>http://www.institutesc.org/index.php?section=text&id=3</ref>
One criticism is that "A prominent pro-something man may change his mind or receive 'compensation', and at the last minute flip a bunch of pro voters into the anti bucket. Reputation and standing would be needed to minimise the impact that this could have, and hopefully problems of this nature would be short-lived and extremely high cost for the guilty proxy."<ref>http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2003/7/16/201556/896</ref> Lomax notes that bribery and corruption are an issue in any political system.<ref>http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Delegable_proxy#the_Criticism_section</ref>
Comparison to proportional representation
Abd Lomax describes DP as a relatively simple system in which no votes are wasted and which follows the norm in corporate governance in which voting power varies with the number of proxies held. Proportional representation, on the other hand, attempts to create a peer assembly in which each representative has equal voting power. Lomax sums up the wasted vote situation as being "severe in single-winner district representation, greatly ameliorated with multi-winner PR single-stage election methods, almost entirely eliminated with Asset Voting (which is really a multi-stage election method, it does not produce complete results solely from the votes cast), and totally eliminated with proxy or delegable proxy." Other advantages of DP include that it allows proxy selection on a small scale, where the voters can personally know the proxies, while collecting representation on a much larger scale.<ref>http://lists.electorama.com/pipermail/election-methods-electorama.com/2005-October/017192.html</ref> Lomax notes that in a proportional representation system, "a member of a party who would have chosen someone other than the winner of party primaries is *still* left without a representative."<ref>http://www.beyondpolitics.org/wiki/tiki-index.php?page=WhyIsItNeeded</ref>