Elections and Delegation in a Liquid Democracy?
April 18, 2023
Sam Schikowitz

Political delegation is a difficult subject.

Nobody has the time, interest, or expertise to make reasonable decisions on all the challenges the group or society faces.

Representatives allow us to think less about every nuanced decision.

And, political delegation should, theoretically, allow us to empower people with more expertise to make decisions.

Unfortunately, delegation, as it is done in our democracies, does a poor job of concentrating expertise onto the challenges we face.

And, the delegation systems we use come with serious problems.

The Problems With Delegation

Typically, we vote for our representatives and leaders once every 4 years or so, and hope for the best. We are not involved in any decisions after the election.
The elected official faces some serious challenges.

Problem 1: Conflicts of Interest

  1. How can representatives represent the diverse opinions of the thousands to millions of people who elected them?
  2. How can representatives focus on the challenges important to the people who elected them when representatives have to raise thousands of dollars per day for their next campaign.
  3. If representatives do get re-elected, how do they juggle the will of the people they represent with the promises they made to campaign donors?
  4. How can the representatives know enough about all of the complicated challenges our societies face to make good decisions when they are usually just politicians with no technical skills?

As you can see, representation in our conventional democracies is a promise of corruption.

Reducing Corruption

You can think of delegation in Liquid democracies as very different from representation. You are not expecting the people you empower to “represent” you. Representation is impossible in large societies with thousands or millions of voters for each representative. Rather, you are expecting the people you empower to act with integrity in accordance with their expertise.

Unlike conventional representation, Liquid Democracy reduces the impact of conflicts of interest in a few important ways.

  1. Delegation is instantly reversible on a person by person basis, vs requiring impeachment processes.
  2. Delegation can be domain specific, so you don’t have to empower people beyond their area of expertise. People tend to be more trustworthy in the area of their specialty.
  3. You can see every vote made by the people you delegate to.
  4. You can delegate to anyone, which means there are too many potential candidates to corrupt.
  5. Because empowerment is more on the bases of expertise, the political process does not attract those with aspirations to power.

Problem 2: Elections as popularity contests.

Conventional elections and delegation quickly become a popularity contest, rather than anything that has to do with the person’s qualification. We can clearly see that, historically, political savvy has been more important than a candidate’s skills and experience.

This is a problem because elections are a winner takes all affair. An elected official has all of the power of their constituency, including those that did not vote for them.

All or Nothing Representation vs. Long Tail Liquid democracy.

The benefit of liquid democracy is that there is a long tail effect, where a larger number of people can be empowered. Each of them is empowered to the degree that they are trusted by others.

Allowing these stragglers to be part of the conversation opens the door for qualified but politically less savvy experts to prove their insight and value, even when there are popular personalities who would have “won” an election.

And in liquid Democracy these delegates don’t work for years and make decisions on every topic. Members empower individuals as each member feels is appropriate;

  • at the level of the whole community,
  • on specific topics like “Finances”, or
  • on specific challenges like “The 2023 Budget”
    Thus, individuals are empowered by others to make decisions ONLY to the degree, an on the topics, that they are trusted by other individual members. And this delegation can be removed instantly, at the level of the Proposal, Category, or entirely.
    Studies show that people in liquid democracies delegate to those with more skill in a the area being delegated to. This means that instead of electing politicians, liquid democracy concentrates expertise onto the challenges we face.

Problem 3: Voter Apathy

When our involvement in the political process is limited to voting for candidates every four years, it’s easy to get apathetic. And, some people just don’t care anyway. Liquid Democracy offers options for those who want more involvement and those who don’t.

Easy Delegation

Because some have no interest, Liquid democracy gives people the option to delegate everything to a trusted family member or friend. Likely, the trusted person will delegate further to people with real expertise.

For those who want more involvement, there are many ways to choose who to empower.

Enabling Better Ways of Finding Trustworthy Delegates

Because there is no barrier to entry to become a delegate, the list of candidates of people to delegate to in Liquid Democracies becomes large. Liquid democracy platforms must enable members to find trustworthy people to delegate to on the basis of their character and expertise.

With the foundation of a Liquid Democracy platform, we can develop systems that allow us to make better decisions about who we trust with empowerment.

Here are a few of the methods people are woking toward:

  1. Trust Networks: Software that analyzes who people follow in social media platforms to inform us who is trusted in specific domains.
    • For example, most economists follow economist x, therefore, economist x could be more trusted.
  2. Prediction Markets: Allowing people to make predictions within specific areas of expertise, and those that make better predictions get expertise credits toward that area of expertise.
    • For example, if I am an economist (or non-economist) that successfully predicted the effect of the bank bailout, I would earn expertise in economics based on my successful prediction.
  3. Qualification Hunting
    • We expect that people will want to vet potential candidates based on their experience. At Forby.io. we are planning to implement a feature called “Expert Opinions.”
      There are 3 levels of expertise.
    1. The first is self-selected, and doesn’t carry much weight.
    2. The 2nd and 3rd levels would require that the person pay for a 3rd party investigation into all of their education and work experiences, as well as all of their investments and potential conflicts of interest.
    3. The requirements for Level 2 and Level 3 would have to be decided on, but could be like this:
      1. Level 2 would likely require a bachelors degree or over 3 years direct work experience.
      2. Level 3 could require a masters degree or higher, or over 5 years direct work experience.
    • People with “Expert Opinions” would be given a badge, and members could look them up to see how they discuss the topics of interest in an effort to find candidates they trust on specific topics.

No Such Thing as an Election in Liquid Democracy?

We do need to delegate to people with expertise in our complicated groups and societies.
But if we can delegate to anyone, what would we need an election be for in a Liquid Democracy?

Empowering Sustained Attention

Liquid democracy manages decision making in a much more nuanced and elegant way than conventional representational democracy.
But even in Liquid Democracies, there are cases where an Election is needed.
However, the purpose is a little different.

Elections in Liquid Democracies empower someone to dedicate more time and energy toward a problem.

You can think of elections as the way liquid democracies hire people or select volunteers. The elected person is empowered with specific tasks or responsibilities for the group or society.
For example, a person could be elected to manage a farm. The elected member could be empowered make decisions about what planting technique to use and when to plant. The decision about what to grow might be reserved for the group as a whole.

While it is unlikely that everyone would have voted for the winning farmer, the elected person would be treated as the delegate even to those who didn’t vote for winner, and the liquid democracy rule of “if I delegate to you, I can see your votes” would apply even for those who did not vote for that person.

Summary

In short,

Delegation is a way of reducing cognitive load and empowering people we trust to handle things.

And delegation of decision making in groups is hard to avoid.

Conventional representational systems have 3 major problems:

  1. Conflicts of Interest
  2. Elections as Popularity Contests
  3. Voter Apathy

Liquid Democracy solves these problems in powerful and elegant ways, concentrating expertise onto the challenges we face in our groups and societies.