TED Conversations

Austin Mackell

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A divisible real time mandate system for representative democracy.

REAL TIME VOTING is a system based around transforming the vote from a single use token issued every 4 years into a permanent possession of the voter – something that is lent (in part or full) to a representative the voter trusts to defend their interests and which can be withdrawn without notice.

It would be an online voting system in which each voter would have a personal homepage. Here would be the voters “pot”. Upon the first log in, this pot would contain their entire vote. They would then be able to break this vote into portions of whatever size they liked, called tokens, and proceed to distribute them to representatives. A voter could, for example, give a third of their vote to a candidate who shared their economic views, another third to one with a position on the environment they shared, a sixth to a candidate advocating for a persecuted minority, and the final sixth to a candidate advocating for their local community.

This last option is significant, as while such a system would be, by its nature, inimical to district based voting, it would allow for local representation where it was desired – difficult in current models of proportional representation where people have one vote, once every four years. Indeed one can imagine a community that felt it had been abandoned by the broader political class quickly pooling a substantial chunk of its votes behind a candidate.

The representatives’ voting power would increase and decrease in proportion with their share of active vote tokens. A representative with a total of 10% of active vote tokens would cast a vote that counts for twice that of her colleague with 5% of active tokens. representatives announce their position in advance, giving the voter a chance to withdraw support.

Percentages of active tokens would also be important in allocating speaking time, and the number of opportunities a representative would have to introduce a motion New reps could collect votes from friends and neighbors to start.

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    Oct 23 2012: Hi Austin,

    It's refreshing that these subjects are discussed. Many thanks!

    I think that before we re-structure the system, we have to identify what we want the system to do.
    So .. what good IS a government?
    1. Well, it manages the judiciary. Pretty much everything a government does is to legislate.
    Is the judiciary functioning properly? This needs to be answered to provide a benchmark for desired outcomes.
    2. It manages national defence.
    3. It oversees the establishment and maintenance of social infrastructure.
    4. (most important) it occupies the dominant power niche and prevents internal and external power empires overpowering the niche.
    (let me know if I've missed anything here)

    SO, if these functions are still desirable in a re-structure. then we must evaluate the role and effectiveness of representation. It would not be sufficient to be represented on particular issues, it would also be necessary to measure outcomes. If representation failed ot achieve the outcome, the virtual vote could be returned to the voter for redistribution? And that if a representative's agregate vote fell below a threshold, teh representative would be dismissed and new candidates fielded?

    There is another way.
    If you converted all the services provided by a government into projects, you could have the projects presented instead of representatives. All tax would be abolished and replaced by a vote-tax on every bank account within the nation. Every account holder would have teh right to allocate funds from the tax-vote to whatever projects were on the list. A project would commence only when the estimated cost was covered by funding from the vote-tax. Projects that remain unfunded after the costing estimate period would be shelved for re-costing and the funds re-imbursed to teh accounts of origin for re-distribution.
    This would replace ballot voting and taxation. It would change governement from the position of dominator to servant. I00% democracy, 100% real-time.
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      Oct 23 2012: You raise interesting issues...

      The problem with these kind of "democracy with exceptions" suggestions, which I often receive when discussing these ideas is that they presume a professional body capable of performing the reviews which would somehow not become a power centre in itself. If such a body did exist it too would have to be democratically controlled or become as unaccountable as Iran's Supreme leader. Similarly you talk about proposals being voted on without reps... well someone has to write the damn thing! we might a well know who. Also what reps allow for in a way I don't think pure direct democracy would, is compromise and the production of long sophisticated (and carefully scrutinized) documents: The Legislation.

      furhtermore while you point out several key roles, I don't think government is quite so easily definable. Best leave that up to the voters of the future!
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        Oct 23 2012: What I propose is a simplification that re-connects the electorate directly to its interests.
        Representation is OK when the issues are simple, but the world can no longer be conceived by any individual in its totality - it's just too complex.
        What happens is that the issues get "bundled" by the power-parties such that desirable outcomes are always linked to undesirable outcomes that have a ratchet affect in the favour of the party. By converting the vote to projects, there is no linking - the project has a specific single outcome. This is exactly the project dynamic used by corporations, so the skill base and governance has already been developed.
        The proposal also addresses the local verses national problem of ballot voting. A tax-vote is much more likely to be cast to local issues before wider issues get looked at.
        I totally recognise that the system would get "gamed". It's kind of important that it does get gamed because this would provide a transition path for existing power structures (mostly parties) - who would otherwise work to resist and destroy the system. So, the parties would promote and advertise their preferred project priorities and publish "how to vote" lists, just as they do now. They would have one-button vote programs. The difference is that citizens would have the power to apply their own exceptions if they felt the need.
        Corporations would also weigh-in to win the project funding. So would churches and criminal organisations. It's important that criminal organisations get this opportunity as it brings focus on judiciary issues (legislation projects).
        Criminal organisations form the basis of all governments that develop under our current systems. They maintain power by dominance (subjugation - citizen is passive). With the tax-vote system, the emphasis moves towards leadership (loyalty - citizen is active).
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          Oct 30 2012: Hi Mitch, there would be votes held on proposals in my system, which people could participate in directly or through reps. The question is, who would be writing the proposals you speak of and how would the voting be scheduled etc? Who ever is doing that should be subject to accountability as well.
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        Oct 31 2012: Absolutely. Such a system would rely on 100% transparency.
        In fact, the project mix would have to include a set of due-diligence projects that oversee the transparency of teh system. Such expertise is already developed within corporations.
        The writers of proposals would be existing social leaders, but access to lodging a project proposal would be completely open to any citizen.
        The advantage of the vote-tax is that the perception of value is returned to the voter. This would give rise to far more political engaement (aka social responsibility).
        The media would then find some hard definitions to their journalistic role - that definition would possibly improve the quality of journaism.
        The only flaw is that a tax vote would not address power concentration in the rich who would have project influence in disproportion to the poor. The existing tax-scale mechanis might be imposed .. but I'm not sure if it would be needed .. one tends to assume that the rich will skew outcomes to their advantage and the disadvantage of the poor. But another approach is to take corporate tax and re-alocate it proportionally to the poorer voter. I do not regard corporations as persons. They cannot be allowed to vote, but they must be taxed ...
        The vote-tax is pretty much the same as your ballot-token idea, but it is real-time and retains personal propriety - this becomes your own money that you are spending socially. It would be advantageous to shift the tax into a second personal account that can only be spent on social projects. There would be no need for immediate disbursal - a social tax account could "save-up" potential funding for any period. Disbursal of static accounts might become part of a social "duty" attitude propogated through community attitudes.
        Accumulation in the vote-tax account would be transaction-based in every deposit to the personal account. This would ensure the best match to real time democracy.
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          Nov 1 2012: wait you're saying people pay to vote? that's repugnant and stupid.
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        Nov 1 2012: Hi Austin,

        You cannot say "repugnant and stupid" without explaination. Such blank assertions are a form of violence - I am sure you did not intend that?

        What I am saying is not "pay to vote", i am saying pay for social infrastructure - personally, not by proxy.

        You really have to be careful to not react to slogans .. I detect that you have some "trigger behaviour" programed into you.

        Pleaase read what is written and do your own critical thinking.
  • Oct 21 2012: Computer literacy & accessibility definitely what I meant by literacy globally. But which model of democracy should we choose? In the current Australian construct "1st or next nearest past the post" 51 percent can be favoured over 49%. I don't think that has ever worked for the people in Australia and I shudder at how this would work globally. So perhaps there need to be Global discussion forums where ideas are discussed for a long time until a genuine consensus position is reached without dissent. There is of course the inevitable case that parties of perceived left and right along with churches and other self interested structures will have their people trying to drag this method screaming and kicking back to the paradigm where they are comfortable.. being the status quo which they benefit from. However as with Occupy , it is not a short term thing and if not be treated as such may just work
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      Oct 23 2012: Regarding "which model of democracy should we choose" - this is what my proposal hopes to answer (or go some way towards answering). Whether a simple 51-49 majority or (50.0000000000000001% to 49.9999999999999999999) is enough- well it seems a little silly. However consensus only works where no one is trying to game the system and fuck things up, when real power is being wielded and real interestes are at stake, this will be constant. Any number we pick (say 60%?) however, seems to be arbitrary.

      Something to discover through experimentation as models like this are used to run the revolutionary/reformist organisation(s).
  • Oct 19 2012: I really like the idea, mate, "Occupy Sydney" has the right of it regarding literacy and your subsequent comment as well of internet access and computer literacy.

    I could see this as a future-system which can be implemented as a test bed for "polling" the issues at stake with a pilot audience, that is slowly expanded over time as computers proliferate to impoverished stakeholders and internet access makes headway into remote districts with emerging communication technologies; The system eventually taking over from traditional rep-by-pop as past, present, and future voting generations all become literate and net-savvy.

    Direct democracy is the only true democracy, as far as I'm concerned. I don't place much merit in a man or woman at the helm, out of my reach, who may or may not be getting treated to $1000-a-plate luncheons with corporate big-wigs; This in turn gets them a better shot at promoting their interests than the man on the street.

    We currently "hire" our MPs and reps, and they in turn hire advisors, assistants et. al. who make themselves aware of all current and emerging issues, which the candidate isn't available to research otherwise. How could this system create a similar proposal, with a multi-fold savings by not having to hire the additional researchers (using voters as idea-generators), as well as having "subject-vetting" so that you separate the kooks from people with valid points and concerns?

    I suppose that's the main thrust: If everyone gets a say, how do you separate the wheat from the chaff?
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      Oct 19 2012: He Gio,

      rather than "polling" I see this system first being used to run a protest movement. I think it should be called the "tribunate". This is based on a story from roman history. This is the cartoon version: The people were upset with the corrupt senate so they gathered in a field outside and elected some "tribunes" who the senate was then forced to listen too.

      The Tribunate would exist *as well as* rather than instead of current organisations, creating a way for the huge mass of social movements and activists who are out there, a vast number of whom share some key goals, to coordinate their efforts without submitting to a controlling top down structure.

      This would give us all kinds of leverage. That is about as far as I take the idea at this stage. But there is no reason it couldn't be introduced, say by a local council, and spread from there.

      Regarding separating the wheat from the chaff, the number of votes a rep got would also determine a kind of income in "discussion credits" or whatever you want to call them. reps would compete in auctions for opportunities to introduce bills etc. Important to note that a group of smaller reps could pool credits and introduce joint bills. The process would give precedence in the debate to ideas with the most support. I can't think of a fairer way of doing it.
  • Oct 19 2012: This model well worthy of consideration. But Direct Democracy would allow unlimited DIRECT VOTING on each and every issue . I favour a model where voters are only eligible within their direct sphere of interest.For example, why should Perth residents vote on Sydney local issues- but we all have the right to vote on national and global issues.

    A big but not insurmountable question mark is illiteracy
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      Oct 19 2012: Hi Occupy :). This model does allow people to participate directly where and how they like. You just click "Stand" and then you can vote directly on issues (whether or not you still have a pot for supporting other reps, or using it all to back yourself or whatever is a question i've not wrinkled out.) I also agree about having people voting on what effects them, but don't see why that can't be modelled by a global, regional, national, state, local structure, each with their own assemblies. People could stand in all, or in some, or just one, and delegate to people they trusted in the others. Staying atop the issues at five different levels would be too hard even as a full time job it seems to me. What I don't like is what activists traditionally go for which is the federated structure, where the local level chooses a rep, who goes to a state level council, where they choose a state rep, and on and up. This model seems to be fallen back on by default, but it puts more distance between people and the decisions than is necessary. I think something like this could help the generalised global uprising crystalise into a far more potent and permanent force.
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      Oct 19 2012: good point about illiteracy. Also computer literacy and internet access. These are the things we should be working on helping people with any how.
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    Oct 16 2012: The first step would to do this solely to inform the representative of the audience’s perspective before going to live voting. A system like this would need a trial time allowing the fixing of the voting! It must feel like a game show for most of the society to find time for this endeavor.
    However, alas the biggest problem in voting has always been the availability to the facts and their assimilation. There are mathematical schemes (used in lottery machines) that can make the online realm secure and true but knowing who the person is at the keyboard is not so reliable.
    My personal opinion of a Republic and not a Democracy is that we enlist these representatives to make the tough choices for us that audiences rarely can. But making these tough choices and then being re-elected is problematic for the representative thus our nation has fallen to those with the power to press their representatives into office instead of ours.
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      Oct 17 2012: Reps who weren't informed of their voters perspectives would get quickly out competed in this system. Im not sure people are such bad choices of their leaders, and not sure where the "people don't know what's good for them" line takes us except towards fascism.
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        Oct 19 2012: I had this idea two decades ago when I found that I was already late to the idea. I am on your side of doing this online voting. I just have had a long time to think about what flaws it has to overcome. In regards to the idea: “people knowing what is good for them”. I am sure they always think they know what is good for them but often they are missing some facts. I was trying to convey the idea of a representative has the job (all week) dedicated to knowing what is good for them while a pop in voter may merely be certain of their facts but wrong never the less.
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          Oct 19 2012: That is an excellent way of phrasing it. Ideally there would be a bunch of smaller reps who had day jobs as well, but also hassled their co-workers and stuff, as well as those who had crossed a certain threshold and were being paid to work full time and lead an informed debate.
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    Oct 11 2012: He Edward,

    Don't think online voting is impossible as you think. Of course interesting to consider options. Actually the recent Venezuelan election had a great concept. Vote on a machine, machine gies you recept for who you voted for, yo put receipt in ballot box - to cheat someone would have to rib both systems to exactly the same number. Pretty nifty eh? Jimmy Carter called them the "best elections in the world". Obviously this system exactly doesn't translate but it gives an idea the kind of innovations possible. Any, how, if we can do banking online, why is voting out o the question?
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    Oct 11 2012: If only you could guarantee the ethical operation of such a system. But, alas, online voting would be impossible to protect from those capable deceivers who would profit immensely from "stuffing the ballot box". The Internet is not secure.