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Delegative democracy

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Title: Delegative democracy  
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Subject: Representative democracy, Democracy, Polyarchy, Direct democracy, Liberal democracy
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Delegative democracy

Delegative democracy, also known as liquid democracy, is a form of democratic control whereby voting power is vested in delegates, rather than representatives. This term is a generic description of either already existing or proposed popular control apparatuses.

The delegative form

The prototypical delegative democracy has been summarized by Bryan Ford in his paper, Delegative Democracy, as containing the following principles:

  1. Choice of Role: Each member can choose to take either a passive role as an individual or an active role as a delegate, differentiating this from representative forms in which only specified representatives are allowed. Delegates have further choices as to how active they are and in what areas.
  2. Low Barrier to Participation: The difficulty and cost of becoming a delegate is small, and in particular does not require campaigning or winning a competitive election.
  3. Delegated Authority: Delegates exercise power in organizational processes on behalf of themselves and those individuals who select them as their delegate. Different delegates, therefore, can exercise varying levels of decision power.
  4. Privacy of the Individual: To avoid social pressures or coercion, all votes made by individuals are private, both from other individuals and from delegates.
  5. Accountability of the delegates: To ensure the accountability of delegates to their voters and to the community at large, all formal deliberative decisions made by delegates are public.
  6. Specialization by Re-Delegation: Delegates can not only act directly on behalf of individuals as generalists, but through re-delegation they can also act on behalf of each other as specialists.

Variations on this general model most certainly exist, and this outline is only mentioned here for orientation within a general model. For example, in the "Joy of Revolution" delegates are left open to being specialized at the time of each individual's delegation of authority. Additionally, general principles of fluidity can often be applied to the concept such that individuals can revise their "vote" at any time by modifying their registered delegation (sometimes called "proxy") with the governing organization. (see also Single Transferable Vote.)

Contrasted with representative democracy

Crucial to the understanding of delegate democracy is the theory's view of the meaning of "representative democracy." Representative democracy is seen as a form of governance whereby a single winner is determined for a predefined jurisdiction, with a change of delegation only occurring after the preset term length (or in some instances by a forced recall election if popular support warrants it). The possibility usually exists within representation that the "recalled" candidate can win the subsequent electoral challenge.

This is contrasted with most forms of governance referred to as "delegative." Delegates may not, but usually do, have specific limits on their "term" as delegates, nor do they represent specific jurisdictions. Some key differences include:

  1. Optionality of term lengths.
  2. Possibility for direct participation.
  3. The delegate's power is decided in some measure by the voluntary association of members rather than an electoral victory in a predefined jurisdiction. (See also: Single Transferable Vote.)
  4. Delegates remain re-callable at any time and in any proportion.
  5. Often, the voters have the authority to refuse observance of a policy by way of popular referendum overriding delegate decisions or through nonobservance from the concerned members. This is not usually the case in representative democracy.
  6. Possibility exists for differentiation between delegates in terms of what form of voting the member has delegated to them. For example: "you are my delegate on matters of national security and farm subsidies."[1]

Contrasted with direct democracy

Direct democracy is a form of popular control where all collective decisions are made by way of the direct votes of constituents. Two key differences include:

  1. Optionality of direct involvement. Delegative democracy can be called a "voluntary direct democracy" in that you can be included in decisions (and are usually expected to be, by default) however you can "opt out" by way of abstaining or delegating your voting to someone else if you lack the time and/or interest to vote on the delegated matter.
  2. Reviewable decisions. Though not a perceived advantage, decisions are capable of (in a number of ways, dependent on the exact policies of the organization) being reviewed by the constituents. This is contrasted with direct democracy where decisions can only be changed (since the constituents will already have decided one way on matters.) This difference, though, is mostly overhead on the delegative model.

Outside of these two main differences, delegative models are seen as essentially a form of direct democracy. So much so that some have taken to calling the system a "direct democracy with delegable proxies" (though that name is less common.)

Notable examples of delegative democracy

The internal policies of the Paris Commune are seen as the real-world precursor to the more formalized notions of modern delegative democracy.

Early Soviets,[2] before a Bolshevik majority was reached. Delegative democracy was gradually eroded in favor of more representational forms of governance.

The Industrial Workers of the World labor union uses multiple levels of democracy, including delegative democracy. Local branches are controlled directly democratically by local members. These branches once per year elect, and vote on direction for, delegates to send to a yearly general convention, at which they carry out deliberations and construct referendums. The convention has no power to make and enforce decisions on its own; changes are accomplished by way of mailed referendum ballot. This yearly ballot is also used to elect members to various union administrative roles. Alternatively to the delegative process, members may add proposals to the ballot by initiative.

The first example of delegative or Liquid Democracy using a software solution in a real political setting was the local political party Demoex in a suburb of Stockholm called Vallentuna, initiated by the teacher Per Norbäck and the entrepreneur Mikael Nordfors using a software solution called NetConference Plus. This software is no longer supported after the bankruptcy of the manufacturing company, Vivarto AB. The party is still active and has a seat in the local parliament, where the members decide how their representative shall vote with the help of internet votations.

Pirate Party in Germany,[3] Italy, Austria, Norway, France and the Netherlands[4] use delegative democracy with the open source software LiquidFeedback, while in Belgium members of the Pirate Party have developed their own solution called Get Opinionated.

In Spain, "Partido de Internet" developed its own software platform for voting, now an independent free software and commercial project called Agora Voting.

See also


  1. ^ Representative democracy versus delegate democracy, Bop secrets, retrieved April 12, 2009 .
  2. ^ "The word Soviet which, in Russian, means precisely council, was pronounced for the first time with this specific meaning. In short, this first council represented something like a permanent social assembly of workers." The Unknown Revolution By Voline
  3. ^ Piratenpartei Berlin. "Piratenpartei revolutioniert parteiinternen Diskurs: Interaktive Demokratie mit Liquid Feedback". Retrieved 22 October 2013. 
  4. ^ "Uitleg LiquidFeed systeem". Retrieved 14 October 2013. 

External links

  • Delegative Democracy by Bryan Ford
  • The Joy of Revolution: Chapter 2
  • Industrial Worker: October 2008 details changes to the delegate model to move towards a more representative rather than delegative model.
  • Liquid Democracy In Simple Terms by Jakob Jochmann
  • LiquidFeedback
  • Adhocracy a multilingual open source implementation of delegative democracy/liquid democracy.
  • Agora Ex Machina A minimalist multilingual platform of Liquid Democracy
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