Liquid democracy

Liquid democracy[1] is a form of delegative democracy[2] whereby an electorate has the option of vesting voting power in delegates as well as voting directly themselves. Liquid democracy is a broad category of either already-existing or proposed popular-control apparatuses.[3] Voters can either vote directly or delegate their vote to other participants; voters may also select different delegates for different issues.[4] In other words, individual A of a society can delegate their power to another individual B – and withdraw such power again at any time.[5]

Illustration of delegated voting. Voters to the left of the blue line voted by delegation. Voters to the right voted directly. Numbers are the quantity of voters represented by each delegate, with the delegate included in the count.

Liquid democracy lies between direct and representative democracy. In direct democracy, participants must vote personally on all issues, while in representative democracy participants vote for representatives once in certain election cycles. Meanwhile, liquid democracy does not depend on representatives but rather on a weighted and transitory delegation of votes. Liquid democracy through elections can empower individuals to become sole interpreters of the interests of the nation. It allows for citizens to vote directly on policy issues, delegate their votes on one or multiple policy areas to delegates of their choosing, delegate votes to one or more people, delegated to them as a weighted voter, or get rid of their votes' delegations whenever they please.[6]

Most of the available academic literature on liquid democracy is based on empirical research rather than on specific conceptualization or theories. Experiments have mostly been conducted on a local-level or exclusively through online platforms, however polity examples are listed below.

Origins

The origin of the delegative form and the concept of liquid democracy remains unclear. However, Bryan Ford in his paper "Delegative Democracy" explains the main principles of how it works.[3] In 1884, Charles Dodgson (better known under his pseudonym Lewis Carroll) wrote about political candidates being able to grant their votes, the votes gained on top of the required number to win a seat, to others running for a seat in the Parliament.[3] This could be seen as the first step towards liquid democracy. Based on the work of Jabbusch[7] and James Green-Armytage, liquid democracy can be traced back to reports of William S. U'Ren, a man who, in 1912, demanded interactive representation, where the elected politicians' influence would be weighted with regard to the number of votes each had received.[8] A few decades later, around 1967, Gordon Tullock suggested that voters could choose their representatives or vote themselves in parliament "by wire", while debates were broadcast on television. James C. Miller favored the idea that everybody should have the possibility to vote on any question themselves or to appoint a representative who could transmit their inquiries. Soon after Miller argued in favor of liquid democracy, in 1970 Martin Shubik called the process an "instant referendum". Nonetheless, Shubik was concerned about the speed of decision-making and how it might influence the time available for public debates.[9]

In the early 2000s, an unknown web user known as “sayke” argued that "liquid democracy can be thought of as a function that takes a question as an argument, and returns a list of answers sorted by group preference […] as a voting system that migrates along the line between direct and representative democracy." This idea led to the concept of a decentralized information system allowing civic participation in political decision-making, which would push parliaments to become obsolete.[10]