Liquid democracy (also known as delegative democracy) is a proposed system of representation that relies on computer technology – specifically blockchains – to empower citizens to vote on specific pieces of legislation either themselves or through an appointed proxy representative.
Voters can use a secure portal to place their vote, or appoint another citizen to be their representative, in which case that appointee's vote is counted twice. Any eligible voter can be appointed as a representative, eliminating problems of ballot access and campaign funding that plague the prevailing two-party system.
Advocates of liquid democracy believe that the system will empower citizens to become much more engaged in their community and society. If even a few hundred citizens enthusiastically participate as proxy voters, then this would significantly reduce the distance between legislators and their constituents. While proposals are in place to implement liquid democracy in certain jurisdictions, most notably in San Francisco, the system is yet to be tested in American public elections.
Who Is Behind Liquid Democracy?
The most vocal advocate for liquid democracy in the United States is David Ernst and his group, United Vote. Ernst has a background in software development and has worked with several startup companies, and he is currently running for the California State Senate to represent District 19, which covers western San Francisco.
He is running as an independent candidate versus the incumbent Democrat, who is overwhelmingly popular in the district, but he seems more concerned with spreading the word about his burgeoning platform than winning the seat. His platform is of course based on implementing his liquid democracy system within the district and deferring his votes in the Assembly to the will of his constituents.
United Vote is yet to gain significant popularity online; its website notes that just over a thousand supporters have donated and signed up for its mailing list, and its Facebook page has fewer than 600 followers. However, the idea seems to be gaining attention, particularly since Ernst has begun his run for the California Assembly.
Liquid democracy advocates suggest that the system could be most effectively implemented using a blockchain. Blockchains were first introduced by the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, but the technology is being applied to many other fields because of its inherent security and portability. Blockchains add each subsequent piece of data (called a “block”) by combining its value with the previous piece, so entries cannot be altered without changing all following entries. The entire blockchain can then be sent to any number of hosts, and the consensus about its contents cannot change unless more than half of these hosts alter it.
Proposals For Liquid Democracy
Ernst is the most prominent voice for liquid democracy in the United States. His campaign in San Francisco represents the first serious attempt to implement the system in the country, and his United Vote organization has developed software that could achieve it. While the system is still very new to the United States, several small groups have already advocated for in other countries and in some cases implemented it, albeit in small communities.
Several minor political parties in Europe – particularly technology-focused Pirate parties – use the system for their internal decisions, and a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden briefly implemented such a system. While the software that powered the system in Sweden is now defunct, the party responsible for it remains active. As for national-level exposure, the Flux party in Australia earned a few thousands votes in that nation's 2016 federal election, though it failed to gain any Senate seats.
Liquid Democracy Conclusion
Liquid democracy is a very interesting idea, and blockchain technology has made implementations more feasible than ever before. While the idea is far from adoption on any national scale, it is steadily gaining popularity, and it seems poised for adoption within communities in the near future. It's difficult to say whether liquid democracy could truly solve all the issues facing modern democratic elections, but it's certainly one of the most promising proposals so far.