Delegative democracy

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Delegative democracy, also known as liquid democracy,[1] is a form of democratic control whereby an electorate vests voting power in delegates rather than in representatives. The term is a generic description of either already-existing or proposed popular-control apparatuses.[2]

The delegative form[edit]

The prototypical delegative democracy has been summarized by Bryan Ford in his paper, Delegative Democracy, containing the following principles:[3]

  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 political campaigning or winning a competitive election.
  3. Delegated authority: Delegates exercise power in organizational processes on behalf of themselves and 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 completely public (or in some forms viewable only to their constituents).
  6. Specialization by re-delegation: Delegates can not only act directly on behalf of individuals as generalists, but through re-delegation can they also act on behalf of each other as specialists.

Variations on this general model also exist, and this outline is only mentioned here for orientation within a general model. For example, in the "Joy of Revolution,"[4][5] 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.)[citation needed]

Contrasted with representative democracy[edit]

Crucial to the understanding of delegative 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."[6][full citation needed][7]

Contrasted with direct democracy[edit]

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.

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.


Early Russian Soviets practiced delegative democracy[8][9] but as the Bolshevik majority was reached, this system 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 and democratically by local members. Once per year these branches 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 program in a real political setting involved the local political party Demoex in Vallentuna, a suburb of Stockholm: the teacher Per Norbäck and the entrepreneur Mikael Nordfors (sv) used software called NetConference Plus. This software is no longer supported after the bankruptcy of the manufacturing company, Vivarto AB. The party remains active and has a seat in the local parliament, where the members decide how their representative shall vote with the help of internet votations.[citation needed]

Pirate Parties in Germany,[10] Italy, Austria, Norway, France and the Netherlands[11] use delegative democracy with the open-source software LiquidFeedback,[citation needed] while members of the Belgian Pirate Party have developed their own software called Get Opinionated.[non-primary source needed]

In Spain the "Partido de Internet" developed its own software platform for voting, now an independent free-software and commercial project called nVotes.[non-primary source needed]

In the Australian federal election, 2016, the political party Flux contested Senate seats in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania on the platform of using Blockchain technology to enable a form of delegate democracy (though the site itself does not explicitly describe the model as either delegate or liquid democracy).[12] The party did not win any Senate seats, and achieved less than 4% of the required quota of votes in NSW and TAS, with less than 1.5% in all other contested states.

The Democracy Earth Foundation is building a liquid democracy system [13] . They aim to allow anyone to use the system to run their own governance. It is based off a block chain system with a crypto token called VOTE.

Google has experimented with liquid democracy through an internal social network system known as Google Votes.[14] Google Votes was primarily used to delegate votes for internal food-related decisions.

An experimental form of liquid democracy called Civicracy was tested at the Vienna University of Technology in 2012. It created a council of representatives based on a continuous vote of confidence from participants, similar to modern parliaments. It has not yet faced real implementation[15].

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Liquid Democracy, The P2P Foundation Wiki, retrieved August 11, 2016 .
  2. ^ Bryan Ford (November 16, 2014), Delegative Democracy Revisited, retrieved August 11, 2016 
  3. ^ Bryan Ford (May 15, 2002), Delegative Democracy (PDF), retrieved August 11, 2016 
  4. ^ Ken Knabb (1997), "Representative democracy versus delegate democracy", Public Secrets, Bop secrets, retrieved August 11, 2016 
  5. ^ Ken Knabb (1997), Public Secrets, retrieved August 11, 2016 
  6. ^ Representative democracy versus delegate democracy, Bop secrets, retrieved April 12, 2009 .
  7. ^ Bryan Ford (May 15, 2002), "2.6 Specialization", Delegative Democracy (PDF), retrieved August 11, 2016 
  8. ^ "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
  9. ^ Reed, John (October 1918). "Soviets in Action". The Liberator. 
  10. ^ Piratenpartei Berlin. "Piratenpartei revolutioniert parteiinternen Diskurs: Interaktive Demokratie mit Liquid Feedback". Retrieved 22 October 2013. 
  11. ^ "Uitleg LiquidFeed systeem". Archived from the original on 5 September 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2013. 
  12. ^ "Flux | Upgrade Democracy". Retrieved 2016-07-15. Flux allows participants the option to pass their voting power to someone they trust, whom they feel is better able to cast their vote. This could be a friend, a community organisation, an activist or even one of the established political parties. 
  13. ^ The Social Smart Contract. An open source white paper. Democracy Earth Foundation. 2017. 
  14. ^ Steve, Hardt,; R., Lopes, Lia C. (2015). "Google Votes: A Liquid Democracy Experiment on a Corporate Social Network". Technical Disclosure Commons. 
  15. ^ Hainisch, R.; Paulin, A. (May 2016). "Civicracy: Establishing a Competent and Responsible Council of Representatives Based on Liquid Democracy". 2016 Conference for E-Democracy and Open Government (CeDEM): 10–16. doi:10.1109/CeDEM.2016.27. 

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