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]

Delegative Democracy or Liquid Democracy lies between direct and representative democracy. It does not depend on representatives but rather on a weighted and transitory delegation of votes. Voters can either vote directly or delegate their vote to other participants; voters may select a delegate for different issues.[3] [4] In other words, individual A of an X society can delegate its power to another individual B – and withdraw such power again at any time.[5]

Delegative democracy through elections should empower individuals to become sole interpreters of the interests of the nation.

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 of Delegative Democracy[edit]

The origin of the delegative form and the concept of liquid democracy remains unclear. However, Bryan Form in his paper Delegative Democracy explains the main principles of how it works.[5] Based on the work of Jabbusch [6] and James Green-Armytage, liquid democracy can be traced back to reports of William S. O’Ren who in 1912 demanded interactive representation, where the elected politicians’ influence would be weighted with regard to the number of votes each had received. A few decades later, around 1967, Gordon Tullocksuggested that voters could choose their representatives or vote themselves in parliament “by wire”, while debates were broadcast by television. James C. Miller favored the idea that everybody should have the possibility to vote on any questions 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 on the speed of decision-making and how it might influence the time available for public debates.

In the early 2000’s an anonymous user of the web 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 resulted in a concept that a decentralized information system could enable citizens to participate in political decision-making, which would push parliaments to become obsolete

The delegative form[edit]

For Guillermo O’Donnell, an Argentinian political scientist, representative democracy as it exists is usually linked solely to highly developed capitalist countries. However newly installed democracies do not seem to be on a path of becoming fully representative democracies.[7] O’ Donnell calls the former delegative democracies, for they are not fully consolidated democracies but may be enduring.  

For a delegatve democracy to exist, there must be an important interaction effect. The successful cases have featured a decisive coalition of broadly supported political leaders who take great care in creating and strengthening democratic political institutions.[7]

The prototypical delegative democracy has been summarized by Bryan Ford in his paper, Delegative Democracy, containing the following principles:[8]

  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,"[9][10] 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[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."[11][full citation needed][12]

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.


Liquid Democracy has been critized to resemble an authoritarian state in practice, while meeting the formal requirements of democracy. It has also been assumed to be partially democratic, for the ruler has a free reign to act and justify his or her acts in the name of the people. O'Donnell considered delegative democracy to be close to Caesarism, Bonapartism or caudillismo.[13]

Bryan Ford explains that some of the current challenges to Liquid Democracy include the unintended concentration of delegated votes due to large amount of people participating in platforms and decision making; building more secure and decentralized implementation of online platforms in order to avoid unscrupulous administrators or hackers; shorten the thresholds between voter privacy and delegate accountability. [14]


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]

Russian Federation[edit]

Early Russian Soviets practiced delegative democracy[15][16] but as the Bolshevik majority was reached, this system gradually eroded in favor of more representational forms of governance.

Russia’s electoral law stipulates that half of all parliamentarians will come from voting on party lists, it aims to encourage the formation of political parties. In order to look for political partners and confront skeptical voters, parties must focus on introducing legislation, public opinion campaigns and political education. [17]

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.

Pirate Parties[edit]

Pirate Parties in Germany,[18] Italy, Austria, Norway, France and the Netherlands[19] 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]

Specifically in the case of the Pirate Party in Germany, the communication with citizens uses tools and platforms similar to conventional parties – including Facebook, Twitter, and online sites – however they developed the “piratewiki” project. This is an open platform opened to collaborative contributions to the political deliberative process. [20]  'Liquid Feedback' was the platform used by the German Pirate Party since 2006, which allowed users to become a part of inner party decision making process. [21]


Christopher Larkins argues that due to the impact of the 1980’s crisis, delegative democracy originated in Argentina. The economic crisis was used to justify a centralization of executive authority which would begin with Alfonsin’sadministration and continue with Carlos Saul Menemascending to the presidency.[22] Larkin's arguments exemplify political outtakes on delegative democracy.

Recently, virtual platforms have been created in Argentina. Democracia en Red is a group of Latin Americans who seek a redistribution of political power and a more inclusive discussion.[23] They created Democracy OS, a platform which allows internet users to propose, debate and vote on different topics. Pia Mancini argues that the platform opens up democratic conversation and upgrades democratic decision making to the internet era.

Other systems[edit]

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).[24] 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 [25] . 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.[26] 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[27].

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. ^ Kahng, Anson (2016). "Liquid Democracy: An Algorithmic Perspective" (PDF). 
  4. ^ Kikegaard, Emil O.W. (2014). "Political Ignorance and Liquid Democracy: A partial solution?" (PDF). 
  5. ^ a b Peter, Parycek; Noella, Edelmann (2014). CeDEM14: Conference for E-Democracy an Open Government. MV-Verlag. ISBN 9783902505354. 
  6. ^ Jabbusch, Sebastian (2011). "Liquid Democracy in Der Piratenpartei" (PDF). Universität Greifswald. Philosophische Fakultät. 
  7. ^ a b O'Donnell, Guillermo (January 1994). "Delegative Democracy". Journal of Democracy. Vol. 5 No. 1: 55 – 69. 
  8. ^ Bryan Ford (May 15, 2002), Delegative Democracy (PDF), retrieved August 11, 2016 
  9. ^ Ken Knabb (1997), "Representative democracy versus delegate democracy", Public Secrets, Bop secrets, retrieved August 11, 2016 
  10. ^ Ken Knabb (1997), Public Secrets, retrieved August 11, 2016 
  11. ^ Representative democracy versus delegate democracy, Bop secrets, retrieved April 12, 2009 .
  12. ^ Bryan Ford (May 15, 2002), "2.6 Specialization", Delegative Democracy (PDF), retrieved August 11, 2016 
  13. ^ O'Donnell, Guillermo (1992). Delegative Democracy?. University of Notre Dame: Kellogg Institute for International Studies. 
  14. ^ Ford, Bryan (January 2018). "Liquid Democracy: Promise and Challenges" (PDF). 
  15. ^ "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
  16. ^ Reed, John (October 1918). "Soviets in Action". The Liberator. 
  17. ^ "Delegative democracy in Russia and Ukraine". Communist and Post-Communist Studies. 27 (4): 423–441. 1994-12-01. doi:10.1016/0967-067X(94)90006-X. ISSN 0967-067X. 
  18. ^ Piratenpartei Berlin. "Piratenpartei revolutioniert parteiinternen Diskurs: Interaktive Demokratie mit Liquid Feedback". Retrieved 22 October 2013. 
  19. ^ "Uitleg LiquidFeed systeem". Archived from the original on 5 September 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2013. 
  20. ^ Gascó, Mila (2012). ECEG2012-Proceedings of the 12th European Conference on e-Government: ECEG. Academic Conferences Limited. ISBN 9781908272423. 
  21. ^ "LiquidFeedback - The democracy software". Retrieved 2018-04-14. 
  22. ^ Larkins, Christopher (1998). "The Judiciary and Delegative Democracy in Argentina". Comparative Politics. 30 (4): 423–442. doi:10.2307/422332. 
  23. ^ "Democracia en Red". (in Spanish). Retrieved 2018-04-14. 
  24. ^ "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. 
  25. ^ The Social Smart Contract. An open source white paper. Democracy Earth Foundation. 2017. 
  26. ^ Steve, Hardt,; R., Lopes, Lia C. (2015). "Google Votes: A Liquid Democracy Experiment on a Corporate Social Network". Technical Disclosure Commons. 
  27. ^ 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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