Google votes and liquid democracy

by on January 24, 2016 at 3:22 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

Here is a recent paper about a recent experiment in democratic decision-making:

This paper introduces Google Votes, an experiment in liquid democracy built on Google’s internal corporate Google+ social network. Liquid democracy decision-making systems can scale to cover large groups by enabling voters to delegate their votes to other voters…Google Votes demonstrates how the use of social-networking technology can overcome these barriers…The case-study of Google Votes usage at Google over a 3 year timeframe is included, as well as a framework for evaluating vote visibility called the “Golden Rule of Liquid Democracy”.

That is by Steve Hardt and Lia C. A. Lopes.

Imagine this in place for a normal democratic election, what would we expect?  Groups unwilling to vote might be willing to donate their votes, so in essence the cost of voting has fallen.  Would they donate to those who:

a) best reflect their views? That probably helps the Democrats, since non-voters probably are more likely to go Democratic.

b) Those who can reach them most easily? That helps the party with the most money and best ground operation and most credibility with the donating groups.

c) Those who best reflect some of their (potentially non-electoral) expressive sympathies?  Imagine for instance a disabled person donating a vote to a charity or cause for the disabled.  They may wish to boost the lobby, without necessarily agreeing with the electoral choice of that lobby.  I find this to be the most interesting option.

For the pointer I thank D.S.

1 rayward January 24, 2016 at 3:48 pm

d) those who pay for it

2 Adrian Ratnapala January 24, 2016 at 5:04 pm


Though it might be harder to pay with OPM than it is under the current system.

3 Aidan January 25, 2016 at 12:49 am

Or those who can use a position of power to intimidate them into giving it away “for free”, like parents, spouses, landlords or bosses.

4 JWatts January 25, 2016 at 6:15 pm

“Or those who can use a position of power to intimidate them into giving it away “for free”, like parents, spouses,”

This would be my guess. Some people might sell it to the landlord, in lieu of a late fee, but most people would give it to a relative. Who would then “Vote” the family.

5 AndrewL January 24, 2016 at 4:05 pm

“donate their votes to other voters….” almost as if they would elect someone to … represent … them…. The idea is so crazy it just might work!!!

6 dan1111 January 24, 2016 at 4:35 pm

The point, I think, is that representation can arise in a completely organic manner, without pre-set structures.

7 cowboydroid January 24, 2016 at 9:34 pm

Using the term “organic” in the context of governance is… interesting.

8 John Hall January 24, 2016 at 4:55 pm

I like the idea of proxy voting schemes, but I had heard that there are a lot of risks to electronic voting.

9 Just Saying January 24, 2016 at 5:20 pm

Yeah, like more black and poor people will end up voting.

10 TMC January 24, 2016 at 5:24 pm

And what’s stopping them now?

11 Nick_L January 24, 2016 at 8:41 pm

It’s arguable that there are in fact a significant number of restrictions – or constraints – on being able to cast a vote. These restrictions appear to impact certain groups more than others. Some of the restrictions are summarized here:

12 nigel January 24, 2016 at 9:34 pm

This may be the most moronic article I’ve ever read. “The assumption is that IDs will prevent voter fraud. Brennan Center for Justice states in a 2006 fact sheet that it doesn’t make sense for someone to pretend to be someone else. “Each act of voter fraud risks five years in prison and a $10,000 fine — but yields at most one incremental vote. The single vote is simply not worth the price.”” Wow what an incredible “fact.” And the “Brennan” Center, being “nonpartisan,” must be very objective on this, having named itself after the most liberal justice in the history of the Supreme Court. Hey do you know what else? Al Franken won his Minnesota Senate race by 312 votes. Oh and 1,099 felons voted in that race. Yeah, you’re right, it would be absurd to ask people to show ID before voting.

13 Cliff January 24, 2016 at 10:45 pm

There should be more restrictions not less. We should go back to property owners only. Read up on political ignorance. People need to have skin in the game or its just mood affiliation.

14 cowboydroid January 24, 2016 at 9:35 pm

The reality that an individual’s vote is meaningless in regards to the outcome of an election that involves more than a dozen other voters.

15 Adrian Ratnapala January 24, 2016 at 5:03 pm

I like answer (c) best, not because I believe it is actually true, but because it is the least tied to the assumption of a two-party ding-dong. A radical change to the voting system leaves us with no clue about the structure of successful political coalitions. We might still end up a two party system, but who knows?

BTW: I suspect what the developers have in mind is not elections for representatives, but referenda. Think _Demarchy_ ( The idea is that people cannot be bothered voting on every issue, but they might let proxies do it for them; but do so in a way that is more tentative and fluid than a fixed-term, general purpose representation.

16 Derek January 24, 2016 at 5:15 pm

Ugh. Lets set up a democratic system to decide what we have for lunch.

Who voted for the free lunch in the first place? Whose pockets does the money come out of, and do they get a vote?

17 Boonton January 24, 2016 at 8:00 pm

The ‘everyone will vote for free lunches’ criticism of democracy is highly overrated. Amazingly enough, there are plenty of cases where ‘free lunches’ didn’t happen. For example, during the stimulus, there were Republican governors who rejected free federal money for projects in their states, rejected extending unemployment benefits even though it came at no cost to their state. Of course there are some examples of ‘free lunches’. For example, many voted for the Iraq War on a premise that it would be a type of free lunch (almost no American causalities, less than $100B in costs most likely paid for by lots of free oil from Iraq or something like that). For the most part, though, democracies don’t go for free lunches.

Now when you start looking at countries that are not very democratic or semi-democratic you discover quite a few attempts at pulling off ‘free lunches’ for the general population. In Saudi Arabia gasoline is sold well below cost making gassing up your car always cheap. I’ve read that Iran and Egypt both offer heavy subsidies for bread and cooking oil…literally free lunches! This produces ‘tension’ when it has to sometimes be slightly cut back. Yet when the US was debating health care, probably the easiest thing to offer if you wanted to be about ‘free lunches’ would be something like “let’s give everyone a $5,000 refundable tax credit per year against buying health insurance” yet no one proposed anything like that…instead everyone took pains to try to make their proposals at least somewhat plausibly be ‘deficit neutral’ even though that guarantees you will produce some who will loose by your proposal thereby guaranteeing you’ll make enemies.

I think a decent survey of different economies will show that far from being the capital of ‘free lunches’, the more open a democracy is the fewer ‘free lunches’ are offered as economic policy. The less free a country is, the more its leaders feel obligated to compensate citizens for their lost franchise by offering ‘free goods’ like daily bread, cheap gas, and other reduced costs.

18 Derek January 24, 2016 at 10:29 pm

But, if you read the article, you would see that it is about free lunches and deciding what to serve. That is why I read the paper, to see what they were voting about. They get free lunches, and there Is an app to come up with the selections, with the ‘features’ described.

Call me unimpressed. I’m working with a google library right now that is under development, beta, and there are internal and external users who can express ideas or opinions but ultimately it is the developers who come up with the ideas and implementation. So this wonderful idea is limited to the trivial. Not to discount the morale effects, but what people get paid, the prices charged, the business strategy, etc are put together by people with expertise under constant scrutiny of the market and shareholders.

The last Canadian federsl election had serious issues and consequences in play. The parliamentary tradition has done us very well, and voters have always made reasonable decisions.

One characteristic lacking in this system is the possibility of representatives losing badly. I have witnessed an electoral bitch slap more than once, and it does the body politic good.

19 Boonton January 25, 2016 at 5:42 am

You mean you buy MR for the articles? 🙂

20 Miguel Madeira January 24, 2016 at 9:26 pm

d) The local “cacique” (from the husband/father in muslim or gypsy families to the local “don” in southern italian villages and neighborhoods)

I practice, this have all problems expectable in a system with no secret vote.

21 Horhe January 25, 2016 at 7:03 pm

I agree with you, but there are ways around it. Make individual voting secret (or rather impersonal), as well as the transfer of voting rights. So, you would not have to know every person who gave you his vote. You could use the Internet or mass media to get voters. However, you, as a proxy voter, must always be known, as well as the way you vote (you may even split your vote) or to whom you transfer your votes. So, the primum movens voter stays anonymous, but receives, via electoral infrastructures, notifications regarding the chain of voting and what was voted and how. Once you start accruing votes, you lose your anonymity above a certain threshold – say 6 votes, for one head of the family with spouse and 4 elderly dependents.

I really like this system, and I’ve been mulling it over in my head for some time. You could do a lot of things with it – give people a national vote, a local vote and a referendum vote; have classes of people with more votes, like net taxpayers or people with more children (in a non-immigration society); you could hybridize with a classic representative system by having only people above X votes be able to vote directly on laws, where X is the voting age population divided by the number of parliamentarians you already have. This way, you get a normal chamber of parliament, but with continuous cycling of representatives and real time feedback to political events. You could have a bicameral parliament where one chamber votes by the liquid democracy system, and the other is a mishmash of estates (kind of like in Hong Kong, where special groups also get their own parliamentarians, in addition to those hired by the general population) – farmers, business, teachers, academia etc. I don’t really like this estate system, but it would be refreshing to see things turn out some other way. I would especially like to see the death of the party system, or its marginalization into ideological groupings trying to actually convince people of things. Two things would be needed – very good freedom of information laws and institutions and very good electoral infrastructure, to prevent fraud and enable maximum voter participation.

22 Larry January 24, 2016 at 9:39 pm

I cam up with a variant of this some years back. It allows voters to allow the (losing) candidate they vote for to delegate her votes to another candidate even in another jurisdiction. once seated, the legislators’ votes are weighted by the number of votes they receive.

Every voter is thereby fairly represented, many gerrymandering strategies are defeated and thinly spread minority’ views get representation. What’s not to like?

23 Derek January 24, 2016 at 10:33 pm

First past the post systems drive parties towards the middle, away from the extremes. Extreme parties with narrow support can become the kingmakers getting far more influence than their proportion of the electorate would otherwise gain.

24 Patrick January 25, 2016 at 7:02 am

That system exists in Australian parliamentary democracy, albeit on an optional basis, since before you were born.

You may need to study Australian politics, and then you will be able to tell us what there is not to like 🙂

25 Miguel Madeira January 25, 2016 at 8:08 pm

This seems the old PR system (used in almost all non-english speaking democracies), only a bit more complex

26 JB January 24, 2016 at 10:35 pm

How much work will it be to assign your vote to a proxy?

I bet a large number of non-voters, especially those who don’t even know when the election is (I have encountered a surprisingly large number of these), wouldn’t bother, or would forget, to do the donating.

27 John Thacker January 25, 2016 at 8:12 am

a) is largely correct, but it also would help politicians like Trump, since there are a large numbers of non-voters who previously voted for Democrats but are turned off from Democrats for a variety of cultural reasons. You can see one analysis of non-voters here.

28 David January 25, 2016 at 2:20 pm

“Imagine this in place for a normal democratic election, what would we expect? Groups unwilling to vote might be willing to donate their votes, so in essence the cost of voting has fallen.”

I don’t get it. How is this meaningfully different than classic machine politics of the Plunkitt of Tammany Hall variety [] ?

…Or is this just another example of how poorly educated we’ve all gotten used to being ?!?

29 Eric January 25, 2016 at 8:09 pm

Like some others hear, I’d thought of this a few years back as an alternative to the House of Representatives. The biggest drawback I saw was how to maintain the secret ballot. Losing the secret ballot would be much more damaging then any gains from this, I think.

30 Zbignie Łukasiak January 31, 2016 at 5:48 am

None of the comments here including the original poster does not take into account the fact that Liquid Democracy changes the granularity of the voting – it lets people vote or choose delegation on particular issues rather than wholesale. This is quite different situation economically.

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