Voting by Delegable Proxy
Voting by delegable proxy is a form of direct democracy that allows the entire voting population to vote on each bill before parliament. Rather than voting directly on a bill, you delegate your vote to a sitting member of parliament who casts your vote on your behalf. You can change your delegate as often as you like and be as active in the political process as you wish. Those who wish to be less involved can keep the same delegate indefinitely, and their delegate will continue to cast votes on their behalf. This would ease the burden of voting as there would be no requirement to make everyone vote regularly and at the same time in order to achieve a parliament that represents the wishes of the people. Alternatively, those who wish to become more involved can change their delegate as often as is necessary to ensure that their vote is cast as they desire. In this way the system effectively achieves direct democracy, without the burden usually associated with direct democracy.
Rather than sitting members of parliament casting one equal vote each (the way all modern parliamentary systems work), they cast all the votes of the people who have delegated their vote to them. So a sitting member may represent 1 million voters and thus cast one million votes on their behalf, presumably in the same way (either all in favour of the bill or all opposed). Out of a voting population of 10 million, such a member would hold 10% of the political power in the house. Five or six such members could form government by holding over 50% of the power in the house, and by representing over 50% of eligible voters.
Voting by delegable proxy combines the best features of direct and representative democracy. It allows people to choose between being represented in parliament by an MP who makes decisions on their behalf, or to vote on each bill, or to combine these options as they see fit.
In choosing from all sitting MPs (as well as aspiring candidates), voting by delegable proxy allows people far more options than the current system, which to a large extent disenfranchises people who do not support their local representative.
The system could include provisions for citizens to directly vote on a bill rather than to delegate a proxy. It could also include provisions to easily change the delegate at any time, which would effectively allow people to change their vote on specific bills where they disagree with the intentions of their current delegate. This is particularly true where electronic voting is incorporated.
The main problem usually associated with direct democracy is the effort required for each individual to vote on each proposal before parliament. Voting by delegable proxy avoids this issue by allowing people to keep the same delegate who votes on their behalf. In addition, by not requiring periodic voting, the system may reduce the burden of voting even compared to the current representative democracy system, for those people who are happy to stick with the same delegate for a long period of time.
Voting by delegable proxy alleviates some of the concerns associated with compulsory voting, by reducing the burden associated with voting, while still requiring people to perform their civic duty by participating in democracy. It also eliminates the most common argument given in favour of optional voting - that people do not support any of the available candidates.
Voting by delegable proxy allows people to be represented based on local issues, ideological grounds, party lines or all three. This avoids the trade-off in current two house systems that forces people to be represented by a single local member in the lower house and by a party in the upper house under a proportional representation system. Instead of relying on multiple senate members from a party (who may not all be known or trusted) to reflect the strength of the party under the current system, a strong party may be reflected by one or a small number of sitting members with a large number of proxy votes delegated to them.
Voting by delegable proxy could use electronic voting in parallel with a paper based system, allowing citizens to choose between being on the electronic roll and getting the full range of options, or being on the paper roll and delegating their vote once every few years. The number of representatives could be reduced compared to our current system, as it is likely that a coalition of five or so members with significant backing could gain control of parliament. A politician's salary or budget could be made proportional to their support base. This would give very popular members a significant income and allow them to pay 'ministers' to advise them on each issue. The sitting members with the least support would likely have far less than 1% of the vote each.
An ideal place to trial voting by delegable proxy would be the state Senate in Queensland. Queensland abolished its senate in 1922. Reintroducing the senate would present a unique opportunity to trial this system.
There would still be a role for political parties under such a system, as parties are far more than a group of candidates and elected representatives. Political parties could add stability to the system if enough people felt this was necessary. Political parties could help to coordinate the activities of politicians across local, state and federal legislatures and provide easily identifiable, consistent and predictable policy platforms. This is likely to be necessary in situations where sitting MPs lose support on grounds that are not directly related to policy (eg corruption or other unethical behaviour).
Voting by delegable proxy involves an entirely different approach to electing people into parliament. Essentially, an aspiring candidate can enter parliament at any time by obtaining support from a sufficient number of people. Before soliciting 'votes' as an aspiring candidate, people could be required to petition the support of a minimum number of eligible voters (eg 1000), similar to the current requirements for getting onto the ballot paper at election time. Likewise, unpopular candidates are eventually removed from parliament. There are many ways to manage the addition and removal of members of parliament. Some examples are:
Under a quota based system, you enter parliament if you obtain support of a minimum number of people. This can be expressed as a minimum percentage of eligible voters. Likewise a member would lose their seat if they fell under the minimum requirement. Under this system, the number of sitting members may vary over time.
Under this option you can delegate your vote to someone who is not a sitting member of parliament, provided you give another preference to someone who is. If the aspiring candidate has more first preference 'votes' than the worst performing sitting member, he replaces them. In practice, a second or multiple preferences would be a good idea in case your delegate retires or dies suddenly. Indications of alternative delegate preferences would be a suitable way to handle such situations, even if the preferential delegation method is not used as the criteria for entering parliament. Preferential delegation could also be combined with the quota system to manage the transfer of delegations once the candidate enters parliament.
Under this option you can delegate your vote to someone who is not a sitting member, but until they achieve membership they must redelegate your vote to a sitting member. This is similar to preferential delegation, except that your candidate effectively chooses your preferences for you (similar to voting above the line in Australia's federal Senate). Under this system, there could be many more people holding blocks of votes, and the only real difference that being a sitting member makes is that you get paid. Again, as soon as the aspiring member has more delegated votes than the worst performing sitting member, he replaces them.
Voting by delegable proxy permits the abolition of the parliamentary model completely. Under this system, you can delegate your vote to almost anyone. These people then vote on your behalf. In practice, this would probably require an electronic voting system. A suitable minimum requirement may be necessary to become an agent under this system - for example a petition with 1000 signatures. Alternatively, if there is no minimum requirement, the system becomes very similar to direct democracy where each individual can vote directly on each bill, or delegate their vote to any other voter. The establishment of executive government would be difficult or impossible under this model, however it could function effectively as an alternative to a second house of parliament (ie replace the senate). A mechanism for handling the failure of people to vote on a bill would be necessary if voting was compulsory. This could be done by making voting optional, or by mandating default redelegations in the situation where no vote is cast.
Under all of these options, an 'indication of support' for an aspiring candidate automatically becomes a delegated vote to that candidate once they enter parliament. There are alternative approaches that avoid the need to 'vote' for (or indicate support for) an aspiring candidate at the same time as delegating your vote to a sitting member. For example, a new member of parliament could be forced to enter parliament based on a petition, with no delegated votes and a grace period to obtain these votes from supporters. However, a system that allows people to indicate support for an aspiring candidate with the same administrative process that transfers their vote to that candidate automatically upon entering parliament would reduce the burden on voters and keep the system simple.
If your delegate retires or loses his seat, you will have to find another candidate to delegate your vote to. Likewise, there are many ways to manage this. Ideally, you would be able (or required) to indicate preferences so that your vote is transferred automatically.
There is a risk that a member will repeatedly enter parliament then be ejected for falling below the minimum required support base. This can be prevented by setting a different criteria for entry and exit. For example, under a quota system, allow members to get down to half the entry quota before being ejected. Under a system with a fixed number of members, require a new member to have twice the support base of an existing member before replacing him.
Voting by delegable proxy is probably most suited to the upper house of parliament or senate. However, there is no reason why is cannot be used in the lower (or only) house of parliament (the house of commons). In this case there would be a need to form an executive government, for example by establishing the position of prime minister. The executive government also handles the more mundane aspects of government, such as allocating budgets to various departments. Note that under our current system, the position of prime minister is not dictated by the constitution. Rather they are established by tradition. To establish executive government, a party or coalition of sitting members must form that controls the majority of seats in the house. Executive government could be formed the same way with voting by delegable proxy, except that rather than requiring the majority of sitting MP's, executive government would require a coalition representing the majority of the population.
There are a variety of mechanisms available for voting. Only two are presented here, but there are many more.
Ideally voting would be entirely electronic and internet based, allowing people to alter their delegate at any time. There would need to be a cutoff prior to each sitting of parliament for alterations to votes - eg 5pm or midnight prior to the day's sitting. If this were combined with a rule that voting on a bill was not permitted in the same sitting that it was introduced or altered, it would guarantee people the opportunity to have a say on every aspect of the bill.
At the other extreme, voting could be conducted once every few years at polling booths as it is done now. Although this would undermine the public's ability to have a say on each bill, it would help to achieve stable executive government where the system is used in the lower house of parliament. Voting could also be done on a more regular basis, without the requirement for people to vote at each election, on the assumption that their delegate remains the same if they do not recast their vote.
These two options could also be hybridised, allowing people to choose between being on the traditional electoral roll and voting in person at set intervals, or to take advantage of the new electronic electoral roll and voting online.
Voting by delegable proxy has several advantages over other democratic systems, as outlined below.
By far the biggest advantage is the level of involvement it allows interested citizens to have in the electoral process. In comparison, our current system disenfranchises votes in many ways. A voter may become disinterested because they live in a seat that is safely held by one particular party. Even if an election is close, their vote is guaranteed to make no difference to the outcome. (The opposite problem can also occur - voters who live in battleground or swinging electorates, or 'bellwether' seats may be inundated with unwanted political advertising at election time.) A voter may feel disenfranchised if they change their mind after supporting a candidate, but are stuck with that person as a representative for several years - especially if that candidate is then re-elected. A voter may feel disenfranchised because our system is dominate by two major parties, neither of which they completely support. This does not only occur in the case of political minorities or extremists. It can also affect people who feel that their views sit between the two major parties, or who feel that the combinations of policies are unsuitable because they support some policies from each party and reject others.
By allowing greater involvement and reducing feelings of disenfranchisement (and actual failure to represent people), voting by delegable proxy will increase public interest in the political process. Rather than expecting people to become interested in the political process despite all its flaws, voting by delegable proxy corrects those flaws, allows individuals to participate to the extent they wish and provides the variety required for individuals to find an MP they feel they can support. Increased public interest in politics follows from both the ability to participate and the ability to find a suitable representative.
Voting by delegable proxy would alter the political landscape and public debate about political issues by making the debate focus on the important issues before parliament rather than partisan mud slinging. Instead of political debate being driven by cheerleaders for the major parties, it would be driven by the issues at hand and the legislative options for resolving them. People would no longer feel the need to support a party 'warts and all' because it is a better option than the other major party. They would no longer feel the need to support their party and attack the other major party, regardless of the merits of what they are saying. It would reduce the tendency to debate issues that have nothing to do with policy, for example the personality or past history of candidates.
Another way in which this system would alter public debate is by presenting multiple options and multiple points of view. Rather than government being a group of people forced to agree on a common position, ruling MPs would be competing with each other as much as they are competing as a block with 'opposition' MPs. Thus as each new issue arises, the ruling coalition would be far more likely to present several options to the public and argue for each of them. The MP who presented the most popular option would gradually gain voters from other MPs. Thus the power base could shift without actually changing the makeup of the ruling coalition, by altering power within that coalition. Likewise, instead of attacking the ruling coalition on any grounds they can find, and opposing legislation for the sake of opposition, the opposition MPs would be presenting their own proposals to the public to try to increase their own support base.
The end result of this would be that the most popular option eventually wins out. However, this is not sufficient for it to pass as legislation, as it does not merely need to be the most popular option, it must gain majority support. Thus it requires people who support slightly different alternatives to eventually compromise. Important legislation would pass not only on the basis of the need for change, but on the basis that the majority consider the need for change to be more important than continued debate on what is the best way to achieve change. Public debate on new issues would follow a natural path from multiple options being promoted by multiple MPs (including 'business as usual'), to gradually settling on a preferred option and convincing 'holdouts' to change their position in order to gain majority support. The majority of the public would decide not only on whether a change is to be made, but also when it is time to make that change.
Another advantage of this system is that the position of popular sitting MPs is more stable and not as subject to the fortunes of the party they belong and the whims of the two party pendulum. For example, the situation where our second longest serving prime minister, John Howard, went from being prime minister to not only losing the prime ministership, but also losing his seat in parliament and his job in one day would not happen. This is due to the unliklihood of a ruling coalition appointing one of its least popular members to the role, or holding them in this position as their popularity is eroded to nothing.
Under voting by delegable proxy, popular MPs would have a stable seat and be able to strategically support what they saw as the correct policy position, while the position of less popular MPs would be unstable.
Voting by delegable proxy would avoid the dramatic changes in government seen under the current system. Under our current system government switches from representing a majority or slight minority from one side of the political spectrum, to representing the other side of the political spectrum, including extreme minorities. (In Australia this is tempered somewhat by both the preferential voting system and compulsory voting, which tends to lead both major parties to focus on the centre of the political spectrum as the battleground voters.)
Most current systems of government have problems with minority parties holding a balance of power occasionally. Such parties inevitably grow in power as more people become disenfranchised by two party systems. However, most current systems of government give them no power most of the time and occasionally give them far more power than they deserve when they happen to hold a balance of power. Such minor parties must then take advantage of the brief opportunity to negotiate the changes they seek.
On the other hand, voting by delegable proxy would allow the ruling coalition to reject more extreme MPs from the same nominal side of the political spectrum, as the system would not force them to negotiate with such members in the case where they hold the balance of power. Instead they could seek to form coalition with more MPs who represent mainstream voters. The voting public would not be stuck with any policy deals made during such negotiations, as politicians are always subject to the approval of their voter base. If a negotiation required MPs to vote for legislation that their own support base opposes, their support base would inevitably change their vote prior to the bill coming before parliament in sufficient numbers to withdraw power from the ruling coalition. This is because ultimately, it is the public that votes on each bill and each bill requires the support of the majority to pass.
Voting the delegable proxy would avoid the problem of constitutional crisis, where the two houses of parliament are locked in a stalemate that cannot be resolved without fresh elections. It does this by allowing people to alter their vote to shift the balance of power as is necessary. If, for example, the upper house uses voting by delegable proxy, then the public could alter their vote for senators more willing to negotiate with executive government in the lower house in order to resolve the crisis. By allowing the senate to represent the will of the majority, it is also unlikely that the lower house would go against the will of the senate on an indefinite basis, as the senate would have the stronger mandate. As an added benefit, this would reduce the need for the governor general to intervene, allowing Australia to finally resolve the problem of having a foreigner as the technical head of state.
Voting by delegable proxy does not require compulsory or optional voting. It would work well under both systems, as it removes the problems associated with each.
For example, it removes the effort associated with compulsory voting by not requiring people to attend polling booths at regular intervals under compulsory voting. It also avoids the problem of voters who feel disenfranchised because none of the candidates on the ballot paper represent their views and who thus resent being forced to choose between a set of options that they reject. Voting by delegable proxy would result in MPs with a much wider range of views being represented in parliament.
Likewise, voting by delegable proxy would reduce the problem of low voter under optional voting, by removing most of the reasons people feel disenfranchised and thus uninclined to vote under current system. As above, the system removes the burden associated with attending polling booths at regular intervals, allowing voters to cast their ballot when it suits them, at a time when they take an interest in current political issues. It permits less regular voting and makes it far more likely that there is a candidate available who represents a voter's views sufficiently well that recasting a vote is not necessary.
Given that the biggest advantage of voting by delegable proxy is that it requires majority support to rule, it would make sense to combine with compulsory voting, as optional voting undermines this goal to some extent.
By presenting multiple options to the public, voting by delegable proxy allows the public to punish MPs for misleading the public, for corruption and for other perceived weakness without being forced to vote against policies they support. Under our current system, a voter may support the policies of a party, but reject the behaviour of the party or its members. Given the reduced choice they are given at the ballot box, they are forced to choose between voicing their opinion on policy and voicing their opinion on the behaviour of politicians that is not directly related to policy. This allows politicians to get away with far more than they should.
In contrast, voting by delegable proxy allows the public to have a say on both policy and behaviour. By presenting far more choices, voters are more likely to find a candidate who they support both in terms of policy and ethics. Politicians who do the wrong thing will lose their support base without a need for a change in government or a change in government policy. Sufficient choice will be presented to the public so that only politicians who support the correct policy and also act appropriately will remain in parliament.
The most common criticism of voting by delegable proxy is that it gives too much power to minorities and leads to unstable government. However, by ultimately requiring majority support to pass any bill, the system actually places less power in the hands of minorities. Furthermore, given the increased choice available to voters, it is highly unlikely that voters would feel the need to alter their vote on a regular basis. Thus the ruling coalition is unlikely to change regularly. Rather than elections and personality politics, the main driver behind changes to the ruling coalition would be changing public views on major issues and the rise of major new problems that the public expect government to resolve. Additionally, by requiring majority support for a bill to pass, it is less likely that successive governments will remove legislation passed previously. From a democratic (majority rule) perspective, voting by delegable proxy would force the government to 'get it right the first time'.