How Blockchain Can Enable a Liquid Democracy
With the authoritarian model gaining strength in the world and President Xi Jinping of China consolidating his power and changing the rules to effectively become “emperor for life, democracy is having a tough time at the moment. Even President Trump praised Xi’s move and joked about doing the same thing in the US.
The Democracy Index, developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), measures the state of democracy in 167 countries. The 2017 edition of the Democracy Index, showed that 19 countries are a full democracy, 57 countries are a flawed democracy, 39 countries are a hybrid regime and 52 countries have an authoritarian regime. The index measures components such as the electoral process, the functioning of the government, the level of political participation, the political culture and civil liberties. With only 11% of the countries being a full democracy and 23% being a flawed democracy, there is still a long road to go.
Despite the long road ahead of us, democracies have been performing better in terms of consistency of growth as well as social welfare dimensions such as life expectancy or child mortality. That does not mean that the current form of democracy is the best form. As Winston Churchill famously said in the House of Commons in 1947:
“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…”
Democratic systems have their merits as well as its challenges, but with today’s advanced technology we are able to solve some of the existing challenges and even develop a better system that combines the advantages of both direct democracy (where every citizen decides on initiatives or proposals directly) and represented democracy (where citizens vote for a delegate who represents their constituents). This new system is called liquid democracy and it has become possible thanks to distributed ledger technology that can make any vote immutable, verifiable and traceable. In other words, blockchain technology allows anyone to ensure that they can vote, to ensure that their vote is included in the result and to ensure that it will not be changed afterwards. These three characteristics from the basis of liquid democracy.
A Liquid Democracy
Many of the concepts that I have written about in recent months, come together with a liquid democracy: smart contracts, self-sovereign identity, reputation and many more. A liquid democracy would work as follows:
Anyone can propose legislation and the best, most popular, or best-articulated proposals will receive the most upvotes and, therefore, have the most reach. The cream will rise to the top, similar to voting systems that manage comments and articles on Reddit. The most popular proposals can be discussed and improved by those interested in the topic and having expert knowledge. Of course, any action related to creating a proposal will be recorded on the blockchain so that it will always be possible to trace back how a proposal was developed and who was involved and, of course, any comment or input provided by individuals will add to their reputation, limiting inflammatory comments or other negative inputs and rewarding positive contributions.
Of course, such a complex system requires significant administration and governance. While the basic administration can be taken care of by artificial intelligence and distributed ledger technology, humans would still need to be involved, similar to moderators on online platforms. These moderators can be selected based on their reputation and can be held accountable at any time.
Delegation of votes
Once one or more proposals are deemed ready for voting, a popular vote could be organised instantly and participants can vote, or they can delegate their vote, using their smartphone, tablet or computer. Citizens can delegate their votes per subject to anyone they want to, for whatever reason. They can delegate their vote because they deem a friend, colleague or a celebrity more knowledgeable about a certain topic or for whatever other reason. Smart contracts will monitor any delegation of votes. At any time prior to the closing date, you can change, withdraw or (re)delegate your vote. The blockchain will record all ‘transactions’ to ensure that the public can inspect at any time their own vote has been submitted, is included in the results and has not been changed.
Any person that becomes a delegate by receiving voting power from others, will have his/her vote made public. That way, anyone who delegated their vote can check if the person whom he/she delegated the vote to, did indeed vote as expected. In case a delegate does not vote as you expected, the next time, you can withdraw your vote from that delegate, thereby instantly reducing the power of that delegate. As such, delegates are instantly held accountable and if they act differently from what they said, they can lose their influence instantly.
In order to vote, a citizen’s self-sovereign identity will be verified using the public key infrastructure and biometrics to know it is you who is voting as well as to prevent voting under duress. Voting will no longer be required in a secure and private space, as a scan of your face using your smartphone’s camera and your fingerprints should be sufficient. Your vote will be anonymous as it is tokenised, it is time-stamped for traceability and added to the blockchain to make it immutable.
After the vote
Results will be available instantly once the ‘e-ballot box’ closes and users can see the number of votes each proposal has received. Once the votes are in and proposed legislation has either been approved or rejected, smart contracts can ensure that legislation will take effect according to the parameters incorporated in the proposal.
Of course, such a system will take time to implement and a natural first step would be to enable online voting using blockchain technology in a representative democracy. The first country that has already implemented such technology is Estonia. Since a few years, they enable voters to submit their vote, ensure that the vote is included in the result and not changed afterwards. It works using a public key infrastructure, cryptography and tokenisation of votes and, although Estonia already enables voting online, initially it could require citizens to still go to a polling station where they can use a secure computer before they can vote using their smartphone.
Advantages of a liquid democracy
A liquid democracy offers clear advantages over a representative or direct democracy. Corrupt politicians, opportunism or broken promises will no longer exist, because delegates can be held accountable instantly. Smart contracts and reputation mechanisms ensure an efficient process of legislation development and the smartest people can get involved in developing optimal legislation. No longer does a politician have to be knowledgeable on a wide variety of topics, but experts can pick and choose the topics they want to be involved in. Finally, it will significantly reduce the costs of the political process. Expensive elections are no longer required, nor expensive politicians. Instead, delegates and experts that receive a certain level of ‘power’ will be rewarded pro ratio to their input.
Despite the clear advantages of a liquid democracy, it is highly unlikely we will achieve this at a governmental level anytime soon. Moving from a representative democracy to a liquid democracy requires the representatives to vote over such legislation, which would mean a significant change to the constitution. It would also mean that, by voting for such constitutional change, representatives and parties will put themselves out of a job, which would mean the loss of influence, power and money. It is likely, therefore, that many elected representatives would not even start to think about the implementation of a new democratic system and everything will remain as is. For now, only progressive and digitally advanced governments such as those in Estonia are likely to move in this direction and, hopefully, other countries will start to see the benefits of a digitally-enhanced democracy.