Everyone starts off with a voting card. People can give away their cards. At the end, people cast votes using the cards they have, so people with lots of cards get lots of votes. (If you don't like what your card is being used for, you always have the right to take it back.)

Maybe this could be used to implement something more like direct democracy? Have lots of votes every day instead of just one every four years. Most people don't vote on most issues, instead they give their card to their wisest friend who gives it to their wisest friend who has hundreds of cards and spends some free time each day thinking about what to vote on. Other people (e.g. Oprah, Elon Musk) would have millions of cards and would have staffs of advisors telling them how to vote. They'd basically be like congresspeople.

Surely there's a literature on this idea. What terms should I search for?

Also: Is it a good idea? How would it be worse than the current system?

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A similar concept has been proposed on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Delegable_proxy

A huge social problem which could arise in such a system is "buying votes". Actually directly buying votes would probably be illegal, but depending on how it's enforced, there will probably be a lot of ways around the law. So you might see a class of poor people who need to sell their votes to the highest bidder to survive. This creates a principle/agent problem between the vote-sellers and vote-buyers. Although the vote-sellers are incentivised to sell their votes to the buyer who will best look out for their interests overall, their ability to discern this is limited, so the market of vote-buyers will not consist of people who are looking out for vote-seller's best interests. Rather, vote sellers will be looking for the highest cash payout, so the market will become purely a way for big-money interests to exchange cash for votes. This kind of influence on government policy-making would allow big business to craft policies in their own interests, breaking the democratic approximation of utilitarianism. If things get worse, democratic ideals are gradually eroded, eventually leading the oligarchy into a dangerous fight for power which could result in a string of dictatorships. 

Couldn't this be solved by having it be anonymous? Maybe a central government server records who is deferring to whom, but doesn't tell you who in particular is deferring to you. Maybe it tells you roughly how many people have deferred to you but has some error and lag so you can't use it to figure out whether any particular person did.

Or maybe that + making it illegal to buy votes would be sufficient to keep this to manageable levels.

Yeah, it seems quite possible that measures like this will be sufficient. On the one hand, it feels like you're fighting a market, so the market will try and wiggle out of whatever constraints you put on it. On the other hand, what we do today is indeed sufficient to almost completely eliminate this problem (except for how advertisement dollars can sorta buy votes). So it seems possible to do fairly well.

Doesn't seem like a unique additional problem ie current style suffer from similar mechanism quite to the same extent.

I think a lot more quantitative modeling of voting patterns and value of votes would be justified before adopting this.  It's not clear to me that "buying votes" is a problem (or that it's a bigger problem than non-monetary vote swaying through misleading advertising or celebrity platforms).

Agreed -- just trying to think of possible failures, really. I think it would probably be a huge problem if absolutely nothing was done to prevent it. But it is possible that it's an easy problem to avoid.

I would think that one of the features that defines "selling" is that once agreed on sells will be enforced by a court. Once you have given the thing away you have given the thing away and can't choose to get it back. "you always have the right to take it back" in essence means inalienable right to recall which means its basically impossible to use the vote against its originator.

A desperate person ends up "selling" the vote, spends the money and then gets unhappy about vote usage. Recalling the vote as inalienable right propably leaves the buyer very angry. There is likely to be a claim about debt owed for the price. So if the buyer goes to contract enforcement agencies to forcibly collect the money would the police or court with a straight face play along? No. There is no real product for any buyer to receive.

One problem which could arise -- if you can take back votes instantly, but the other party instantly knows it was you, then the benefits of being in a club could be revoked based on this.

Everyone is free to leave the "get X dollars in the mail every week" club at any time, but once you leave, it's difficult to get back in (EG, requires sending votes w/o revoking them for a specified time period to re-establish trust -- just an example).

Of course this becomes very difficult if the votes are somehow made anonymous, EG slow feedback on how many votes people have actually assigned to your name. 

Ah, true. I suppose I started thinking "always having the right to take it back seems a bit impractical, maybe that part will be removed in implementation".

Although really, it is only impractical for paper-trail versions, where physical votes are moved around.

That voting system is called liquid democracy. There are multiple software implementations for it. The German pirate party experimented with it.

If some bad news about a person trusted with a lot of cards break out then it would be predictable that there would be atleast a temptation to pull back a lot of cards away. This could be a problem about volatility of who is the decision maker. If for a year nobody holds a card for more than 3 days it could be too hectic.

Might be a plus or minus, if you have a representative that when important vote is going up then a lot of the representation "goes rogue" and gets used directly it is harder to make political "I do this, you do that" kind of deals.

Having a combination that it would be super clear that each card used is held legitimately and making it secret who you delegate to could be a challenging equation. If some people delegate more often than other people there needs to be a check in that when you delegate that the old authorization goes away and you don't "double vote" or "double delegate". Having rare delegations on a constant schedule means especially secure conditions can be held for that day/week. 

The line between empty votes and happy partyliner would be blurred. Say that the standard period of voting is 4 years. If you vote in first election and then don't for the next two elections don't, voting percentage is down for your part. What if you delegate a vote and don't redelegate it for 12 years? Is it still valid? Is there a chance that you have forgotten about it? Any kind of rule that "you can only be president for max 2 terms" is going to be tricky to apply (maybe have some threshold of card holding that counts as "term starts" and "term ends"?). Would it be allowed for one person to be ending up to hold all the cards?

With dynamical redelegation it can be ambigous on what kind of powerstructure you are fueling. Does your card get redelegated for 2 layers or 20 layers? Do you get to know if it lands on a person you would disapprove? Does the person you primarily delegate to have the real capacity to supervise the power is used responcibly?

This is NOT what I expected by the phrase "deference games".  I was expecting an exploration of status, signaling, and the advantages of expressing respect for or subservience to a high-status idea or person.  Or perhaps the motivations for victimhood or martyrdom expressions as a way to gain status by asserting false deference.

For your proposal - how is this different from just voting based on endorsements from your preferred source?  Can people sell or otherwise contract away their cards (such that they CANNOT take it back at will, only after the contract ends)?  Is the choice public so people can ensure that you're voting the way you said you did?  

If it's just proportional non-districted representation with trivial reallocation, I'm not sure it solves many of the problems with voting.  It may well make it worse, if there are lots of little issues that people are allocating their votes based on the same factors they use for actual voting today (bias, random advertising, partial knowledge, popularity).

I can't point you in a precise direction, but I've seen the idea showing up sporadically for more than a decade now. The current voting system is obviously absurd and the root cause of many problems, but the obstacle to change is not a lack of viable alternatives, nor a lack of clever people convinced that at least it's worth trying. Alternative voting systems have been implemented and work well. For example, in France there was a website (Parlement et Citoyens) that allowed people to vote on individual laws, lay out arguments for and against, propose amendments. The vote of the (internet, French) people was surprisingly nuanced and well-argued. The problem is that this website was not connected to any actual exercise of power. A few members of the parliament showed interest in the site, pretended that they'd try to implement what the users decided, some might even have tried to do it, but in the end it barely made a ripple in the pond.

I assume it is (or will be) the same problem with delegated voting. Of course it's worth trying, but if it's not connected to any actual power, people are gonna feel cheated and will deem the idea a failure in the same stroke.

Yeah, I think the idea needs some careful thought to flesh it out a bit more. If voting is not anonymous and scheduled, then it's too easy for coercion and such to enter the picture. On the plus side, once you do have something solid enough to test, you can start with local elections. For instance, look at the Center for Election Science and their work on converting local elections to approval voting.

Implementation seems like a challenge.

  • Digital voting seems like a security risk.
  • You could distribute cards for each vote, then allow them to be given away like currency. This seems, however, like a recipe for voter exhaustion. Also expensive. People don't like the trivial inconvenience of giving away several cards a day, and it would be a bear to physically transport them all.
  • Doing this with a single "representative" card that can be retracted by individuals then requires a way to either bureaucratically track card possession, or to physically claw back the card. Sounds hard!

I think that Audrey Tang has been involved in Taiwan in experimenting with digital solutions that seem thematically related at least. She was on either Conversations With Tyler or the 80,000 Hours podcast in the last few months discussing it, I can't remember which. Might be worth your while to look it up.

For future people here: Audrey Tang has been on both Conversations with Tyler (https://conversationswithtyler.com/episodes/audrey-tang/) and the 80,000 Hours podcast (https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/audrey-tang-what-we-can-learn-from-taiwan/), but the latter was more recent and seems to be more related to this.

You can achieve a very similar effect by keeping the card and voting according to your wise friends opinions. But without the complication of getting the card back.

Takes more effort though, because you have to listen to your friend and do as they say. And if they are deferring to someone else, who is deferring to someone else, it takes time for information to propagate. Also you can get loops of deference without people realizing it. Indeed this happens all the time everywhere by default. With cards, people will quickly notice when it happens because your own card will be handed back to you!

If you make bots acting on peoples behalf (and tracking the delegation chain), then it would be fast.

How do you propose to have many votes every day? Voting that often (on laws or representatives) would probably significantly lower the quality of the votes. It would also force most people to delegate to others that do it full time; people that don’t have enough time to vote and don’t want to delegate won’t be happy with that. And what infrastructure would you use? The internet? That doesn’t seem safe.