- - Take advantage of modern technological advancements (but is not in itself E-Democracy), to generally increase the security, quality and speed of electoral results.
- - Maximize the satisfaction levels of all participants (individuals or collectives), with the view this enables efficiency and empowerment.
- - Reduce waste by limiting size and power of government.
- - Bring more transparency to positions of influence in the voting process.
- - Use free market mechanisms to reward honesty and punish bad political behaviour.
- - Produce the most accurate map of the wishes of the voting public.
- - Zero political-will to change the current system.
- - One hundred years of bloated, bureaucratic legacy.
- - Weak leadership with vested interests.
Sadly, both the goals and constraints are simultaneously the reasons why change will never be put into place - even as I write this article, the current government are proposing new laws to limit the influence of micro-parties. My ideas first got rolling when I was reading about the recent iVoting in the NSW election, where a team of independent researchers found a flaw in the voting website. I considered penning an article on that alone from my tech background (suffice to say security is purely a question of quality), but was more interested in the surrounding discussion where someone highlighted the conundrum: 'with internet-voting it is impossible to design a system which ensures the person voting cannot sell their vote'. So I started a thought experiment 'if selling your vote were allowed, would that help things and what would change?' It led to an interesting design, here are the primary elements of my proposal:
- Make the system electronic. Hire the nations leading internet banking vendor, to handle the build to ensure that security is to the best possible standard. For those Australians without internet, interation can also be handled through the Australia Post system (or at a dedicated kiosk terminal).
- When an individual gets their Australian Tax return assessed, they are allocated one vote. This occurs regardless of whether you are an Australian citizen and regardless of the amount of tax you pay - the idea is that if you are participating in the economy then you get a say in things (however only applies to 'Australian resident for tax purposes', and is weighted to days in the year).
- Votes can be accumulated with every yearly assessment but the voting power depreciates in at a constant rate of (say) 50% per year. This means when you submit your tax return in year 2, your voting power is now 1½. Submitting in year 3 means you have 1¾ votes and so on.
- Voting power can be used in any of the following manner:
- Unassigned Vote (default) or
- Vote of No Confidence in the system (a protest vote) or
- Used by the individual, to directly vote FOR or AGAINST a bill currently in parliament or
- Delegated to an individual or group, or
- Sold on the voting market.
For simplicity, new votes created for an individual get allocated to the same selection previously held. Because the votes are fractional by nature, it is possible to split your vote if desired (e.g. delegate between two candidates 50-50, but split votes are really only practical for holders of large amounts of voting power).
- The number of seats in parliament are limited by the number of available votes, with a maximum close to what is currently in place (i.e. 150 in 2015).
- Representatives must have a certain amount of voting power delegated to them to get the seat
- There can be more than one representative from an 'electorate', so long as there are enough votes.
- An geographical area without enough votes allocated, risk not having anyone representing their area.
- Representatives use the voting power delegated to them, to directly vote on issues and bills.
- Representatives can also re-delegate their voting power to other individuals or groups, but obviously they have to be careful with that since it might not be what the people supporting may want.
- Individuals or Groups can buy and sell votes on an open market (operated only within the same system), however their identity becomes progressively public at different levels of 'vote ownership'. For example, if you have bought up 10 votes your name might be shown, at 20 votes your address is also made public. At 30 votes your holdings become public, at 40 votes your transactions (delegation, buying and selling votes activity) become public. At 50 votes, your entire voting history also becomes public (note: the actual thresholds would obviously need to be determined) and so on. While there is no actual 'secret ballot', privacy for the little guy can be ensured but full transparency for those who possess larger-than-normal voting power.
- Do away with elections altogether and allow indefinite terms - i.e. the votes are either allocated or they are not. The national vote allocations are assessed at the close of every week, with results published on the following Monday.
- Every year, any bills passed must also be reviewed by the same mini-referendum processes, to ensure that the intended function is still fit-for-purpose.
That's basically it. Here's some more detail on each point:
1. Most arguments I have seen around 'internet voting is not secure' rest their arguments on some badly designed system. Voting is important enough to treat like a bank balance, so it makes perfect sense to tap into the expertise of years of commercial online banking development. Adding simple elements such as two-factor authentication (via security dongle) would help, along with thorough auditing. The threat of hacking can't be elminated but there are certainly safeguards which can be put in place. Besides, thanks to the metadata bill the government will have proof of who accessed the site (or who did not). The motivation for hacking is also lessened since votes can be purchased on the open market. Who will pay for all the infrastructure? The Australian Taxpayer of course - they love footing the bill for all sorts of stuff! Seriously though, having the system will reduce the overall cost of holding elections so it's still a saving regardless of how many dollars get put into it.
2. Tying the voting process to the Tax Assessment process is just a way of proving the identity of the individuals involved, but is mostly tying the 'right to vote' to the 'nation building' part. It means that even foreign backpackers picking fruit on their gap year get a chance to vote, but expats who spend all their time overseas, don't. Pensioners who get assessed for $0 tax still get the right to vote. Children who are old enough to pay tax have the right to vote. Your voting history, activity and preferences are fully known to the government, but with the right safeguards (see item #1) this privacy can be kept secure. Tax reform is still sorely needed but at least this enourages everyone to play ball - for example submitting your tax returns late is still possible but the penalty is that the votes apply only to the year of assessment so some of your voting power may have been forfeited .. that's where #3 comes in:
3. The mechanic of depreciating the vote over time serves to keeps the real source of voting power rooted with the (ATO compliant) individual taxpayer. Any lopsided voting power bases which are built up will naturally erode unless they are sustained by a steady stream of voting allocations.
4. In this system, every individual can vote directly on a bill in parliament, which makes every law proposal a mini-referendum. Soliciting public opinion for every matter would normally be cost-prohibitive, but the scalability of the new system makes it cheap and possible to do things in realtime. Now, not every individual will want to do the hard work of voting, so it is normal to allocate your vote to a representative (politican) who can vote on the bill on your behalf. In this system it's called 'Vote Delegation' and the interface would/should/can be as simple as follow/unfollow. A vote can also be allocated to an entire politcal party (who can then vote on the bill on your behalf) or even another random individual or group of your choice, who can again either vote directly on the bill or re-delegate the vote (to another individual or group, etc). The delegation chain is visible to the original voter, so if there is unhappiness about the way your delegates have used your vote, the individual can simply re-allocate his/her voting power. A protest vote is where the vote is effectively invalidated (cannot be used by anyone) and gains more significance because the voter is choosing not to sell the vote (literally placing a monetary value on the protest). The 'vote market' is an interesting discussion of it's own, please refer to 'Selling Your Vote' below for more details.
5. Limiting the number of seats available aims to elminate a rather distasteful element of Australian politics which is smear campaigns against opposition and individuals. This component is based on a rather useful article recently written by Ugo Bardi, who pointed out that negative advertising in commerce only acts to reduce overall market share, whereas the same effect doesn't apply to the current political system, which leads to imbalances and inefficiency (for reasons explained in Ugo's article). So, in this new restricted system, smearing your opponent may only disgust the public and encourages them to withdraw their vote (reducing political market share). In theory, this forces political representatives into a version of 'prisoner's dilemma', and the feedback from the system would be very quick. At the very least we won't have to endure the endless 'my opponent is the devil' media saturation that we the public get battered with. It may even clean up 'question time in parliament' which typically has more bullying, bickering and name-calling than your average schoolyard lunchtime.
6. As discussed in 'Selling Your Vote', the idea of progressive public exposure (for profiles which own more than a 'normal quantity' of votes) is to increase visibility of vested interests. So lobby groups might collate a large number of votes but their voting history and means of accumulation would be fully visible. This is surely a better system for accountability than what we currently have where lobby groups make 'donations' with the intent of influencing certain outcomes in politics. If these bodies act in an irresponsible or despicable manner, then it is possible that their 'ask' price to buy future votes may increase dramatically or they may find themselves subject to public scrutiny.
7. 'closing the polls' at the end of every week is simply a reference point for taking a snapshot and can also be used for cut-off times for bill voting. Having a weekly assessment gives (effectively) realtime feedback rather than waiting for the cumbersome election cycle. Australian politics has reached the stage where we expect to be lied to and expect the politicians to break their election promises - despite this they stay in office for the remainder of the elected term where the public typically proceed to vote them out again. Wouldn't it be better if the public could keep them accountable on a week-to-week basis? In theory it means the politicians would always have to be on their best behaviour all the time - it would also pressure them to not promise things that they cannot deliver. On the flipside, a politician who knows he has the support of the public, can stay in the game and make necessary long-term changes for the betterment of the community. In short, political inefficiency is increased because instead of wasting time kissing babies and schmoozing the public using unrealistic pretenses, representatives can just get on with the job or representing their voters, safe in the knowledge that if they perform consistently throughout, they have a better chance of hanging onto their seat. Any official who breaks the trust of their voting consituency will have a short-lived political career.
8. Having a review process becomes necessary because (a) political influence may install law which turns out not to be beneficial to the nation, and hence is a conduit for repeal (carbon tax, etc).
All these points taken in aggregate lead to much larger (and more interesting) discussions. Each section below would make good separate articles and I barely scratch the surface but I outline them here for your consideration and to demonstrate some detail on how I see the principles functioning.
Selling Your Vote
This is easily the most contenious idea in the set. In such a market, a seller is saying "I don't care enough about this voting thing to participate, but I am happy to get some cash in exchange for this vote". They can then look at the current BID in the market or place an ASK of their own. The marketplace would be run by government on the same platform but would operate the same as a standard trading system with a visible order book (of bids and asks) with no restrictions, i.e. no minimum or maxiums. The goal here is that the participant selects his/her own level of compensation - i.e. should they choose to sell at a particular price and a bidder meets their selected price then in theory they should be 100% happy with the exchange. However a major difference compared with a normal trading system is item #6, where the identity of buyers and sellers are progressively public based on their possession of votes. The idea here is that different bid and ask levels may apply for different people. For example if you were to see James Packer trying to buy up votes at a low price he might not get many takers > e.g. "Huh, I'll sell him my vote but my asking price is $1 Million", either way once the market is open we get an interesting effect of having brokers, renters and a futures market. Brokers would act to buy and sell large amounts of votes and would most likely also play the Renter role - i.e. with large amounts of voting power it would be possible to 'rent' them out, vote in a particular way in return for compensation without actually onselling the vote itself (if the buyers market is full of brokers only, a prospective seller with scruples may have second thoughts about selling his vote). Futures markets would look for time periods when the price is low, in order to sell high. Item #3 (voting half-life) makes it less desirable to hoard votes, and any power bases need to keep buying votes in order to sustain their power. Additionally, the large blocks of votes and history of purchase would also be public information, so they can at least be scrutinised. If the rich want to buy permanent political power, the only way to do it is by compensating the public monetarily on an ongoing basis. This system is obviously open to abuse but again the main point is everyone has a choice about what they do with their vote - the act of selling is effectively like dumping shares in a company you don't want to be a shareholder of. Politically driven individuals can also buy as many votes as their wallet will support their fervour. And finally, for the first time in human history it would be possible to truly determine 'what a vote is worth'.
Electing An Offical (or not)
Delegating your vote to a political party (the old fashioned system) would still be possible in this system. In order to have seats in parliament, the party can re-delegate those votes to place people or hold some voting power in reserve. This means that a representative doesn't have to be elected directly, but their performance is still subject to review by the voting public because the political party still requires possession of enough votes to allocate seats (i.e. in the event of a shortfall the party has to decide who stays and who goes). An individual in parliament who directly holds votes may align themselves with a party if they wish however this places more pressure on them because if the voters holding them in power become unimpressed then they may withdraw or reallocate their voting power. Under the new system, electoral boundaries now become self-defined and self-regulated - for example if there are not enough people allocating their votes to get the threshold required to have a representative then that area may go unrepresented. If this causes them a disadvantage then in theory they will learn their lesson and get themselves mobilized. Likewise it might be possible for an area to have so many votes that they have more than one representative - this would be a virtuous cycle because in theory it means the area will prosper though having more political clout. In the new system it is also possible for anyone to vote for anyone, the benefit being that the electoral boundaries self-regulating - for example someone in Sydney has the choice to vote for a Melbourne candidate but it won't necessarily benefit them because the Mebourne candidate will be focussing on things which benefit Melbourne.
The system will naturally favour representatives who have a great support team network, are good communicators, have good rapport with the public and have a tendency to make strong decisions - in short all the qualities of a good leader.
Delegation of Voting Power
Voting on every single bill is a responsibility not all of us want, which is why we elect a representative. In this proposed system, delegation of an individuals voting power can take many forms but the most interesting factor is the 'chain of delegation' which becomes possible. The full delegation chain is visible to the original voter. Here's a basic example:
Note in the example above, the party (group) are responsible for their sub-delegation. If Joe Voter becomes disattisfied with Jane Smith's vote or performance for any reason, he has the right to reassign his vote. If the party tries to support the bad candidate by reassigning other votes they have in their pool, they may find their political market share reduced. Hence pressure exists for the best quality candidates at all times. The chain of delegation can go through as many groups and individuals as is stable, so you may get situations like this:
And finally of course, delegation in this system isn't actually a requisite if the voter is so-motivated:
The Role of Media in the New System
The Australian media industry likes to play the role of self-appointed reign-makers, and this system would be no different, with the knowledge they can tip the balance on candidates they don't like, by affecting public opinion through what they print. This is no different to what happens already, but with the new system the anti-smear effect works to reduce the political market share so that eventually the media activity runs out of steam (i.e. the more the papers bang on, the less there is to bang on about). Additionally, with better quality politicians the papers will finally be comparing virtues in representatives, rather than foibles. I see a role for media in the form of their traditional role > the watchdogs of the community, forcing accountability on those elected. For example, with the new system, publishing details of travel expenses rorting in a National newspaper would have such an immediate impact that politicians will be incredibly careful to keep their noses clean.
Big Data and the Public Pulse
Data mining the system would provide great insights into the public mood and it may be possible to create models which could be used to predict what the public response to a particular bill might be, ahead of time - in theory this leads to better quality proposals being put forward. Combined with geographical information, it may also be possible to identify social problems in certain areas - even ahead of time depending on how advanced the modelling is (I'll leave this topic for the statisticians). Security and Privacy controls on this data would need to be written as part of the initial framework, due to the considerable power it would have.
Based on feedback so far, it seems that such a system would eventually merge into two scenarios: (1) Where voters have acted to reduce the size of government to a shadow of its former self or vote government activity to a standstill, and (2) where big lobby groups or financial interests have bought up as many votes and installed their cronies in government. (3) the effect of the public 'voting themselves money from the public purse' may become pronounced as politicians become desperate to find things which will win them the instant public support they need to stay popular.
I think both 1 and 2 would be good outcomes - perhaps I had best explain: For the first scenario, the reduction of government size would essentially be creative destruction - it would act as a PURGE of inefficiencies (both people and processes) in the current system, then it would rebound until it found a level of happy equilibrium - i.e. the new system removes the artificial constraints which is maintaining bloated government.
The second scenario (of Plutocracy) is problematic and is related directly to dishonest money - we live in a world where credit is equated with money and where wealth is already inproportionately distributed. Hence, in the proposed system it would be easy for a well-funded group to install themselves directly in the engines of government. But, to a large degree this is already happening (just ask the Palmer United Party) and this element will always be present regardless; the proposed new system introduces some key differences:
(a) The influence would now be completely public, i.e. it would be completely clear whose payroll they were on.
(b) Because the voting power has a specific half-life, their influence need not be ongoing, if the public are unhappy with the situation then all they need to do is stop selling their voting power!!
(c) The money which was used to gain the voting power goes out to the public instead of someone's back pocket. i.e the public are at least compensated. A continual bought position would require a continual outflow of 'money' into the community.
(d) The public has more power to vote against any lopsided proposals the bought-and-paid-for representative puts forward.
Scenario 3 is problematic because offering free stuff to the masses is easier than buckling down and doing a thorough job, but again this is really no different to the current system and the advantage here would be better visibility and accountability. Also a twist - in the new system I would expect those individuals who generally vote to gain themselves at the expense of their fellow citizens, are the ones most likely to sell their vote at the first chance because that's just their nature - perhaps this system would effectively remove their attitude from the voting process?
I appreciate any feedback on my proposal - Australia is a wonderful country with incredible potential - my hope is that we thrive as a nation and together address the many issues we currently face at every level. If Australia is honestly serious about innovation (like currently claimed and advertised in 'Challenge of Change'), let's not be held back by 20th century mindsets!
Update 8th Mary 2015:
Pretty sure, in this day-and-age, we can do better than this: