Never mind the ballots – towards large scale horizontal decision making

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by Poll Cat
Slingshot, Issue #121: Summer 2016

Over the last half century, an incredible decision-making process has emerged known as consensus, a process based on the radical idea that the group will not move forward on a decision unless every member is on board. Blossoming out of the Free Speech Movement, consensus process has been adopted in homes, workplaces, collectives, and community organizations as a way to make decisions with less interference from pre-existing hierarchies such as race, class, age, and gender. Consensus isn’t perfect, but it creates a framework for problem solving that offers a model of greater equality than the “rule of the privileged” that tends to happen in small groups by default.

Now, as consensus has expanded to countless spaces across the globe, it is a great time for anarchists to turn our creativity outwards, gazing past the edges of our communities, and begin strategizing better to make decisions and solicit opinions on a massive scale. Because even if we try to ignore it, the large-scale political machine affects our daily lives in so many ways. The broken system of corporate-dominated voting and lobbying controls our resources and has a stranglehold on our ecology, education, healthcare, and so many other social services. If we can dream up new, better ways of gaining and responding to public opinion we may be able to more rapidly move towards a world with a healthier, more sustainable human presence.

And, while Consensus works great in small, intimate groups, it becomes unwieldy on a large scale. This means we have to start thinking outside the box and come up with some new tactics. Some groups have already started working on just that.

Secure Polling System (SPS)

For the last few years, Hackers in Oakland have been developing the early framework for an idea called Secure Polling System. SPS would allow you to vote anonymously and securely, ensuring there’s exactly one vote per person.

How it works is you initially register with an office that verifies your identity. You then get a unique encryption key, allowing you to vote using your identity while simultaneously hiding your identity too. (Woo, encryption!)

This polling software would be open-source, so anyone with a little coding knowledge could verify that it’s counting the votes properly, preventing the types of “glitches” found in closed-source voting software, such as during the 2004 election in which a “software glitch” in the public voting machines caused the Republican candidate to receive 4,258 votes in Franklin County, Ohio — where only 638 people voted.

With open source software, things like that wouldn’t happen, or at least they’d be a lot easier to catch ahead of time.

Also, SPS would allow a radical redesign of how and when we solicit opinions. People could create their own opinion polls any time, soliciting others to respond to issues that might have been overlooked in our current (big-money-favoring) system of deciding what even gets to be presented to the public for voting. SPS could allow types of large-scale self-organizing without having a corporate filter between us and the opinions of others. It would be a move towards reimagining our society as one that is more responsive to each other’s needs, and with greater empowerment for those ready to voice the changes they want to see made.

To help with the development of this project, please visit securepollingsystem.org or @SecurePolling on twitter.

Liquid Democracy

Imagine every aspect of decision-making is broken down by topic and region, and each of us has a vote within every topic in our respective regions.

So, I’m going to get several education votes (a neighborhood one, a civic one, an eco-regional one, a bioregional one, and a national one), several urban design votes (nbr’hd, civic, e’rgn, b’rgn, nat’l), and likewise I’d get votes in topics like the arts, means of production, commerce, ecology, health care, etc. The goal is to break down all the decisions presently made by elected officials and divide them into accessible, sensible categories in which every person has exactly one person’s say.

A form of this governance was tried out in Iceland shortly after their Revolution in 2009, and they discovered a problem: making all the decisions about everything takes hecka time. Like 6 hours a day or something. Who wants to spend all day voting? We still have to live our lives! So, hackers came up with a solution: what if you can give your vote away to someone else to vote in your place? This is why it’s call Liquid Demoracy. You get to move your votes around.

So, for example, I might give all of my education votes to my sister, who’s a teacher, and is already researching the issues in education. And I might give my arts votes to my artist friend. And I might give my transportation votes to Jesse Palmer of Slingshot, who has an awesome grand vision to revise the transportation system to make everywhere accessible by a train-to-bicycle infrastructure.

In the meantime, I will keep my civic planning vote, because I’m personally involved with work to create community farms and develop a resilient local food supply. In fact, this is a topic I want to devote myself to, so I might try to gather lots of other people’s votes on it. I’ll put up fliers and speak at public meetings. As people give me their urban planning votes, my voting power might jump from 1 vote to 300 to 30,000 in local and national urban planning. This gives me a lot of say in every decision that goes through on this topic. People can take their vote back from me at any time if they don’t like a decision I made. To help keep my voters & the public up-to-date about how I’m using their vote, I might have a daily video blog in which I summarize all the decisions I made that day, and explain why I made them. I might also build coalitions with top voters in other categories, so to strategize how my urban planning decisions fit in with what’s going down in education, art, etc. Also, all the decisions I make are viewable by anyone whose vote I hold, so there’s a level of transparency. I’ll also have daily video blogs explaining my decisions so members of the public can better understand the work I’m doing.

Liquid Democracy represents a radical restricting of the social order, and it would also drastically change the media surrounding politics. The great thing about this voting system is it keeps public decision-making very public, and, in moments in which you’ve decided to let yourself be represented by someone, you have a great deal of power over how long that person may represent you.

It is a model of decision-making that better matches a society with our communication technology, and also helps avoid corruption in politics by preventing the existence of entrenched figures who you’re stuck with as representatives for 2-4+ years no matter what how shitty their decisions are after they are in office. Liquid Democracy means politicians have to represent their constituents, or they lose them immediately.

Sure, this system has flaws, but nothing compared to the present system of political oligarchy.

Liquid democracy software called “Liquid Feedback” is now being used on a small-scale by the Pirate Party in parts of Germany, Italy, Austria, Norway, France, and the Netherlands (check it out at www.liquidfeedback.org). Spain, being Spain, has developed its own separate liquid democracy software which can be found at agoravoting.com. Coders in Belgium are still working on their liquid democracy software called “Get Opinionated,” and they are looking for help finishing it at github.com/getopinionated/.

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