I have been thinking a lot about electoral systems lately since the new Liberal government has stated their intention to change Canada's First Past the Post system to something less bad. I approve of the change but there are a lot of options in terms of what we could end up with, and some are better than others. I suspect for the Liberals the best strategy in terms of selfish desire to rule is a simple ranked ballot. Under that system an awful lot of voters will rank NPD - Liberals - Conservatives or Conservatives - Liberals - NDP and that will work wonders at keeping the Liberals in power. (Which isn't my goal, but it seems the likely result, and not one the Liberals will ignore.)
However, today I ran across an interesting set of ideas called Liquid Democracy that proposes a fairly radical change to how voting and governing function. The idea is captured in this chart reasonably well:
The basic idea is that people nominate proxies for themselves to vote on individual issues or vote directly. Part of it is the assumption that proxies can also have proxies, and that each proxy can be contingent on the type of vote going on. For example, I could vote directly on issues relating to justice, nominate one person to vote on native issues for me, and nominate another proxy to vote on everything else through their network of proxies, which hopefully is a carefully selected group of experts. It has a lot of basic appeal, but also a ton of issues.
I actually take issue with the basic idea that it is a good thing to have the entire country voting on each individual issue. People are shortsighted and don't have a grasp of the big picture, and if their votes are based on individual issues they aren't going to have any kind of overall strategy. It seems very likely that everyone would happily vote for lower taxes, better healthcare, and more money spent on their project of choice, and then be angry when the budget was a total disaster. People already vote themselves free stuff when they can and letting them do it on a case by case basis seems terrible.
The way I see it we actually need people who are in the business of governing and who are going to be at it for awhile to make cohesive plans. I also question our ability to actually group up legislation into discrete chunks in that way - how do I separate the fiscal group from nearly any other group? How do we decide if legislation regulating land use in a way that impacts native reserves is voted on as an environmental or native vote?
However, this was a useful exercise because it got me thinking about how we group our voting power and considering alternatives. Right now things are greatly focused on physical location, operating on the assumption that people who live in an area have similar views that should be represented. While I have things in common with someone who lives 2 blocks away, I have a heck of a lot more in common with atheist socialists living in Vancouver than I do religious conservatives living in my building.
So how might we go about letting people find representatives that match their interests better without completely removing the idea of local representation?
The idea I am putting forward here is that voting be shifted from pieces of paper based strictly on location to online voting that is location independent. Imagine a system where people go to vote and have a list of possible representatives which includes everyone in the country who has gone through the procedure to be listed. Each candidate would still be able to list themselves by riding, so that people who want to vote for someone local can see the list of ~5 people who are local candidates, or they can search (with electronic assistance, obviously) for the candidate they want that isn't local.
Example: I go to vote. I can vote for Carolyn Bennett, my local Liberal rep, as she appears alongside Ginny McGee and Dorfus The Greedy as my local candidates. Or I can type in "May" and find Elizabeth May's name in the list and vote for her because I like the Green Party. Or if my best friend Bob is running for office I can look him up and vote for him.
The top 300 candidates each get a job in Ottawa forming Parliament. Everyone else who gets any votes can vote on each piece of legislation, and they get as many votes as they got in the election, but they don't get a job and full time salary. Could potentially have a cut off (say 100 votes) over which everyone gets a small stipend to cover the costs they presumably incur in trying to represent their constituents. This way if a geographic area wants their needs recognized they can vote for a local person to do that, but if I am more concerned about legalizing pot, or marriage equality, or keeping out refugees, I can vote for the person who is dedicated to doing just that.
Under this system gerrymandering ridings is still possible but almost entirely pointless. People nearby to my riding can still vote for Carolyn Bennett if they want, but her name is in that short list for people actually in her riding to make it easy for those who haven't done their research.
It is even possible to change your representative partway through the term under this system, but doing so would require that your vote be registered to you and that is an issue all on its own. While it would give more accountability it would also make voting anonymously impossible and that isn't great. In any case this eliminates strategic voting, lets people who have very specific issues and preferences find exactly the right candidate, and lets people vote by the group or issue set they identify with rather than restricting it to locale.
I like it, but if anyone sees any really big holes in the theory I would appreciate hearing about them.