Could America Ever Become a Direct Democracy?

[Read the post]

Direct democracy with electronic enhancements to enable the liquid democracy might be worth something. I could delegate my votes on “intellectual property” to Michael Geist but delegate votes on other subjects to others that I trust.

But what I don’t know is whether it is possible to have an authentic delegation while preserving secret ballots. I recall some story from years ago about some ballot system (I think it was implemented with some sort of printed receipt) that would allow anyone to validate that their vote was counted correctly but also kept that vote secret. That’s great, but could you do something similar with the delegated votes of liquid democracy?

1 Like

Democracy and voting are not synonyms. We have voting in America, but between gerrymandering, private financing of elections, and the infamous electoral college, it’s hard to argue we have democracy. We have federal republicanism. More voting does not mean more democracy.


Yes! and No! Direct democracy is IMO the way forward, but it works only in much smaller groups. So it won’t be (US of) America anymore. That’s not as harsh as it sounds, because governments which are too big for the population to control are functionally abstract “fictional” communities. There are also various levels of directness between the hands-off representation of the current US and all-out “everybody votes upon everything”. Such as using delegates instead of representatives, since they can be legally bound to do what they are elected to do, instead of any random thing they like (short of illegal), as it is now.


Sounds like a nightmare. It’s hard enough getting members of CONGRESS to read the bills they vote on, let alone take the time to actually understand all the likely consequences.


America already has the only practical, barely so, direct democracy in the world. The electorate elects the candidates to vote for on almost all levels and then those go into the legislature to pass the legislative buck to the electorate by giving them a shot to vote for State constitution.

It is insane by the standards of the rest of the world.

One of my favorite anime series of the past few years has been Gatchaman (aka Battle of the Planets, aka G-Force) Crowds. This depicts in a roundabout way the establishment of a form of direct democracy in Japan. One of the characters is the developer of a popular social media platform which allows users to remotely direct their consciousness to manifest at locations of their choosing through an embodiment called “Crowds”. The beleaguered PM starts using social media and Crowds to basically let the citizens have run of the country. But to increase the weirdness factor, a benevolent alien is hanging around who can externalize people’s emotional states and act upon them. The two series are a slow burn and rather unique in their mix of sci-fi and politics. Probably not to everybody’s taste, but I strongly recommend this to anybody who might appreciate an anime allegory on direct democracy in the age of social media.


So, in short-

Technology says yes,
Plutocracy says no.

If you want to get there from here, look at Switzerland for ideas.

It’s still better than less voting, except for Republicans.

1 Like

What might work would be to have a big country where the whole nation shared just a few basic things, like fundamental civil rights and a currency. Smaller units within that country could have their own laws and experiment with their own solutions on everything else.

I think that about, say, fifty such units would be a workable number. Anybody with me??

Not on that, no.

How many towns and cities are there in the US? Take that number, then break the big cities into manageable chunks based on community and geography, and that’s a good number to start with.

1 Like

I agree that it sounds insane, at least I was unable to follow your description.

I also know that the US has a relatively high level of direct democracy in some states, with many referendums on various bills, but I doubt there is ever more direct democracy than in Switzerland.

And then there are votes on the subject “which subject does this vote belong to”. Whoever that vote is delegated to in the end will have all the power.

I am generally sceptical of e-voting because nothing beats paper voting in terms of “verifyability by everybody”. And I consider that to be among the most important properties of a voting system. If you have a perfectly safe, fair and manipulation-proof cryptographic system, and the lunatic fringe manages to convince 40% of the general populace that it’s all rigged, you’ve got yourself a perfect recipe for a civil war. And that’s not good for democracy.


God no. I’m not opposed to the occasional referendum but I don’t have time to read 100+ page bills in legalese every day or learn many complicated but vital issues like the precise details of the tax code. That is why I elect full-time representatives who share the workload with multiple staffers. Even they can’t handle the smaller stuff, that is why they have delegated some rule-making authority to regulatory agencies.


Amen to that. Also, those representatives are supposed to bring some common sense and discretion to the office, which would not be present in a direct democracy. That’s the theory, anyway.

All of those extremist nutjobs and pandering cynics who currently infest D.C. were elected by the public. If the system is broken now, imagine if every Trump/Cruz/Palin/Clinton/Kardashian fan had a direct vote in everything. Politicians would be campaigning on American Idol, or whatever show takes its place.

I don’t remember what it’s called, but I like the idea of a system of delegating your vote to experts on a per-issue basis.

That way, you can find someone who shares your views with respect to a specific matter, and so will vote on your behalf on that specific matter (e.g. computer security), but won’t have any power to vote on your behalf when it comes to something he’s not an expert in (e.g. balancing the budget).


Technology actually says that making a secure online voting platform is insanely difficult and would have to stand up to both attacks and the infrastructure and attacks on the device and OS that people use to run the voting software. Both of these would be huge targets for everyone from Bobby Tables up to state level hacking teams.

Fifty? How about the other areas that must submit to the USAn Empire? Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, etc.
And what about the fact that each state has wildly different populations? Why not make one Dakota and one Carolina. One Virginia? And divide the most populous states in city /countryside areas? NY State and NY City = Two polities. Or have 6 California states in the Republic to reflect cultural differences and have a more manageable voter population?
Your solution seems simple enough but it does not address fundamental problems of democracy in the USA.


Check out Google Votes (pdf) in the end they wound up sacrificing pure anonymous votes for the (IMO) more important factor of accountability in delegated votes. You could have a separation of votes delegated to you and your personal vote so that you couldn’t learn the votes of people by just delegating votes to them as a monitor.

There’s a lot that’s easier in paper voting that gets massively complex when we try to do it securely digitally simply because physical security of a voting place and a voting box is much simpler to track and verify.

Direct Democracy would function only in those instances where there is an informed electorate. Sorry to completely destroy the concept beyond any redemption in a single sentence.


Demarchy all the way.