Delegative Democracy

How can we upgrade democracy, taking into account the Internet Age?

This deep dive reviews the concepts of liquid democracy and flexible representative democracy, which are valuable governance concepts to consider outside of the political realm such as in DAOs.

Delegative Democracy Essentials:

Direct democracy

  • Original form of democracy; everyone has a vote
  • Doesn’t scale; only works in small and highly cohesive groups
  • Members of a community with other demands on their time and attention are drowned out by a vocal minority with the time and determination to push their agenda.
  • Voters are unlikely to make informed choices on every issue

Representative democracy

  • Voters in a geographic jurisdiction vote for a winner-take-all representation from that jurisdiction
  • That representative votes on behalf of every voter on every issue for the duration of the term
  • Wide variety of representative structures in use around the world, with significantly different properties


  • Infeasibility of representatives to understand all of the issues they are voting on; they can take an active role in understanding, debating, and refining only a few issues at hand. For other issues, much is based on limited understanding, party alignment or quid pro quo deals
  • Accountability limited to election cycles
  • Those who vote for the losing candidate have little-to-no voice
  • Tendency to include the wrong kind of decision-makers (those susceptible to corruption) and exclude the right kind of decision-makers (those with policy area expertise)

What is liquid democracy?

Also known as “delegative democracy” or “proxy democracy”

Combines elements of direct and representative democracy

  • System wherein individuals can either vote directly or delegate to people or organizations to vote on their behalf

Four key attributes

  • Every voter has the right and ability to vote on every issue; making it a voluntary direct democracy
  • Every voter has the option to delegate to a representative (person or organization) to vote on their behalf on (1) a singular policy issue or (2) all policy issues in one or more policy area (e.g. the environment, education) or (3) all policy areas (flexible delegation)
  • Individual or organization that is voting on behalf of another person can delegate their vote and the votes of peoples who have delegated to them (meta-delegation)
  • A voter can take back his / her proxy at any time and either vote directly or reassign to another delegate (instant recall)


  • Comes closest to the ideal of complete direct democracy by making compatible the features of direct voting with the practical necessity of some representation
  • Better leverages expertise >> leads to better decision making
  • More democratic: entitlement to either vote directly or delegate enables members to participate fully in political decisions, more granular alignment of voters with decision making
  • Higher citizen engagement, less apathy
  • More resistant to corruption from money in politics


  • Unequal voting power: concentration of votes to delegates dissuades direct participation
  • Changing composition of decision makers impedes ability to make tradeoffs across policy decisions which are inherently contingent on the allocation of a common resource pool
  • Requires technology: security concerns, product design significantly influences voter behaviors, disenfranchises voters who cannot access the technology
  • Risk of mob psychology
  • Risk of tyranny of the majority

Origins of the idea

Liquid democracy in practice

  • Starting around 2006, free software organizations in Germany began building two different software platforms for delegation-based online discussion and deliberation: LiquidFeedback and Adhocracy
  • LiquidFeedback was adopted and used by the German Pirate Party, which has declined in popularity in recent years
  • Success stories with delegative democracy in Germany have started to get noticed and studied internationally
  • Living list of projects here:

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