Camilo Casas recently announced he’s running as a liquid democracy candidate in Colorado. It’s fantastic for expanding people’s understanding of what’s now possible.
Motherboard wrote about it, and the article received over 40,000 upvotes on Reddit, landing on the front page.
But commenters didn’t respond so positively. In particular, many shared their fears of replacing full-time representatives with a less-invested crowd. Going from our current “representative democracy” to a “direct democracy” seems like moving backwards.
This is half correct.
Yes, asking everyone to vote on every bill could easily result in worse decisions.
There are many routine matters that elected legislators and their staff spend a lot of time discussing and researching, the details of which most citizens would rather not be distracted with.
We’re all too busy. Most people just don’t have enough time to look deeply into all the issues.
But this response misunderstands Casas’s candidacy.
He’s proposing running on a liquid democracy platform, not direct democracy.
It’s true that liquid democracy gives people the means to vote for themselves on policy when they want. But it’s just as much, if not more, about giving each of us true choice and accountability in our representation.
Here’s a useful framing:
- Democracy 1.0: Direct
- Democracy 2.0: Electoral
- Democracy 3.0: Liquid
It’s more accurate to call our current system “electoral democracy”, rather than the common name “representative democracy”, as elections are only one method for selecting representatives.
Liquid democracy is a new method that uses modern technology to give voters personalized representation.
Right now, because of our election rules, our options are basically limited to two frontrunners every few years.
Liquid democracy opens that choice up so you can pick anyone. And if they end up losing your trust, liquid democracy lets you “de-delegate” away from them immediately.
But isn’t electing full-time legislators the smartest way to go? Why mess with a good thing?
Some citizens take the time to stay informed, and that’s great, but many don’t. And so it’s useful that we elect representatives right now. For many cases, full-time representatives probably make better decisions than plebiscites.
But that doesn’t solve the problem completely, for a few reasons, one of which is we still need to hold a direct vote to decide who gets to be The Representative.
And now we get into a similar problem:
Many voters don’t really know the candidates more than headlines and 30 second TV ads.
But of course some people do take the time to research the candidates and stay on top of the issues.
And even if a voter isn’t engaged themselves, they probably have some idea who is. That’s the key.
If we ask millions of people every other year to pick between Candidate A and Candidate B, both of whom are probably strangers to them, how likely are we to get the best leaders?
But if we build our democracy around a different question:
“Who do you most wish could represent you, when you’re too busy to vote? You can choose anyone, including those you’ve had decades to get to know.”
Then we can get much higher quality outcomes.
It could be anyone, from a personal family member, to a smart coworker, to the head of your favorite political party.
The point is that you trust them.
If you think your existing elected legislator is the best option, you can still choose them. Liquid democracy is backwards compatible with our current representation.
Liquid democracy still means the majority of people can offload the work of legislative engagement. And that representation can be based upon stronger free choice than our current system offers.