Direct Representation


FAQ: Interesting subtleties of DR

What's so bad about collective decisions made by voting?

Why can't elections handle a large number of options?

  When there is a large number of choices, many problems emerge when everyone tries to choose at exactly the same time. Voters have to choose without knowing how everyone else is going to vote. This results in "vote splitting" that produces unpredictable and nonoptimal winners. It's also more difficult for candidates to run targeted campaigns, and for voters to find the candidates they prefer, if they can't operate at their own pace.

  A common solution to this has been the two-round runoff election, where a few leading candidates are chosen from a large pool in a primary election, and a final winner is chosen in a second election. You could imagine that a three- or four-round runoff would be an even better way to prevent vote splitting and campaign confusion. Direct Representation can be seen as an extension of this idea, because it effectively uses a continuous runoff election to choose new legislators. Voters can make a new pledge at any time if they feel that their second-choice candidate is making more impressive progress toward membership in the legislature than their favorite. A candidate can win a seat at any time, given enough pledges. So DR is the ultimate solution to this problem with elections.

Wouldn't we have too many choices with DR?

  Most Americans have gone shopping for a car, apartment, or breakfast cereal and faced hundreds of options to choose from. Usually, everyone finds a satisfactory solution without an unacceptable amount of effort - we usually ask friends for recommendations, do some research on our own, read ads, and make a decision. Would you surrender this power of choice to a system of shopping by vote?

What is the nature of the connection between legislators and constituents?

  Under DR, legislators and their constituents would feel a stronger bond than they do now. The two will share a common ideology, and voters would make a tangible contribution to their legislators' power. Voters could retain the same legislator regardless of their location or mobility, and regardless of complicated and arbitrary district boundaries. So a strong loyalty can develop between the two.

  This is complicated by the use of a secret ballot; voters cannot (and should not) publicly prove who holds their proxy. Anyone can claim to be a legislator's constituent, so to some extent legislators must be accountable to everyone - probably a valuable effect.

Couldn't the effect of DR be mimicked by PR?

  PR is usually used with some form of districting to reduce the number of choices to a manageable level. PR voting techniques simply can't efficiently handle the amount of choice offered by DR: imagine ranking 100 candidates on a ballot! With so many choices, it makes sense to just choose individually. (See the questions about elections that appear above.)

Isn't DR like corporate democracy, which is terrible?

  Corporate shareholders are allowed to vote on various management issues in proportion to the number of shares they hold, and can assign proxies to have others vote for them. This mechanism is almost useless because the existing management automatically receives the proxies of those who don't vote. Management also has a great deal of control over ballot access. Most information voters need to make an informed decision is kept secret. So corporate democracy is indeed terrible, but not because of its similarity to DR.

How would DR be implemented?

Use of DR would require a secure central database keeping track of people's proxies. Voting would occur at a kiosk at a government office, by mail using secure codes, or potentially over the internet. Though we would want even greater safeguards for our government, corporations have conducted proxy elections for decades, with billions of dollars at stake. So DR would be feasible. DR would be a substantial change from the current system, but it will not seem so radical after proportional and/or interactive representation have been used at the local or state level.

Don't multiparty legislatures cause instability?

They can in some countries where the executive branch is selected by the legislature. The separation of powers in our federal and state governments would prevent such problems. There are actually many multiparty legislatures in the world that are very stable.

Wouldn't DR preclude representation of local interests?

No, because people can and will choose representatives who live near them, live in a community with similar concerns, or can otherwise represent their local interests. This has been demonstrated in at-large PR elections in Cambridge, MA. People use their power of choice to ensure that their local interests are represented. This is vastly preferable to election methods that force this choice upon people, regardless of their other political interests.

Where did you get this great idea?

Direct Representation is not an entirely new concept. J. Francis Fisher and Simon Sterne made similar proposals for the United States in the 1860's. This site combines ideas from this older work with more modern concepts and packaging.