In the second part of our series on digital democracy, we are looking at liquid democracy. Liquid democracy is a fascinating modern take on participation and the form democracy could take in the future. Read on for a short introduction.

Liquid Democracy – What is it & How It Works 

Liquid democracy is in essence a mix of representative and direct democracy. From the side of the voters, they still elect politicians as their representatives. These representatives vote on behalf of their voters by default, but the electorate may withdraw this support for certain issues – enabling direct participation in the decision making process.

Participants in such a system can decide for themselves how their interests should be addressed and if they want to address them themselves. The idea is to enable the benefits of both direct and delegated democracies. By allowing people a say on all of the issues that might be important to them, it creates a uninterrupted flow between policy making and public accountability.

One way in which it could work is where elected representatives would have the voting power of the number of people within their constituency. Their weighting would increase or decrease by the number of people who have withdrawn their support from issue to issue. As we will come to later, the internet would play a crucial role in liquid democracy working effectively.

The term liquid democracy first occurred in American online communities in 2003. Where exactly it came from is not fully clear but the idea of a flow of interaction between politics and the public is not hard to visualize.

Goals of Liquid Democracy

The most important aim is to achieve higher transparency in the political decision-making process. Citizens should not just accept package solutions by political parties but should rather vote on certain topics directly. With their direct participation, it should represent a more accurate view of the political landscape of the country. Voters would be able to leave the majority of decisions to a representative, whilst making their votes count for the issues they feel strongly about.

This process would lead to increased participation in politics, but would also increase both the accountability and fairness with which the country is run.

The Downside

As with all aspects of governments and politics, there are many criticisms. On the one hand, politicians are expert members of the population. They have dedicated their lives to governance and representing the interests of others. Critics say that giving ordinary people more power who may not fully understand the ramifications of their vote could be disastrous for the running of a country.

Similarly, people are concerned that the people are easily swayed by targeted campaigning, meaning that laws may be created that may not necessarily be in the good of the wider public, but rather those with the marketing budgets.

Central Role of the Internet

The internet plays an essential role in fulfilling the concept of liquid democracy. Online voting would offer the most realistic chance of enabling liquid democracy. Online voting is cheap, fast, convenient and efficient enough for voters to engage regularly with the decision making process. Complex voting procedures required by liquid democracy would be near impossible if conducted offline.

The internet offers endless possibilities for digital participation. Estonia for example has conducted online elections for more than ten years now. Around the globe, the trend is catching on and many organizations already vote online. That is why we will talk about e-democracy in the next part of our series about digital participation.

Read more about online voting and how it works now