In a world that has succeeded in the globalization of financial assets while keeping political rights enclosed to territories, we need to build new models of democratic governance that enable humanity to collaborate and address pressing global issues. Democracy Earth Foundation is building free, open source software for incorruptible blockchain-based voting within institutions of all sizes, from the most local involving two people to the most global involving all of us. Uneven distribution of opportunity around the globe due to the perpetual confrontation between national governments has led to accelerated climate change, rising inequality, terrorism and forced migrations. Democracy Earth Foundation considers that the technology stack that includes Bitcoin as programmable money without Central Banks, and Ethereum enabling smart contracts without the need of Judiciary Courts, requires a new layer that signals incorruptible votes beyond the territorial boundaries of Nation-States. This transnational network will act in accordance with the personal sovereignty of its members and protect their human rights with encryption. In our Initial Rights Offering we offer a token called vote that will grant participation rights to every human with decision making as its main function. Our proposal introduces cryptographically induced equality: as long as any person is able to validate his or her self-sovereign identity, they will receive a corresponding share of votes that is equal to the share of every active participant in the network. We define a Proof of Identity process that avoids central authority by introducing the concept of attention mining which incentivizes participants to strengthen the trust of votes by performing simple tests aimed at detecting replicants. Finally votes get dripped to valid participants under a Universal Basic Income mechanism with a goal of finding a proper equilibrium in the historical tension between money and politics. We seek nothing less than true democratic governance for the Internet age, one of the foundational building blocks of an achievable global peace and prosperity arising from an arc of technological innovations that will change what it means to be human on Earth.
This text is structured in three parts, each aiming to satisfy a different readership target (and all of whom may reside within the same persona.)
- Manifesto: For idealists. Diagnoses global political context and argues for a paradigm change.
- Paper: For builders. Describes the building blocks for a system that can be implemented by anyone, anywhere.
- Execution: For pragmatists. Specifies how to execute these ideas for impact.
We do not intend this text to remain fixed. It is published under an open source license and we welcome contributions from anyone, as our goal is for this document to be a living roadmap for planetary governance. Democracy as the ability to trust each other to the greatest possible extent is a defining force shaping the trajectory of history. Our mission echoes urgently across the globe, encompassing all of humanity: the need to make of our home a place of peaceful coexistence. The Democracy Earth Foundation has performed extensive research on voting systems, cyberpolitics and blockchain networks; we stand at the forefront of a public conversation regarding the internet as a planetary jurisdiction.
Following the example of Satoshi Nakamoto, prior to sharing our ideas in written form we have undertaken to write code first, in order to properly understand what can be done. To this end, more than 30,000 lines of code have been written since October 2015, which in turn has driven our research and the ideas presented herein. This is our proposal.
We pioneered digital democracy having authored some of the most prominent open source democracy software as ranked by the GitHub community including the original design of DemocracyOS, a simple direct democracy project we created in 2012. We founded the first digital political party in the Americas, the Partido de la Red (Peers Party) that ran for its first election in the city of Buenos Aires in 2013. In 2014 we shared our experience in TED reaching over 1.2 million viewers. During 2015 and 2016, Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator and Fast Forward funded our efforts to start the Democracy Earth Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to the mission of borderless governance.
Our experience combining both the political and technological challenges of democracy led us to think and design around the notion of how we could build a political party using smart contracts, or rather a lightweight form of governance anyone can implement at a low cost. We began the development of Sovereign, a blockchain liquid democracy that enables direct voting on issues or the ability to delegate voting power on specific topics to peers over a secure network without central authority. By operating with tokens signaled on a blockchain all votes become censorship resistant and immediate audit rights can be granted to every voter without needing to provide access to servers or private infrastructure, thus making the system open and transparent for all. Our work is driven by open source software development practices and cooperates with key projects aiming to secure identity in decentralized environments including efforts from Blockstack, Civic and Consensys among others.
Sovereign’s codebase delivers an adaptive mobile and desktop application to voters and organizations standardizing incorruptible decision-making in a blockchain based democracy. Our aim is to continue paving the road of implementations that enable cryptographic open-audit voting and integrate our software with blockchains able to guarantee the sovereign rights of users.
Democracy is always a work in progress, it’s never an absolute idea or it would otherwise be a totalitarian ideology just like all the rest of them.
José Mujica, President of Uruguay (2010–2015).
Current democratic systems governing societies under the territorial domain of Nation-States have grown stagnant in terms of participation and are leading towards increased polarization. Constituencies are provided with tailor-made media that satisfies their own endogamic beliefs, pulling society apart as discourse and factual debate are replaced with a post-truth mindset. This is a consequence of the drastic expansion in communication channels that shrank attention spans rendering thoughtful analysis expendable. Centralized 20th century information distribution created uniform narratives, realities and identities. The Internet has fractured them. Instances of political participation in the so-called modern democracies are not apt for information abundant contexts and have remained without change since their inception.
Engagement through the traditional channels is weaker among younger generations, often not going out to vote and unlikely to engage in party politics. Meanwhile online activism is increasing with social media becoming the dominant arena for political clashes. This includes Facebook and Twitter (where gossip dissemination is predominant with fake news, bots and trolling among other campaign optimizations) and emergent echo chambers like 4chan.org where anonymity led to political incorrectness or gab.ai consolidating the alt-right community in the USA. Needless to say: endogamy only makes polarization stronger, and our tribalized societies have shown a tendency to continue relativizing truth risking the preservation of resources and the survival of future generations.
Democratic processes seen during high-stakes elections are often prone to fraudulent behavior with gerrymanderingbecoming commonplace and a strong link between what the major political parties spend and the percentage of votes they win. In developing nations exploits are literal having ballot boxes burnt by large parties to suffocate the chances of smaller competitors.
This document proposes a solution that will tackle both the political and technical issues currently weakening the prospects of democracy in the world by offering an alternative that can be adopted directly by citizens and implemented using peer to peer networks. As the internet becomes the dominant force in modern politics we see an indispensable need to develop digital technology for voting that can be securely deployed in any geographical location and for communities of any size.
With internet growth reaching over 3 billion lives (far surpassing major religions and Nation-States) and the development of encrypted networks known as blockchains permitting incorruptible transactions with permissionless audits, there’s no reason stopping mankind from building a borderless commons that can help shape the next evolutionary leap for democratic governance at any scale. Even in regions where internet penetration is below 50%, the digital gap is not based on socio-economic factors but it is rather a generational divide. According to Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Pirate Party: “Politics moves at glacial speeds: nothing seems to happen until suddenly a strenuous noise gets everyone’s attention. It is slow because it often takes one generation to die for the next one to take over. And today we live in a world that has the offline generation in charge and the online generation growing up”.
New forms of governance must acknowledge the networked commons connecting humanity and progressively weaken the legacy of national frontiers and its inherent inability to address pressing global issues such as climate change, rising inequality, terrorism, automation and forced migrations. Uneven distribution of opportunity around the globe due to the perpetual confrontation between national governments led to the rise of these issues in the global agenda. We believe the technology stack that includes Bitcoin as programmable money without Central Banks and Ethereum enabling smart contracts without the need of Judiciary Courts requires a new layer that signals incorruptible votes beyond the boundaries of Nation-States. This transnational network will act in accordance to the personal sovereignty of its members and protect their human rights with encryption.
We can consider elections implemented by states, provinces and city municipalities as democracies where we are reduced to being passive recipients of a monologue. Citizens are called in-between substantially long periods of time, during elections, to provide a basic input: essentially accept or reject players in the same system. This is the bandwidth of the legacy system that is our so-called modern democracies. Under these systems less than one percent of the population is able to vote on legislation or execute budgets while the rest are legally forced to outsource their full citizenship rights to a representing minority that eventually figures out how to perpetuate itself.
The technology behind representative democracies can be grouped in two sets:
- Analogue elections: usually paper ballots and ballot boxes with authorities responsible for counting votes and reporting fraudulent behavior. Even though these systems are stable in developed nations, they suffer from severe lack of participation. Barriers are implemented with requirements such as the need to register to vote through an excessively bureaucratic process that ends up blocking a majority of disenfranchised voters. Authorities also gerrymander districts by exploiting survey data in anticipation of electoral outcomes. Even though these systems are easier to audit, this also means that they’re easier to corrupt: in developing nations analogue elections get subverted by mobs representing large parties that burn or ‘disappear’ ballot boxes, threatening auditors from smaller competitors and letting violence overrun the process in key districts. In our experience with the Partido de la Red running for the City Congress of Buenos Aires in the 2013 elections we found out that no effort mattered more than having sufficient party auditors to cover every district in the city or otherwise votes would get stolen. The larger an election’s territory is, the less likely an analogue system can guarantee a fair process. Further, high implementation costs end up limiting elections to a handful of days per year (if any), rendering democracy an exception rather than the norm regarding how governments actually get elected.
- Electronic voting: proposals that deliver solutions based on electronic voting machines aim to secure the process through a digital interface yet with the same logic of few elections per year, with the net effect of new technology serving the same purpose of legitimizing professional politicians as old voting technology. Machines can effectively help avoid clientelist techniques used to corrupt an election but open a whole new surface of attack by exposing ballots to the risk of undetected hacks and foreign intervention. Experts on this field (including the Supreme Court of Germany) recommend using electronic voting machines that leave a paper trail or any alternative medium for vote proof. Another approach to secure and transparent voting systems are efforts to make voting machines open source and auditable by the public. Technology can also be introduced directly by citizens using smartphone apps to perform parallel vote tabulation to report partial tallies across different polling stations as a safeguard against official reports. By their very nature, computing systems keep logs and cannot guarantee vote secrecy. For this reason any logging of a digital voting system should be public by default and trustless, operating with a distributed ledger syncing the outputs of a shared network. In short: a blockchain.
Traditional analog and electronic elections are strictly for long-term, representative democracies with elective periods ranging from 4 to 6 years. But the underlying dynamic of these systems is that officials are pre-elected from the top-down and presented for citizens to legitimize with their vote. The argument that citizens lack the knowledge and preparation to fulfill political responsibility and don’t have enough time in their daily lives to engage in public affairs is weak on merit: more often than not public servants require input from experts on specific fields to draft legislation. As well, thanks to the Internet, mobile phones, social media and satellites, we observably live in a world full of citizens routinely engaging in debate on political issues (albeit lacking any chances of genuine impact.)
A consequence of the US Presidential Election of 2016 is that the fear of foreign intervention has become a leading threat to the security of electoral processes. But although voting machines are an extremely vulnerable target, (defcon 25 had a large selection of voting machines, all of them were exploited) foreign attacks have a simpler method than hijacking voting machines because directly manipulating votes potentially can be traced, is very expensive, and difficult to execute on a scale large enough to satisfy an attacker. A more efficient approach is instilling public fear by collapsing internet infrastructure days prior to an election in a way that can help push favoritism on a candidate that is perceived stronger than the other one. This kind of cyberattack able to trigger a shift in voter perception is nearly impossible to trace as political subversion and reveals the inherent conflict that a digital commons has with territorial democracies.
This happened two weeks before the US 2016 election when a botnet coordinated through a large number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices executed a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack that affected Domain Name System (DNS) provider Dyn Inc. bringing down major websites in the US including Amazon, Paypal, New York Times and Wall Street Journal among many others.
In the near future, electrons and light flow freely, and corporate computer networks eclipse the stars. Despite great advances in computerization, countries and race are not yet obsolete…
Ghost in the shell, graphic novel (1995).
The 21st century is witnessing a growing conflict between The Land: governments that monopolize the law on territorial jurisdictions by restricting the free movement of physical goods and bodies; and The Cloud: global corporations that monopolize access to user data able to track and target ideas via personalized advertising. In this world freedom is an illusion: our bodies belong to governments, our minds to corporations. Notorious battles from this conflict include the Apple versus FBI case requesting the jailbreak of an encrypted phone; or the historical dispute between Silicon Valley’s cosmopolitanism seeking flexible visas and Washington D. C.’s nationalism raising migration barriers. As this scenario unfolds, encryption plays a role of growing significance to protect the human rights of digital citizens as it can help them break apart from the cloud versus land trap.
The origins of modern cryptography go back to World War II when Alan Turing built the first proto-computers to decrypt Nazi messages. Since then encryption has been legislated in the USA in the same manner kept for traditional weapons: it is included in the Munitions List of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations and related software and hardware must deal with export restrictions. And even though encryption is often considered a right protected under the First Amendment arguing that “code is speech”, its defensive nature indicates that it must also be protected under the umbrella of the Second Amendment since it holds the same reasoning behind the “right to bear arms”: In an era where whistleblowers are revealing how the Deep State spies on citizens anywhere around the globe, encrypted information is the only realistic guarantee that anyone has to be protected from government abuses (and the corporations that back them).
Secrecy is a fundamental property of free and fair elections as it is a mechanism that helps avoid coercion from those in power and prevents the risk of elections being bought and sold for money. Privacy is the best guarantee a conscious free mind has to think for itself. But on the modern internet: privacy is illusory when using Facebook, Google or any web based service. Even though Internet monopolies pretend being the gatekeepers of online privacy, theoretically Facebook can still impersonate any of its 2 Billion registered users if they ever wanted to. Google and Facebook hold the largest identity databases in the world surpassing the governments of India and China, while 97% of their reported revenue comes from advertising severely conditioning the kind of experience that users get with their technology. It is in their interest to gather as much information as possible to profile people in order to stay competitive in the attention market and both companies filter information fed to users with algorithms accountable to anyone but their own board. None of their services are really free: personal sovereignty is given away in the same way the natives in the American continent got distracted watching their own selfies in shiny mirrors 500 years ago while the European conquistadors swept their entire way of life at a whim. Uncensored, free and sovereign debates on the future of humanity are being eaten by useless likes that only help perpetuate these corporate entities. Fake news exploits (as they were used during the U.S. elections) or critical content spreading like wildfire (as it happened during the Arab Spring) demonstrates that any effort to stop international influence on national politics is futile as societies spend most of their time online. The Internet is incompatible with Nation-States.
I can’t let you do that, Dave.
HAL 9000 on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
The best civic tech is tech that gets used every day. Already, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms have become by proxy the main interface citizens use to influence everyday politics. But the unseen consequences of giving personal data away through centralized web services can be many and with relevant implications for the future of humanity. The information architecture of how personal data is stored, shared and monetized is fundamental to understand sovereignty in the 21st century.
A looming threat is the use of unrestricted Artificial Intelligence (AI) that gets fueled by user generated content without any kind of public supervision. That was evident in a former Blackwater employee’s revelation to us on how data gets weaponized: from an office in Dubai he was able to drive and get the live feed of a drone flying over Syria or Pakistan, but surprisingly the decision whether to kill the target wasn’t made by the human operator (or a supervising authority) but by an AI that called the shots over the Internet “at least 90% of the time“. This AI was provided by a Silicon Valley company often ‘credited’ with providing intelligence services to the CIA and with having found Osama Bin Laden in 2011.
The issue on AI deciding on the fate of human lives opens up ethical and moral questions. Eventually not even human researchers are able to properly understand how an AI is behaving, becoming a threat if it is a key component of military grade technology. According to author Yuval Noah Harari: “intelligence is breaking apart from living organisms and it won’t be monopolized by carbon beings for long.” Consciousness is the new political frontier being drawn. A line between machines and humans. In other words: understanding whether we are using the machines or the machines are using us. How we structure human organizations —and govern the code running them— defines who is in charge. As the capacity of silicon intelligence matches Moore’s Law growth rates, humanity as a whole must ask itself how it is going to govern the reins of this unprecedented power.
Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.
Carl Schmitt, political theorist (1888-1985).
The achilles heel of data hungry, attention farming internet monopolies is their need of a centralized information architecture. They rose as the superhubs in what used to be the promise of a web shaped network by implementing the winning solutions to the leading online use cases. But the consequence has been a privatized ecosystem: closed code, walled gardens and centralization of power in a few hands paving the way for a full surveillance society on what could otherwise be a borderless commons. When Sir Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the world wide web protocols, pointed out the intrinsic risks on today’s internet he requested the need to draft a Magna Carta for the Web: “Unless we have an open, neutral internet we can rely on without worrying about what’s happening at the back door, we can’t have open government, good democracy, connected communities and diversity of culture. It’s not naive to think we can have that, but it is naive to think we can just sit back and get it.“
Centralization is the single point of failure in elections and is incompatible with democracy. In our experience implementing centralized digital voting for decisions of Partido de la Red, we detected that if an election is high-stakes (all or most members have a biased interest in the outcome), the likelihood of the system being corrupted increases. The biggest risk lies in those who are responsible for controlling servers and database integrity. We have found out on internal elections held in early 2017 discrepancies between information reported by database auditors and the logs voters kept in their local machines: manipulation in vote emission data, aribitrary modification of poll closing date, erased records and sudden ban of registered accounts where proven and denounced leading to a generalized perception of fraud in the whole process. Centralized digital democracies without any consideration for cryptographic security are toys useful for playful purposes but can be dangerous when implemented in real scenarios under fraudulent hands.
Meanwhile, traditional elections have a technique known as adversarial counting when the outcome is close to a tie. Authorities of all involved parties participate in a manual vote count. But when an election happens within a large population, adversarial counting reduces the cost to subvert it by having an attacker only needing to bribe a few authorities from a competing party to secure a result. Any kind of system that requires trust from participants ultimately runs the risk of having its whole structure collapsing if any authority is fraudulent.
Decentralization is a requirement of democratic elections. Without it there will always be room for corruption. Blockchains enable trustless systems by eroding the need of human authority and increasing the defenses of vote integrity with a shared resource that has scorekeeping as its main function. This permits unprecedented designs for electoral systems. With a blockchain-based democracy votes become censorship resistant and every single voter can audit an election without requiring any kind of access rights to infrastructure. By storing vote data in a blockchain rather than in private servers or ballot boxes, audit costs become abstracted and are turned into a guaranteed right for every participant. Voters are not just mere spectators but also sovereign gatekeepers of the whole process. This kind of transparency cannot be delivered by traditional electoral systems, analog or electronic.
On today’s internet, voting has still emerged as the main interaction. Every time users like, upvote, heart, link or retweet content they are signaling a preference that serves a feedback loop generating better recommendations for them. But the action won’t go any further: it’s a fake vote that lacks institutional implications. Likes in social media operate as worthless tokens that can be inflated with a single click even though they set the price of advertising dollars. Network effects turned this interaction into a metric that highlights the influence of a specific idea within a crowd, often being a tool for those in power to survey society’s needs. But the financial and political benefits of these transactions are entirely kept by the network owners.
Sovereign technology able to operate in peer to peer networks, validating identity, preserving anonymity, encrypting data, decentralizing infrastructure, with free (as in freedom) open source code can completely disrupt the described landscape.
Throughout history only three kinds of sovereigns prevailed: the sovereign tribe where a crowd follows a leader; the sovereign king loyal only to God; and the sovereign republic with continental lands governed under one law. Blockchains operating in cyberspace are giving rise to a fourth kind: the networked individual. It’s not a far fetched possibility: conquering personal sovereignty is already a reality for those who run their finances with bitcoin and other crypto holdings. As investor Naval Ravikant puts it: “You can cross an international border carrying a billion dollars in bitcoin entirely in your head.” This kind of sovereign act is unprecedented even for contemporaneous Heads of State.
The widespread adoption of blockchains is giving rise to a model that initially grew under the shadows of established institutions but eventually will render them obsolete. Blockchains are automated bureaucracies that offer significant financial benefits in terms of transaction costs while abstracting the need of intermediaries. They enable systems of free association that help break the political and financial coercion that governments and banks impose by restricting the right to vote or limiting access to capital. A technologically advanced society can flourish beyond territorial domains anywhere there is an internet connection with digital citizens becoming part of a new kind of diaspora.
With this diagnosis, on Section 2 we map the basic building blocks for a decentralized liquid democracy. Once the tools are defined, Section 3 proposes an implementation that focus on making the system secure and inclusive.
It is the technology that we do not control the one that is used to control us.
Emiliano Kargieman, space hacker (1975).
A foundational principle of democracy is the right to be heard. Today most of the world’s population is not heard: having a voice is an accident of birth. Individual and collective voices are politically and economically silenced by ‘illiquidity’ – the marginalized are given no instruments to broadcast or amplify their voice. Modern democracy is the birthchild of the Printing Press Era: printed constitutional systems dependent on wet ink contracts and the speed of the postal service. Representative democracies are an accident of the information technologies of the 18th century.
A liquid democracy is based on a dynamic representation model that works with a bottom-up approach: citizens are able to freely elect within their social graph (friends, colleagues, family) who they want to have as representatives on a specific set of topics. It is the most flexible form of democratic governance that can be constructed with digital technology, operating as a hybrid that enables direct or delegated voting at any time. There are few precedents of trustworthy bottom-up environments that led to authoritative content, Wikipedia being a pioneering case. But if history is any guide, the last time civilization faced a paradigm shift regarding encyclopedic enlightment it was precisely on the epoch preceding the rise of modern democracies.
This paper details the implementation of a liquid democracy using Sovereign, our democratic governance application that operates with blockchain tokens using a basic set of smart contracts. Simplicity in the design and language used to express this design matters for the purpose of a genuinely democratic device. No technology will ever be able to satisfy democratic aspirations if it can only be understood by an elite. As cryptographer Ralph Merkle stated:
We do not call upon ordinary untrained citizens to perform surgery, fly airplanes, design computers, or carry out the other myriad tasks needed to keep society functioning, what makes governance different? The problem is readily understood: if we give governance to “experts” they will make decisions in their own best interests, not in the best interests of us all.
An ideal voting system must be able to satisfy in the greatest possible extent these conditions:
- Secrecy: voter must be able to cast vote in secret.
- Verifiability: voter must be able to verify tallied vote.
- Integrity: system must be able to verify correct vote tally.
Additionally, due to the risk that coercion through physical violence or threats in contexts prone to political violence, an option able to protect coerced voters must be introduced:
- Resistance: voter must be able to override own vote if necessary.
In the work led by researchers Hosp & Vora, an Information Theory approach was taken to model voting systemsleading to the conclusion that a natural tension exists with a system aiming for perfect integrity, perfect ballot secrecy and perfect tally verifiability. All three cannot be simultaneously achieved when an adversary is computationally unbounded, able to brute force a system if unlimited time or memory are available. For this reason we consider indispensable to implement digital democracies using blockchains. With network effects already in place, blockchains are able to verify transaction integrity and prevent token double-spending. Bitcoin’s proof of work model achieves this by rewarding computational capacity verifying transaction blocks (what is often referred as mining), leading to a network “300 times more powerful than Google’s resources” according to pioneer Balaji Srinivasan. For this reason, our design is based on tokens within a blockchain network operating as political cryptocurrency.
What differentiates a vote from money (or in broader terms: a political economy from a financial economy) is that political currency is designed to guarantee participating rights under fair conditions to all members within an organization. Rights aim to satisfy overall legitimacy in the governance of an institution. While money is the language of self-interest, votes express the shared views of a community. Political currency is not strictly meant for trade but for social choice.
|Mining||Computation (e.g. Proof of Work).||Attention (e.g. Proof of Identity).|
|Signal||Self interest.||Social choice.|
|Value||Space (material goods).||Time (information).|
Considering that value can be driven by memetic capacity, the Democracy Earth token granting voting rights will be branded with the single most important message any democracy can convey: vote.
The vote token can be implemented using smart contract code across a variety of blockchains that permit Turing Complete scripts, including Bitcoin. Our design is blockchain agnostic in recognition of a computer science field still in its infancy where significant innovations remain to be invented. Nonetheless we are working on implementing the vote token under these smart contract environments:
- Ethereum: Using a set of solidity smart contracts under the Ethereum ERC20 token standard.
- Rootstock: We are taking the necessary steps to make solidity code compatible with Rootstock’s smart contract interpreter for the Bitcoin blockchain.
- Lightning: With the activation of segregated witness in the Bitcoin protocol that enables routing of payment channels with the Lightning Network protocol, liquid democracy delegations can be mapped using satoshi-level transactions carrying an attached vote identifier. Blockchain settlement cost must be covered by the implementing organization.
Also, multi-chain implementations are encouraged in the spirit of seeking greater experimentation and collaboration regarding these technologies.
The vote token aims to be a standard for digital democracy able to interoperate with other tokens, setting a common language for the governance of blockchain based organizations. Within the context of liquid democracies, a range of voting transactions is permitted with votes:
- Direct Vote: Selfish voter Alice is allowed to use her tokens to vote directly on issues as in a direct democracy.
- Basic Delegation: Alice may delegate votes to Bob. As long as Bob has access to those tokens he can use them to vote on Alice’s behalf.
- Tag Limited Delegation: Alice may delegate votes to Charlie under the specified condition that he can only use these tokens on issues carrying a specific tag. If the delegation specifies that delegated votes can only be used on decisions with the #environment tag, then Charlie won’t be able to use these anywhere else but on those specific issues. This leads to a representation model not based on territory but on knowledge.
- Transitive Delegation: If Bob received votes from Alice, he can then delegate these to Frank. This generates a chain of delegations that helps empower specific players within a community. If Alice does not desire to have third parties receiving the votes she delegated to Bob, she can turn off the transitive setting on the delegation contract. Circular delegations (e.g. Alice receiving the tokens she sent Bob from Frank) are prohibited since the original allocation of votes from an organization to its members carries a signature indicating who is the sovereign owner of the votes.
- Overriding Vote: If Bob already used the delegated votes he received from Alice but she has a different opinion on a given issue, as the sovereign owner of her votes Alice can always override Bob’s decision. Voters always have the final word on any given decision with their original votes.
- Public Vote: Often referred as the golden rule of liquid democracies, all delegators have the right to know how their delegate has voted on any given issue with their votes. In the same way congressmen votes are public, on liquid democracies competing delegates on any given tag have an incentive to build a public reputation based on their voting record in order to attract more delegations.
- Secret Vote: A method able to guarantee vote transactions untraceable to the voter. This is indispensable in contexts of public elections held within large populations that have a high risk of coercion. Even if perfect secrecy on vote transaction is achieved, user’s can still be fingerprinted with exposed meta-data. For this reason, research on integration with blockchains designed for anonymous transactions with a proven track record is encouraged. This might include a mining fee to settle the vote transaction that can be either subsidized by the implementing organization or directly paid by voters. We recommend research and integration of secret voteswith these blockchains:
User Experience (UX) is a critical aspect of a decentralized architecture and becomes even more important as the redundant layers of centralized architectures condense to the user. In a centralized internet architecture, the user does not own the interface or experience. In a decentralized internet architecture, the user interface (UI) should be based on the user’s perspective. In this sense, transactions get done under three distinct views:
- Self: Using a public identity related to an individual.
- Organization: In representation of an organization that extended representation rights to individuals (e.g. workplace, club, political party, etc).
- Anonymous: Without any connection to a public identity.
This undertanding of SELF / ORG / ANON shape-shifting requirement highly influenced our interface and token design. At any given time a Sovereign user can adopt any of this modes to interact with decentralized organizations.
Sovereign aims to make liquid voting immediate and simple. Any friction in the process must be avoided and the delegation widget should be constantly exposed on the interface while browsing issues or looking at member profiles. For this purpose, Sovereign uses a liquid bar that permits transacting votes with a single gesture either on mobile and desktop devices.
The liquid bar allows these actions:
- See available votes: Since in a liquid democracy a user can have 1 or more delegated votes, having a constant reminder of the balance helps the user understand his or her current power within the system. If some of the votes were delegated with strict conditions (e.g. a Tag Limited Delegation), this means that a user won’t have the same amount of votes available to spend on every issue.
- See cast votes: A percentage value with the amount of votes currently cast on other decisions or delegated to other members of the community is shown. The user can tap or click at any time on that value to view a complete list of the issues where he or she is currently having a vote and decide whether to keep them there or make a strategic change.
- Slide to vote: The user can use his thumb (or mouse click) to slide the liquid bar handle and upon the release of it he or she will be prompted a confirmation request whether to vote or not.
- Tap to vote: If the user does not want to allocate more than 1 vote, he or she can simply tap on the liquid barhandle once and will be prompted to confirm a single vote transaction.
- Remove votes: At any time, as long as the poll is still open, the user may remove his or her votes from a decision by simply sliding the liquid bar handle back to the initial position.
We see this interaction as a step forward from the like pattern found in social media. Likes limits voting to mindless clicks and can be inflated at will. Since votes operate as a scarce resource in the system, they cannot be generated at will and always require a minimum of tactical thinking regarding how a user’s interaction will influence a specific decision. votes have real implications to the user as a stakeholder of a decentralized organization while Likes only serve their controlling corporations.
A liquid bar also displays the vote delegation relation a user has with any other member of an organization. Delegations go both ways:
- Sent: A user must be able to delegate any of his available votes while checking the current delegated amount (if any).
- Received: A user must be able to understand how many votes were received from someone else.
Every time a member profile is displayed on Sovereign, the current delegation status between the user and the member is shown.
Sovereign also has a debating component codenamed Agora. Debating is likely as important as voting on any democracy. Agoras display threaded conversations, a successful design pioneered by Reddit and Hacker News. We consider this UX pattern as the best way to engage in thoughtful conversations online as they have the most valued comments bubble up, helping sort the information for a debate using the collective intelligence of the community.
But unlike web based applications, Sovereign does not allow testimonial interactions: instead of permitting infinite upvotes or downvotes, if the user agrees with a comment from someone else in the platform, it will trigger an instantaneous delegation of a single vote. Hence Agoras permit:
- Upvote: Send a single vote delegation from the user to the commenter.
- Downvote: If a user disagrees with someone’s comment, a downvote can either retrieve a vote from the commenter back to the user if there was a previous delegation. Or if no delegation relation exists among them, then a downvote will act as a penalty sending a vote from the commenter back to the funds of the organization implementing the Sovereign instance. The criteria for this kind of penalty can be set in the constitutional smart contract of the implementing organization.
This will make delegations more frequent across the platform. Debates constantly exposed to the risk of votetransactions means that they are subject to real political impact. This mechanism can help reward good arguments and punish the influence of trolling without requiring the need to develop moderating authorities in the system.
When Claude Shannon wrote his foundational 1948 paper on Information Theory, he was able to demonstrate how circuits can perform logic functions by expressing a binary state of 1 and 0 (
false states). Since then, digital technology shaped the dynamics of all kinds of information systems. With this in mind we focused on building an efficient design for a governance machine able to operate with blockchains that keeps its human operators as sovereign rulers by means of the vote. In the same way bits move in computers signalling a
false state, votes signal a boolean value for institutional decisions to be recorded under smart contracts.