I'm not super familiar with the intricacies of the various voting systems, so forgive me if I'm way off in an assumption I have. However, in all election formats I know of, voters are expected to vote for a person. Problems I see arising from this, at least in the U.S., include:

  • Voters having to research candidates to see where they allegedly stand on various issues
  • People needing to be voted in at all different levels, leading to lower voter turnout for non-presidential elections
  • Limited selection pools from having to pick a person to be the candidate
  • Voters not always having an option that perfectly matches their views
  • Campaigns designed to attack their opponents rather than discuss issues
  • Voting "against the other candidate"

My naive view is that we could do away with the voting-for-people mentality and simply vote on the issues. Here's how I imagine it working:

  • The ballot is a list of general issues (like Immigration or Abortion) that has been determined to possibly be of interest to any current voters
  • Voters select how important they think each issue is and where their views on the matter are on a spectrum
  • Candidates sign up for the opportunity to be the elected individual
  • Closest matching candidate to voter opinion is the elected option

This appears to solve the above issues like so:

  • Voters likely already know where they stand on issues and have the option to mark one as "unimportant" or "unsure where I stand"
  • Major election results can have all the general issues that could then be used to elect all levels of government. Smaller elections could also have more locally-minded issues
  • Candidates wouldn't even need to be publicly view-able, and there could be any number signing up (even signing up for specific levels of government)
  • Voters can vote 100% the way they think every time
  • Attacking your "opponent" in this case is just discussing the issue
  • Votes are spectrum-based, so it's not a simple "against" vote (and even if it was, your being against the other option is your view on the matter)

I've searched around for examples, but I'm not sure what a good search term would be. I found this Wikipedia article, but that's not really what I had in mind. I also noticed this post, but I'm not looking for voters proposing and voting on laws/bills or anything that specific.

Is there a name for this type of voting system? Are there any (current or past) examples of it in action?

Note: While I'm open to critiques of this, they should probably be in a separate question or discussed in chat.

  • 8
    So you aren't looking for referendum or initiative?
    – J Doe
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 15:58
  • 14
    In your system, people are still being elected, just with a process that is less transparent and encourages gaming the system. Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 19:05
  • Note: for most voting systems currently in use there are already mathematical issues when assigning seats in Parliament. What you propose is incredibly more complex, it transforms a bidimensional problem of allocating seats to parties and regions into a n-dimensional problem of finding the closest point to a n-sided polygon. Moreover some issues may be deemed more important then others etc, so the choice of metric isn't obvious either. I strongly believe your proposal is impractical for the simple fact that there is no way X million people will agree on a policy to decide said winner.
    – Bakuriu
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 19:28
  • @Bakuriu: but it is somewhat similar to what the Wahl-o-mat wahl-o-mat.de here in Germany does (lists of issues in which the different parties differ in their opinion: by selecting your personal preference as well as the importance you attach to that issue, it calculates how much you agree with which party) Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 23:19
  • 2
    Just have mandatory referendums on important issues, a reasonable way to request a referendum or an initiative on any issue. This solves the situation nicely in switzerland.
    – Wilbert
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 15:52

3 Answers 3


I'm not aware of any official name for what you're proposing (which basically combines referendum with candidate-matching). The closest - which isn't very close - I can think of is voting for party lists, with the party list being a secret before the election and you only know the party platform; in a multi-party state.

However, there are major flaws in your system; the biggest one I notice being the following: There is no mechanism to vet that the candidates declaring to be of the opinion X actually have that opinion, and thus the system is trivially easy to game.

The specific - and very likely - scenario of how elections in such a system would go is as follows:

  • Polling finds that electorate cares most about two issues, cats vs dogs (with cat supporters polling 40% and dog supporters 60%); and the right to put patty above the cheese in a cheesburger (with the righteous cheese-down freedom lovers unfortunately losing in the public opinion polls 20/80%)

  • Any candidate who wants to win (and trusts the polls) instantly puts down their own preferences as supporting dogs at 60% and rejecting cheese by 80%.

  • Hence, the candidates that guessed the final election spread more accurately, will win.

  • There is absolutely zero reason to suspect that any of those candidates actually hold those positions; and won't instead vote for a law that requires all hamburgers to be dog meat above cheese.

    Since you don't know who the candidates are before the election, there's no way to prevent this.

Of course, normal elections suffer from this to a degree (any candidate lies when promising stuff) but as they aren't anonymous, they can at least be held accountable post-election, in a normal electoral fashion.

Of course, since the system is also akin to referendums, you also have many of the flaws with "everything is a referendum" described in the linked P.SE question.

  • 9
    @DavidStarkey - if you make the impeachment automatic, you basically just have referendums with no need for candidates at all. if you don't, you need a formal system of reasons of why to impeach and the candidate will trivially game it (I'm just doing it for the dog's benefit! Honest!).
    – user4012
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 16:17
  • 1
    Unfortunately, your description is largely how our political system functions today.
    – user285
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 18:00
  • 2
    @RobertHarvey no, because to be elected again they need to act like they like dogs while in office under the current system or check a box under the proposed one. Perhaps a less silly vetting mechanism than a form could be developed, but I haven't thought of one that doesn't rest on personal democracy.
    – user9389
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 18:09
  • 2
    I'm totally getting a t-shirt that says "dog meat above cheese"
    – barbecue
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 19:53
  • 1
    @notstoreboughtdirt: acting like they love dogs while voting to euthanize all of them is exactly what we have. It's just rare for the average voter to look at a candidate's actual voting record while they will happily listen to whatever that candidate says.
    – NotMe
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 14:21

The best I can come up with are Liquid Democracy (Liquid Delegation) or what I term Liquid Representation which would allocate each eligible voting citizen a single vote. In Liquid Democracy/Delegation, each citizen can either vote on an issue or vote on a delegate to vote on an issue. Let's say the issue is related to climate change. If you would feel uncomfortable about your information ability to make an informed choice, you can instead choose to delegate your vote to someone else more informed, say Bill Nye the science guy. If Bill chooses to vote on an issue, his vote now has the power of 2 votes (his and yours, assuming no one else give Bill a voting power). However, if Bill does not feel he is competent enough, he can transfer his vote to Neil de Gras Tyson, who will now have 3 votes (his own, Bills, and yours, assuming no more votes are given to Neil.).

In this system, Neil does not have a term limit on your vote on this issue. If you disagree with Neil, you can pull your vote from him and give it to someone else.

Liquid Representation is similar, but uses a Representative system for the purposes of creating possible laws to this question.

In this example, you would still vote on your local region's upper and lower houses (Two Senators, one Representative if in U.S.) however, if at any time, you disagree with your representative on an issue (say you love his environmental policies, but don't agree with his gun control stance) you can move your vote to another representative from another region. The main difference to Liquid delegation is it still limits who can create laws, but will empower their votes for that law based on public support. Thus, your representative may not have uniform voting power between all issues, having strengths in some regions and weaknesses in others. This also has the benefit of a default vote on an issue (if you are apethetic, your vote defaults to your local representation. You must actively move it for a bill or issue. This allows you to have some say in an issue you really care about, without requiring you to read every single bill before a representative. The assumption here is that if you don't care one way or the other, your most local official will know what you want. It also requires fewer changes to a very difficult to change constitution to implement.

The problem with these systems is that most assume a sort of "Social Network" function is in place so you can just pull out your phone and change your stance, which creates all sorts of cyber crime opportunities as well as possibly disenfranchises citizens who have difficulties in getting Internet connections (you would need to implement a non-partisan method of getting connectivity to those who do not have it.). It also creates issues with Luddite citizenry such as the Amish, who on matters of religion do not use certain technologies, including cell phones and the internet, so an alternate way of re-deligation would need to be established for them (perhaps a service that will hold their votes in a way that can be trusted to vote in their interests).


A quick discussion on Direct Democracy and Referendum Voting. Direct Democracy can be used in tandem with Representative democracy with little issue. The two best countries to see this are Switzerland, which has referendum voting at the Federal Level and The United States, which has some system of referendum voting at the state level (The most common being referral voting, where the legislature can opt to pass a law by citizen vote, which is available in all 50 states. Delaware is the only state that doesn't offer this option for the state constitution. 24 states have some form of citizen initiated veto on laws, and 19 have citizen initiated law proposals, 21 have citizen initiated constitution amendment processes).

Swiss Direct Democracy exists on the Federal Level (with some slight changes in the nature of the executive branch, is pretty much the same as the United States federal system.). Here, citizen Democracy is a futher check and balance on government and is itself checked by other branches of government. Swiss citizens can create or repeal a law by getting 50,000 signatures from any Swiss citizen across any of the cantons (similar to States in the US; At the Canton and local level of government, these numbers will be smaller.). For constitutional amendments, this number is doubled. If a petition achieves this threshold, it will be placed on the next election's ballot. To pass, it must achieve simple majority for all canton and lower levels. At the Federal level, double majority is needed. This requires a simple majority of both the general population of Swiss citizens AND a majority of Cantons to favor the proposal. (For a U.S. perspective, this would be similar to a rule that the President must get both the electoral college vote and the popular vote, rather than just the electoral college). The Swiss hold elections four times a year because of this, which does create some voter appethy at times. Compared to the United States, which votes once every two years not counting special elections.

Historically, Athens is the most famous direct democracy, though they had no sufferage. The 1871 Paris Commune was decentralized direct democracy and everything was up for a vote. Again, women sufferage was not established, though women were highly involved in campaigning. It fell apart in less than year due to lack of infrastructure needed to facilitate voting.

New to the scene is Rojava (officially known as the Democratic Federation of Norther Syria) which is an unrecognized state, which declared autonomous status in late 2012 and federated in March of 2016. They seem to follow a model similar to the Swiss, but include neighborhood level governments. Uniquely, they have co-executives at every level, one male, one female. At this time, it is quite early in their history to make remarks, and its still disputed if they will be a new nation, or a successor state to Syria writ large.

  • Edited to discuss some real world governments with Direct Democracy in some form. The intact ones still have representative governments at their core, with Direct Democracy serving as a check on government by the citizenry.
    – hszmv
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 15:08

You might be looking for Proportional Representation. In this voting system, voters vote for the party, not a candidate. Voters decide which parties they like best based on the parties' platforms, which the voters can evaluate to determine which party best reflects their interests. The parties win seats in the parliament based on the share of votes they won, and the parties select who sits in those seats.

  • 1
    Proportional representation has several parties which all come with a certain stance on different ideas, and the voter has to choose between them. The system of the OP has a freedom to express any stance, and then the candidate or party that matches this best is chosen. I think this is fundamentally different in that in the first case, the voter has to find a compromise between his different interests, while in the second case the candidates/parties have to adapt. This is a psychological effect, not a mathematical one (from a purely mathematical view, both systems have the same outcome).
    – Thern
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 12:52

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