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My understanding is that back in the day, before the internet, there was no way for everyone to gather around, and vote on a bill, so we would have representatives do it for us.

Today, we could just vote online. Why hasn't this happened yet? I've read this article on Quora, that basically points out the drawbacks of voting on the internet

1) minorities would be ignored

2) we wouldn't have the time to go through each bill, and decide if it's good for us

3) there are too many bills for us to go through and vote on, pay someone to do it full time

4) "Our opinions can change rapidly, " meaning that we are like children, and we need adults to decide what's best for us

5) There are inconsistencies in what we want, and again, we need adults to make the tough decisions

6) We wouldn't be able to decide what we vote on

7) A kitten would become president, and a Bieber song would become the national anthem

8) The general population would be influenced heavily by large corporations that would control us through advertisements

Alright so, for the people that don't want to vote on every bill, they can defer their vote to anyone of their choosing. So they can vote on their behalf. This would solve most of the aforementioned issues.

But I sense that people don't have a lot of faith in each other. It appears that the primary concern is that, if everyone got to vote on everything, we would make stupid decisions. And so, like children that need adult supervision, we elect adults to take care of us. Does that sum it up?

EDIT

I say people can choose to defer their vote if they want to. With the modern system, we have to defer our vote to someone and we have to live with whatever the consequences of their choice.

On a side note though, people are saying the internet is too insecure. Computer science professors seem to be unanimous in renouncing proposals for an internet voting system. This really gives me a new perspective on the security of the internet, I guess we can't be sure our data is safe online, not our credit card info, facebook pictures or google photos. But that's a different topic.

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    What you describe is generally called "Liquid Democracy" or "Delegative Democracy". – Philipp Aug 2 '18 at 11:49
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    "...for the people that don't want to vote on every bill, they can defer their vote to anyone of their choosing". So you're saying that the solution to problems caused by not having elected representatives is for people to... elect representatives? – Giter Aug 2 '18 at 12:08
  • @ Giter, people can choose whether or not to take part in the vote, instead of settling for whoever the majority of people elect to represent them. – Rockstar5645 Aug 2 '18 at 12:16
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    Addressed in politics.stackexchange.com/questions/9670/…, politics.stackexchange.com/questions/27347/…, and politics.stackexchange.com/questions/17/…. As a Californian, I can tell you that the implementation of direct democracy through the initiative system has had very mixed results. People also like to vote in favor of things that get struck down by the courts as unconstitutional. – jeffronicus Aug 2 '18 at 16:34
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    Is this US specific? – Drunk Cynic Aug 2 '18 at 22:19
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My understanding is that back in the day, before the internet, there was no way for everyone to gather around, and vote on a bill, so we would have representatives do it for us.

If your inquiry is isolated to the United States it must be noted that the U.S. is not a democracy and never was intended to be. The U.S. can at best be described as a representative republic. The electoral college determines the President, not the popular vote.

It is not clear how the Internet is relevant to the subject matter of voting, democracy or representative republic forms of government. The Internet is inherently insecure.

But I sense that people don't have a lot of faith in each other.

That is correct. Not only do people not trust each other, they do not trust elected or appointed officials, and elected or appointed officials do not trust the People, or each other.

This topic was well considered in the Federalist Papers, at length, under the subject matter of interests. In brief, the Founding Fathers did not trust each other; they had competing interests. The Founding Fathers, some of whom considered themselves "natural elite", did not trust the People either. The Colonies, being first and foremost monopoly capital enterprises, were chartered to make profit, not to promote any concept of democracy; the People were there to make profit for the owners of plantations, not to give those People a vote which could get them out of bonded labor or indentured servitude.

The lack of trust for each of the representative officials of the Several States and for the People therein was for good reason. The vast majority of the People in the Colonies and later the fledgling U.S. were

  • children taken from the streets of Britain and shipped to the Colonies
  • prisoners shipped from Britain to the Colonies
  • prisoners of war (so-called "slaves") shipped from Africa to the Colonies
  • prisoners of war shipped from the Colonies to the Carribean and back to the Colonies

See White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh.

But I sense that people don't have a lot of faith in each other. It appears that the primary concern is that, if everyone got to vote on everything, we would make stupid decisions. And so, like children that need adult supervision, we elect adults to take care of us. Does that sum it up?

It is not due to a "need for adult supervision", but rather, a need for ultimate control of the policy decisions of the government.

What is little known is that black Africans, or "Negroes", though mistakenly popularly considered as having arrived in the Colonies or the later U.S. exclusively as "slaves", not having the right to vote, it was not until 1723 that Virginia Colony officially took the vote from so-called "free blacks".

Of importance when examining the concept of "democracy", or the idea that each individual vote counts in the Colonies and the U.S., is that during certain periods the so-called "slave" population exceeded the so-called "white" population in several regions, for example, South Carolina; see South Carolina – African-Americans – Slave Population

Growth of South Carolina's Slave Population

South Carolina had a clear black majority from about 1708 through most of the eighteenth century. By 1720 there were approximately 18,000 people living in South Carolina – and 65% of these were African-Americans slaves. For example, in St James Goose Creek, a parish just north of Charles Towne, there were 535 whites and 2,027 black slaves.

The following table shows how South Carolina's slave population grew in accordance with the success of its rice culture. Whereas in 1790 there were slightly more whites than blacks living in South Carolina, by 1860 the non-white population (which also included Native Americans) had grown to nearly 60%.

  • 1790
    • White 140,178
    • Black 108,895
  • 1820
    • White 237,440
    • Black 265,301
  • 1840
    • White 259,084
    • Black 335,314
  • 1860
    • White 291,300
    • Black 412,320

South Carolina's slave population compared to other states

South Carolina had a tremendous number of slaves, especially given its small size. In fact, by 1860 the only other states that had as many slaves were Georgia and Virginia – both of which were at least twice South Carolina's size!

South Carolina's giant slave population was largely due to the lowcountry's suitability to rice culture. Rice was both incredibly labor intensive and incredibly profitable. So not only did rice planters need more help than other planters, they could afford it.

A simple conclusion can be drawn that the majority of a slave population would certainly vote for themselves to be liberated from slavery. It follows that if so-called "free blacks" had a vote, they would vote for their brethren and family to be liberated from slavery. Therefor the vote was taken from "free blacks" and so-called "slaves" were not allowed to vote at all.

This brings into light the raw political reality of votes both being meaningful and meaningless, depending on ones perspective and ability to objectively evaluate political power. Where the minority ruling political class can deny the vote to political prisoners of war it makes no difference what their potential vote would or could be. The majority population can wait (potentially for centuries) for the "right" to vote to be "granted" by the ruling political class, though that "granted" "right" does not equate to political power and effective change of the policy objectives of the ruling class: the ruling political class rules by force, not by votes.

The reason for this is that the vote is of no significant value to the ruling class and its enforcement agents, where force is the primary instrument of the ruling political class, not votes for or against their interests or policy.

When the vote is contrary to the ruling class' interests and policy objectives, the ruling political class suppresses or directly denies the right to vote for specific classes; or, pursues their interests in spite of whatever the People voted.

For these reasons, votes should not be valued as a means to an end within the realm of political power, but rather, an accepted form of expression by the People which does not affect the ruling class' political power - whether that vote be within the scope of a so-called "democratic" or "representative republic" form of government.

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    This answer may have been somewhat accurate in the 19th century, but there has been substantial progress on voting rights in the last 150 years. This also does nothing to answer the question – Gramatik Aug 3 '18 at 18:37
  • @Gramatik "voting rights" are irrelevant to acquiring, maintaining and expanding political power. Furthermore, reliance on external interestes to "grant" "voting rights", for example, every 5 years, is pure folly, unless the individual or group is fine with allowing external groups to determine ones "rights". There is nothing the U.S. can "grant" to a certain class except Land - and then stay out of the affairs of the sovereign people of that Land, all else is worthless rhetoric. – guest271314 Aug 4 '18 at 1:08
  • This is an interesting review for the United States specifically, and the OP seems happy with it. The Q. however is phrased perhaps too broadly, and might be read to apply to democratic institutions generally, not just the USA. That is, suppose this answer is correct with regards to the USA, would similar results be typical for democracies and republics everywhere? – agc Aug 4 '18 at 15:36
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    @agc The terms "democratic institutions" and "democracies and republics everywhere" are broad. The very premise of concentrating on "votes" provides a means for interests other than those who will or will not vote to actually write the bills, thus, votes can be meaningless if the options are composed by interests other than the voters themselves. The closest to what OP appears to be attempting to describe is the "initiative" process. Political power is generally secured, maintained and expanded by military force, not votes; and is not ceded by means of votes. – guest271314 Aug 4 '18 at 15:50
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It appears that the primary concern is that, if everyone got to vote on everything, we would make stupid decisions. And so, like children that need adult supervision, we elect adults to take care of us. Does that sum it up?

Not really.

Even if our legislatures were filled with people chosen at random like members of a jury pool, there would still be important benefits to representative democracy. Some of the main ones are:

  1. Legislators have more time and resources to evaluate each particular bill than members of the public do. This has nothing to do with their inherent qualifications. For example, the Colorado legislature considers about 700 bills per year. The lion's share are dealt with in committee and will never be seen by everyone. Each committee in each house deals with perhaps 30-50 bills, many of which are never forwarded to anyone else to consider. So, actual legislators can devote several hours to consideration of an average bill in their committee, while if members of the general public had to consider each bill, there would be only seconds or minutes to consider each one.

  2. A closely related issue is efficient allocation of resources. Even if everyone could get up to speed on particular bills, it would take lots of time to do so for every single person involved, even if everyone did take the time need to make good decisions on each bill. Representative democracy reduces that societal cost. People spend a modest amount of time considering which representative to vote for every couple of years, and don't have to invest nearly the same amount of time in thinking about and evaluating political proposals. This is why, in places with functioning direct democracy institutions even with loads of ballot issues, only a tiny fraction of key legislation is considered by the general public.

  3. Don't forget that a lot of the bills that legislators consider are boring as sin. Should this post office be given this name? Should the budget of the DMV for office cleaning services be kept the same as last budget cycle? Should a typo in previous legislation be corrected? One of the under-appreciated roles of legislators is to differentiate between uncontroversial house keeping measures that are swiftly passed unanimously and bills that have important policy content that need extended debate on the merits. There is no reliable automated way to distinguish between the two categories. There is no good justification for including the entire general public in this sorting function in a meaningful way.

  4. Actual human legislators are much better suited to negotiating compromises and adjusting initial drafts of bills to make them more widely acceptable, something that is very hard to do in a direct democracy with large numbers of voter participants. This requires multiple rounds of give and take discussions and an ability to understand the concerns of the particular person you are working with, even if that person is typical or exemplary of larger societal concerns of some faction. The democratic masses may be full of people capable of having intelligent discussions with people they disagree with and reaching a compromise, but with an undifferentiated mass of public participants, it isn't feasible to have this kind of negotiation. Indeed, one of the big criticisms of the citizen's initiative process in place that have it, is that every measure requires an up or down vote on the original proposal with no room for amendment or compromise.

  5. A closely related issue is lobbying. It is much less expensive to discuss the pros and cons of a bill with a dozen or two swing legislators, and primarily a few people on the relevant committees, than it is to communicate directly to every voter. While lobbying gets a bad rap, it is just another form of petitioning the legislature (a fundamental constitutional right) and it is easier for someone intensely affected by some flaw in a bill can economically effectively get that message across with individual legislators.

  • This is well written, but also idealistic and one-sided. Legislators nowadays often rubber stamp bills that nobody would have the time to read at the behest of their richer lobbyists. Such bills are more like large computer programs with GPL code, which programmers use, but few are interested in reading the actual source code unless it's to modify, or fix, something... – agc Aug 3 '18 at 0:45
  • Thank you for this answer, but you are basically saying the public is incompetent and incapable of making proper decisions when it comes to legislation. You may be right, but again, we're putting all the power into the hands of a few individuals. One of the founding principals of government is distribution of power. – Rockstar5645 Aug 3 '18 at 6:45
  • When they wrote the constitution, there was no notion of the internet. So the best they could do was to have 3 branches of government and elected representatives. If they were alive today, don't you think they would have considered the internet? – Rockstar5645 Aug 3 '18 at 6:46
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    @Rockstar5645 The problem isn't that the public is incompetent or incapable. The problem is that understanding legislation takes a lot of time, some of it can span hundreds of pages of legalese. How much of your spare time of each day are you willing to spend on reading legislation? An hour? Two hours? That's by far not enough. The average day of a citizen in your polity would consist of: work,read legislation,vote,sleep,repeat. Or, more likely, work,leisure time,vote without having read much of the legislation,sleep,repeat. – Morfildur Aug 3 '18 at 8:37
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    @Rockstar5645 who would be writing the bills (and rewriting, and rewriting...) under your proposed scheme? – Caleth Aug 3 '18 at 16:13
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You ask

Why do we still need elected representatives?

Then you say

Alright so, for the people that don't want to vote on every bill, they can defer their vote to anyone of their choosing.

That's electing representatives. As @Philipp noted, the normal name for that is Delegative Democracy. The differences between that and normal representative democracy are not negligible, but it still involves selecting someone to represent you.

TL;DR: your system still has elected representatives, even if it calls them delegates.

This is not to say that we couldn't switch to a delegated form of democracy. We could. I'm just pointing out that it doesn't free us from the evils of representative democracy. It just makes electoral changes faster.

Beyond this, there are also non-legislative things that the government does. This might work for law-making, but what about the executive? Even if we got rid of the presidency, there would still be heads of departments (what the cabinet secretaries are today). They would be selected (or elected) by your delegated democracy as our representatives.

This would also tend to end private/anonymous voting. Obviously the delegate votes should be known at least to the people who chose them. So if George Soros wanted to know how a particular delegate voted, he could hire someone to delegate their vote to that delegate. Further, your delegation would have to be public. Both these things open up the process to corruption. The rich could purchase votes (presumably illegally) and track that they received the votes.

You might argue that we could make the delegation and delegate votes completely private. But then how would you know that your vote counted and what your delegate really believed? A candidate could say that they supported your platform when asking you to delegate your vote but then vote the opposite. Unless the vote was unanimous, you'd never know. This is why our representatives vote publicly, even though we vote privately to choose them.

Would delegates be paid? How would we avoid corruption? Yes, public votes helps against corruption, but we get back to the original problem. If a person doesn't know how to vote on an issue, how will that same person recognize when the delegate's vote is based on corruption and when it is based on the principles for which the individual delegated the vote?

One of the tools to avoid that is limitations on what money can be given to a representative. But how does that work with delegation? If I delegate my vote to you, are you then barred from employment? Even if I'm the only person? Is there a threshold? Can those below the threshold still influence the vote? How expensive is it to employ every person who meets the threshold?

What about people who are not online? Do they lose the vote?

What happens when someone compromises the election computer? These are online votes, right? So the computer has to be online. If Vlad (Putin) compromises the computer as someone did the Democratic National Committee computer, does that mean that he can change any vote he wants? Sanctions on Russian oligarchs, no. Military spending, no. Easier opioids, yes. Higher foods stamp spending with an anti-work incentive, yes.

For that matter, what if I know some relevant votes are coming up. So I pick up your phone when you aren't looking and vote. Perhaps not much effect if you aren't a delegate. But what if you are? Or even what if multiple people do it?

You are essentially using the delegate system to address problems in Direct Democracy. You might consider alternatives, like sortition. With sortition, instead of electing representatives, we'd select them randomly (like jury pools). Of course, you don't say why you want delegated democracy, so I can't say if sampled democracy would give you what you want. I like it because it eliminates the corruption of elections while retaining the ability for representatives to work full time.

  • "for the people that don't want to vote on every bill, " try to understand the concept of a subset, what if some people DO want to vote on every bill? What if they don't want to vote at all. Their vote is theirs alone, they can choose to do whatever they want with it is all I'm saying, they can simply choose whatever someone else is choosing, or note vote at all, or vote for what THEY believe. It's their choice. – Rockstar5645 Aug 3 '18 at 6:32
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Liquid Democracy is difficult to implement in a Presidential System where the Legislature and the Executive are seperate entities but might be effective in Parliamentary systems (where the executive and legislature are one in the same). I fleshed out a system that I like to call "Liquid Representation" that would be more effective in a reform that would only affect the Legislature. Basically you get your three representatives (Two Senators and One Representative) by default, but if you don't like them, you can remove your vote form them and give them to another representative you do like (even issue manage... say you like Senator Demi Crat for one issue, but Senator Repu Blican for another... you could say Bernie represents you in this matter, but not that matter). The power of the vote for Senator Blican will change with each vote and on each issue and depending on the support behind him gives weight to his vote.

This also allows for a sort of instant punishment for discrephancies. Say Senator Crat was caught in a sex scandle. The Senator refuses to step down. Under current systems, without some extreme motions, he wouldn't be in office for at most another six years before his time is gone... but if he loses all his supporters who would rather back another Senator who is closer to Crat... Say Senator Indra Pendant, then Crat's power is reduced to effectively 1... himself... he's pretty much useless to his core constituency now.

There are some problems with online voting... namely... we are in a bit of kurfuffle of Russian election tampering... If you thought they were happy with the results from that, just wait till they hear us say "Lets do it all online." As a guy who has coded computer systems, I can tell you that the only hack-proof computer is a rock. All others will be vulnerable. And that's assuming the problem isn't what we call "occurring between the user and the Keyboard." If you can vote for anything on your smartphone, what happens if you drop your phone on election day? Or worse, it's stolen or cloned (yes, that happens)?

The reason we can say Russia meddled but did not change the votes is because the voting machines in the US are built with no internet connectivity at all... No wireless, no wires, they are incapable of going on line... that makes them a little more secure, but it defeats to purpose of even coming up with "An App for That".

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Political class needs sham of "representative democracy" to keep control over population

In order to get elected in current "democratic" system, candidate would need above all other things lots of money and access to media . Money is needed not only for the political campaign, but also for simple things like sustaining your family and yourself. You would notice that most of current politicians (especially those in power) are not successful in some other profession. Instead they are career politicians with occasional cushy jobs requiring no strain (sinecure). On the other hand, people who express unorthodox ideas often get labeled as "racist" , "homophobe" , accused of "hate speech" and other PC nonsense designed to stifle opposition to system. and yes, they often get fired, despite supposed protection of free speech.

As for media, this is self-explanatory . Those who control media control political discourse. As we are witnessing today, even US president is not immune from vicious smear campaign, media has the power to make black white, and white black. Someone wishing to participate in elections must have at least attention if not support of media. Worst thing that could happen to aspiring representative of the people is to be ignored by media. If no one knows about you, no one will vote for you .

So, in order to get much needed money and access to media, prospective candidate would do what most politicians do, i.e. he will join some political party. And to do that he must accept political program of said party. As a rule, parties with more money and media attention are closer to so called "mainstream" and status quo. Therefore, our candidate would inevitably had to make compromise between his conscience and political pragmatism, effectively becoming part of the system.

And what if he gets elected ? "Representative democracy", especially in legislation, puts the power in the hands of many. In order to get something done our new representative would inevitably had to make some backroom deals. You will do this for me, I'll do this for you. Final result is well known to everyone, politicians promise some things in campaign, and do something totally different when elected. This is not a fault of single person, system works that way. Only way that voters could punish them is next elections, but then is usually too late and damage has already been done. Beside, most elections are as a rule contest between two or more known liars with occasional dark horse.

What would happen with direct democracy ? First of all, role of professional politicians would be tremendously diminished, and there would be much less need for political parties. You would still need to campaign, but you could do that only on specific topics interesting to you, without the need to accept whole political program of certain party. Second benefit would be that people would now feel obliged to think before casting vote, knowing that they decision does truly have immediate effect (Swiss direct democracy is good example of this) . Third positive effect would be improved belief in one's country, because individual citizen would now really fill like he has some say in country's affairs instead of faceless political goons.

Therefore, it is entirely clear that we the people do not need so called representatives any more in this moment of history, but they need current system to stay in power.

  • You seem fairly right wing. Just as a note, private companies have no obligation to protect free speech, only the government does. – barrycarter Aug 2 '18 at 19:44
  • @barrycarter Nice excuse to stifle free speech. But consider that in this climate some ideas that you hold dear could one day get you fired and otherwise ostracized. – rs.29 Aug 3 '18 at 5:41
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    Note that even the poster boy of direct democracy Switzerland still has elected representatives that do most of the legislative work. – Annatar Aug 3 '18 at 6:49
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    "On the other hand, people who express unorthodox ideas often get labeled as "racist" , "homophobe"" - As far as I can judge this, you don't get labeled e.g. homophobe for unorthodox ideas - you get labeled homophobe for homophobe statements. I never heard a discussion that went on like "I want to remove any taxation!" - "You homophobe!". – Thern Aug 3 '18 at 13:02

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