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I remember reading about a theoretical electoral system where votes are passed on in a continuously changing graph. I would like to know the name or origin of this system.

This is my approximate recollection of how the described system would work:

  • Every eligible citizen starts with 1 vote.
  • They can vote at any time and change their vote at any time, not just during elections.
  • They can vote for anyone they'd like – e.g a friend or a family member, a traditional politician, a philosopher or ideologist they trust, or maybe just some famous person.
  • This other person now has 2 (or more) votes, and they in turn could pass them on to someone else.
  • The individuals who have the most votes at any given time are in power.

What is the name of the system, who came up with it, and where can I read more about it?

I have searched and read about alternative voting systems, but have not found a description of one that matches this.

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What you're describing sounds like a form of liquid democracy - described by Blum & Zuber (2016)1 as:

a procedure for collective decision-making that combines direct democratic participation with a flexible account of representation. Its basic model consists of four components that can be stated as follows: All members of a political community that satisfy a set of reasonable participatory criteria (adulthood, baseline rationality) are entitled to:

  1. directly vote on all policy issues (direct democratic component);
  2. delegate their votes to a representative to vote on their behalf on (1) a singular policy issue, or (2) all policy issues in one or more policy areas, or (3) all policy issues in all policy areas (flexible delegation component);
  3. delegate those votes they have received via delegation to another representative (meta-delegation component);
  4. terminate the delegation of their votes at any time (instant recall component).

Their paper mentions that this model was initially proposed in 1969 by James C. Miller, in his paper "A program for direct and proxy voting in the legislative process".2, where he describes a system which sounds very similar to the one you describe:

Another characteristic of our legislative system is that the elected representative votes on behalf of all people, in his district at all times, regardless of his degree of competence in the various matters of national concern. But this need not be the case: instead of electing representatives periodically for a tenure of two years or more, why not allow citizens to vote directly or delegate proxy to someone else for as long as they like (which is, of course, analogous to stockholder voting schemes in large corporations). Actually, there would be a wide range of alternatives available. The most concerned voter would vote on every issue at his personal console. Another may delegate proxy to someone he feels would vote as he would if only he had the time and knowledge to participate directly. Most voters, however, would utilize some combination of these extremes, voting on major issues personally and delegating proxy to someone else for the minor decisions. Thus, the third feature of the proposal is a provision for proxy as well as direct voting.

He even gives an example similar to the one you suggest, where a voter may delegate their vote to a policy expert depending on their concerns:

Under the proposed legislative scheme, voters need not be experts in each field; neither should representatives. The way is open for the individual voter to give his proxy to a military expert whom he trusts to cast a vote as he would if only he had the required military expertise. At another time, the voter might delegate his proxy to an economist to decide upon issues affecting employment and inflation.

1: Blum and Zuber. "Liquid democracy: Potentials, problems, and perspectives." Journal of Political Philosophy 24.2 (2016): 162-182.
2: Miller, James C. "A program for direct and proxy voting in the legislative process." Public choice 7.1 (1969): 107-113.

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  • why is this not a thing??? – orirab Jan 31 at 13:52
  • @orirab sounds like a nightmare for several reasons. First, keeping track would be difficult, as elections are already complicated as is, with 2 major candidates to worry about. Second, there's no mechanism to rescind one's vote, which means a bad choice is game over for your representation (for most people, at least). Third, this system doesn't allow for multiple individuals to be in charge of different parts of government. If, by chance, a person ends up with more than 50% of the total votes, they are essentially a dictator. – Don Thousand Jan 31 at 16:33
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    @orirab Societal inertia and practical technical considerations? Once digital voting has been established (and trusted) for a generation or two I could easily imagine systems like this being established gradually. – Nobody Mar 17 at 13:09

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