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Part 3: Democracy 3.0


The initial applications of Quadratic Voting for decision-making demonstrate its advantages over conventional systems. But what happens when we use Quadratic Voting for general elections or referendums? Is it even practically feasible?

Michael Heger, June 18, 2024      ⌛️ 6 Minutes      📖 Glossary with technical terms 

Demokratie 3.0.webp

Suppose South Africa used Quadratic Voting for its 2024 general election. South Africans would suddenly have the opportunity to vote for a particular party and prioritize possible coalition partners simultaneously. They could also give a limited number of votes to a party that addresses an issue they care about (e.g., the land question) but is otherwise unconvincing. And they can do so without giving this party their only vote. 

In popular votes in Switzerland, for example, Quadratic Voting could be used by providing all citizens with a voting account filled with a certain number of points before each of the four annual voting dates. Voters could then allocate their votes to the different ballots according to their needs. The price for each additional vote would increase quadratically (1 vote = 1 point, 2 = 4 points, 3 = 9 points, etc.).

On the one hand, Swiss citizens could use their votes as usual for all polls. On the other hand, they could use a large part of their votes for specific proposals and initiatives they feel strongly about. This would allow minority members to have a more significant say in issues that affect them.

But how could such a complex system be put into practice?  

From Utopia to Reality

Enter blockchain technology. In recent years, thousands of new blockchain-based tokens have emerged. The underlying smart contract defines its monetary policy, interoperability, and transferability. 

What if we generate a soulbound token that is not transferable but can only be used for voting and polling? A governance token with no monetary value distributed according to a freely definable pattern (e.g., all the same amount, according to the contribution to the project, etc.)?

Why Blockchain?

Blockchain technology offers an ideal environment for implementing and testing innovative solutions such as Quadratic Voting due to several of its intrinsic characteristics:

  • Decentralization: Blockchain operates as a decentralized network, ensuring that a single entity does not control the voting process.

  • Transparency: All transactions are transparent, meaning each vote and the number of tokens spent can be publicly verified. This helps to build trust.

  • Immutability: Once recorded, the data on the blockchain cannot be altered. This is critical for voting integrity, ensuring that votes cannot be changed once cast and preventing post-vote tampering.

  • Security: Blockchains are secured through cryptography. This security is vital for protecting the voting process and the expression of voter preferences.

  • Programmability: Smart contracts on blockchains can be programmed to execute complex voting mechanisms like QV automatically. They can handle the quadratic calculations for vote costing, enforce rules, distribute voting tokens, and tally votes without intermediaries.

  • Tokenization: You can easily create and distribute digital tokens, which can be used in a QV system. These tokens can be designed in a certain way. They can represent voting rights and be spent or allocated according to the QV rules. 


Confidentiality, Attacks, and Collusion

One of the biggest concerns about blockchain-based voting systems is the potential conflict between the blockchain's inherent transparency and the requirement for ballot confidentiality. Zero-knowledge proofs (ZKPs) are a possible solution to this problem. When used in blockchain voting, they can confirm that a vote was cast correctly without revealing the ballot's content. 

Other challenges for quadratic governance include ensuring the reliability of identity concepts and mitigating the threat of Sybil attacks. Collusion among participants can also skew results, as groups may conspire to amplify their collective voting power. Gitcoin and similar projects address these challenges with technological solutions, user education, and community engagement.

A Promise to Save Democracy?

The application in Gitcoin, the theoretical scenarios drawn in this essay, and the real-world implementation in some smaller projects illustrate the potential of Quadratic Voting.

Glen Weyl, the Microsoft engineer who coined the term, believes governments and institutions should use Quadratic Voting to better meet society's needs. He criticized the majority voting model because it does not always serve the common good and can weaken democracy. 

Weyl argued that the stable majority benefits at the direct expense of minorities and that even if power isn't concentrated, the tyranny of the majority can lead to social exploitation and harm. 

Consequently, he believed that the majority rule system inherently diminishes democracy and, historically, has been used to deter minority political participation with various barriers, contributing to the weakening of democratic institutions globally.


A Matter of Design and Implementation

What about the criticism that Weyl's Quadratic Voting system favors the wealthy? Weyl himself indulges in whataboutism and points out that our current system is no better in this respect. 

However, experiments on the blockchain demonstrate that Quadratic Voting can be fair and equal and improve on the shortcomings of traditional voting mechanisms if adequately designed and - unlike Weyl's original idea - implemented with an artificial, non-transferable currency. 

The road to equal, fair, and inclusive governance is long and fraught with challenges, especially ensuring that newly developed systems cannot be hacked or manipulated. 

In addition, regulatory hurdles, legal frameworks, and ethical implications of blockchain-based voting systems need to be discussed. This also includes the risk of creating new forms of exclusion or inequality.

A Piece of the Puzzle

Further experiments with innovative governance mechanisms will need to learn from the weaknesses of current applications and adapt the framework to the specific circumstances to improve outcomes. Blockchain technology offers a perfect playground for such experiments.

Practice makes perfect. Our current democratic systems are far from ideal and are, therefore, under attack from many sides. The best defense in a rapidly changing world with growing authoritarian tendencies is a proactive offense.

New technologies allow us to continually test new ideas to evolve our systems of governance and institutions, find solutions to their territorial limitations, and adapt them to new challenges. Experiments with Quadratic Voting are just a small but promising piece of the puzzle.

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