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Part 2: The Value of a Vote


Quadratic Voting (QV) promises to give minorities a more significant say in matters that affect them personally. However, when implemented using an established currency, it can reinforce existing inequalities. How does QV work in practice, and can it really improve democratic decision-making?

Michael Heger, June 18, 2024      ⌛️ 5 Minutes      📖 Glossary with technical terms 

Der Wert einer Stimme.webp

The concept of Quadratic Voting was coined by Glen Weyl, a political economist and Microsoft researcher. QV allows participants to express a binary decision about what they like and dislike and how important an issue is to them.


The Price of Extra Votes

But how does it work? Quadratic Voting allows voters to allocate more votes to a particular issue if it is essential to them—but at a quadratically increasing cost.

This method encourages voters to consider their options carefully and express the intensity of their preferences rather than just their choice. It aims to balance the influence of all opinions within a broad spectrum by giving minority opinions a chance to be heard and considered.

Between Plutocracy and Equality

The critical reader will undoubtedly have noticed that Weyl's proposal to make people pay for their votes primarily follows the logic of a market economy. Quadratic voting based on a common, established currency does not give more power to all minorities but mainly to the minorities with more money. However, the square mitigates this to some extent.

To create absolute equality, all voters must have the same number of tokens in their accounts - analogous to "one person, one vote" but with more votes to express one's preferences more nuancedly.

Quadratic Voting in Action


Let's take the example of EcoInnovate, a fictional organization specializing in sustainability projects. As it plans its strategy for the new year, it faces a common dilemma: which innovative projects should be prioritized?

EcoInnovate decides to use Quadratic Voting to gauge its stakeholders' preferences. Each stakeholder receives 25 tokens to vote for the 50 different projects. The more convinced they are of a particular project, the more votes they give it, while each additional vote for a particular project costs quadratically more.

Measuring Collective Convictions

Stefanie, for example, likes the “Urban green spaces” initiative, so she casts a vote. This costs her a token. She distributes the other 24 votes individually to 24 different projects she likes.

On the other hand, Marcel is enthusiastic about the “bioremediation of plastic waste” and casts three votes for the project. This costs him nine tokens (3 squared). “Urban green spaces” is slightly less important to him but still more important than the other projects he wants to vote for. He, therefore, gives the project two votes. This costs him four tokens. He distributes the remaining 12 votes individually to other projects he likes.

For Sarah, “education about renewable energy” is critical. Therefore, she casts four votes for it, which costs her 16 tokens (4 to the power of 2 = 16). Bioremediation of plastic waste is also very important to her. She gives the project three votes (for nine tokens), which uses up her 25 votes.  

The Quadratic Voting system ensures that stakeholders can cast more votes for projects that are particularly important to them. EcoInnovate's annual planning for the next year thus reflects the collective preferences of stakeholders much better than conventional voting systems. 

The Tyranny of the Majority

If the organization uses stakeholder voting, there is a risk that a few wealthy stakeholders will ensure that projects that serve their financial interests or personal agendas receive the most votes. Initiatives such as "bioremediation of plastic waste" or "urban green spaces" that are potentially more beneficial to the community or the environment but may be less profitable would be neglected. 

On the other hand, majority voting based on the principle of electoral equality can lead to popular projects dominating over essential but less visible ones. For instance, if most of the team slightly favors "Urban Green Spaces" because of its immediate appeal, more complex but significant initiatives such as "Bioremediation of Plastic Waste" may be overlooked despite a smaller yet profoundly committed group of supporters.

From Quadratic Voting to Quadratic Funding

Quadratic voting is already being used successfully in the governance of blockchain projects. One example is Gitcoin, a platform that funds open-source software projects that support the common good. QV is used to allocate funds to these projects democratically. But Gitcoin goes one step further by implementing a funding mechanism called Quadratic Funding, which takes the idea of Quadratic Voting and develops it further. It combines crowdfunding with matching funds, emphasizing the number of contributors rather than the size of contributions. An increasing number of blockchain projects use Quadratic Funding to distribute funds: the broader the support, the more significant the contribution. 


Real-World Applications

Some institutions have gained experience with Quadratic Voting outside of blockchain projects. Taiwan, for example, made significant strides with Quadratic Voting, notably during its Presidential Hackathon, when selecting the winning projects. Judges were given 99 points, with the cost of votes increasing quadratically. This effectively mitigated the herd behavior observed in previous years. Taiwan's e-democracy platform, Join, uses Quadratic Voting to foster public engagement in budgeting processes.

In 2019, the Democratic Caucus of the Colorado State House of Representatives used Quadratic Voting to prioritize 60 to 100 appropriation bills. Legislators were given 100 virtual tokens to vote on various measures. This approach provided a more transparent, nuanced understanding of caucus members' preferences, showcasing the successful application of Quadratic Voting in legislative decision-making.

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