Between direct and representative democracy – ‘Liquid Democracy’




Liquid democracy is one of the most interesting ideas that I’ve come across recently. It’s a cross between direct democracy and representative democracy that takes some effort to get one’s head around. This blog is partly to help me do that and partly to see what other people think.




The way Liquid Democracy works is that, on each issue, you have a choice. You can decide to be active yourself, take part and vote. Or, if you lack the time and/or interest to vote you can delegate your vote to a representative. In this case, delegation does not mean that your delegate does what you tell them. Rather it is about asking your delegate to participate in the full deliberative process on your behalf. Your delegate can and is expected to listen and engage in the debate, consider the information available, and make what she views as the best decision on that basis. This process can be seen as the mechanised equivalent of seeking advice from a friend and voting based on that advice.

If I dislike her decision, I can choose a different delegate before the next vote. Delegations can be withdrawn at any time.

Say you’re an expert on education. This system means that you could have your representatives vote for you on all health care issues, but cast your own vote when it came down to education issues.

Delegates can themselves delegate their votes onwards. In the diagram, the people to the right of the line vote. The people to the left of the line delegate their votes.


Liquid Democracy is the combination of networks and democracy. It is a term designed to capture a more fluid and responsive participation of citizens in the democratic process through the use of both online and offline networks. Votes flow through networks of trusted relationships and in this way a range of types of “delegation” can be created, from forms we are familiar with such as conventional representative democracy, to fluid parties and direct democracy.

Liquid democracy is not yet well known, but it is starting to be used:

  • the German Pirate Party uses it internally. In some parts of the party it is used to make binding decisions. In other parts, the results are only advisory.
  • A region of Germany called Friesland set up “Liquid Friesland.” This gives local community members a way to propose policy ideas and directions, which are then voted on by people using the software. Liquid Friesland is primarily a reference system: votes are not binding. Instead they inform the Council decision-making process.
  • the Italian Five-Star Movement has also applied Liquid Feedback. With 25% of the national vote, the Five-Star Movement is a significant political force for change.
  • Flux, a small party in Australia, promoted it when contesting the 2016 election for the Australian senate
  • There are two different software platforms for this: Liquid Feedback and Adhocracy.

To end with, one advantage and one disadvantage. The plus is that, under this system, a person can become a delegate for multiple members very quickly, as a result wielding the political power normally reserved for elected representatives. This is the “liquid” in Liquid Democracy. It makes every person a potential politician.

The minus was hilariously expressed in a blog by one godix. Here are some extracts:

Congratulations on your new high paying job at monolithic multinational corporation. Just a few forms to fill out… First off is the tax form, next is your health insurance, then we’ll be needing to you to proxy your vote to the CEO….”

Hi, I’m Monica from Friends. Sign your vote over to me. I don’t know shit about politics really, but I’m famous. Thank you for giving me political power along with fame and wealth, you mindless drones.”

Hi, you may know me, I’m Bill Gates. I’m getting sick of government investigations. The next one million people to sign their vote over to me gets a free copy of Windows 2045. This time we fixed the bugs. No, seriously, we did.”

I don’t think this is a killer. But it does say to me that there is design work still to do…