What is Liquid Democracy

What is Liquid Democracy

Why and who can benefit from using Liquid Democracy?

As we can't scale direct democracies we can think about how to create smarter representatives. Liquid democracy allows that through the vote delegation feature, so one can allow a trusted expert to speak on his/her behalf.

We'll review the underlying paradox, some theory with models and case studies, concluded by a set of tools and links.

By Max Semenchuk

Middleman paradox

The power of the democratic majority arises from the fact that every individual is assumed to be competent to guide his own life and is politically equal of every other individual. In this situation, the greatest legitimate power will always be with the majority.

But the voters might not always be knowledgeable on the matter being discussed. That is why today, many governments use a form of representative democracy, where people vote on representatives they trust who will represent them when voting on policy decisions.

Direct democracy: one person one vote does not scale well.

As the Internet removes the need for dumb middlemen, it creates the need for smart middlemen. The producers have removed links in the chains separating them from consumers, but consumers are slotting new links back in. As we get swamped by more and more information and more and more choices, we’re going to need more and more help filtering the data and making our choices: which cars should we buy, which holidays we should go on, which people we should hire and which news stories we should read. It’s a paradox: the more we can remove middlemen, the more we need them.

According to Tocqueville, these “intermediary” institutions that exist in aristocracies serve as a “dike” against the force of dominant political power and a vital protection for human dignity and liberty. Because democracies lack such intermediary institutions, they have “no lasting obstacles” in the way of the opinions, prejudices, interests, and momentary passions of the majority and tends towards an unthinking despotism over unpopular minorities.


Liquid Democracy (LD)

So far as we know, the idea of Liquid Democracy dates as far back as Lewis Caroll’s Principles of Parliamentary Representation (1884).

Liquid Democracy is the combination of networks and democracy

  • a fast, decentralized,
  • collaborative question-answering system,
  • which works by enabling chained answer recommendation
  • is designed to ensure that the things we all hold in common stay properly maintained.


The voter can decide whether to delegate her vote to a representative on a given issue or simply vote on her own. Say you’re an expert on education, wouldn’t it be great if you could have your representatives vote for you on all health care issues, but when it came down to education issues, you could cast your own vote? This is what liquid democracy attempts to do.

Best of both direct and representative democracy

"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."

Promise of LD

Towards the enhancement of e-democracy: identifying the notion of the ‘middleman paradox’ Harald Mahrer* & Robert Krimmer† (2005)

approach for increased and better quality citizen participation in the democratic processes

improved access and the delivery of government services
digital transformation of political systems

a component of overall e-government initiatives


When most issues are decided (or strongly suggested to representatives) by direct referendum.

When nobody has enough time and knowledge for every issue, votes can be delegated by topic.

When furthermore delegations are transitive and can be revoked at any time.


Pirate Parties

Australia Flux Network

Demoex Swedish party / Direktdemokraterna

LiquidFriesland Germany


Google Votes

Civicracy University


Argentina Civil Platform

Industrial Workers of the World


Critical issues


The first question is whether a party will make the Liquid Democracy process a

  • binding one, where member votes on the online platform become real law
  • or use it for reference where member votes merely inform existing representatives.


The second question relates to transparency:

  • Will users disclose their identities,
  • retain anonymity, or
  • use a hybrid system of authenticated pseudonymity?


The third question pertains to whether liquid (or transitive) or direct votes are used

Prototype: Delegative Democracy

The prototypical liquid democracy has been summarized by Bryan Ford in his paper, "Delegative Democracy", containing the following principles:

Choice of role: Members of the democracy can either passively act as an individual or actively act as a delegate. This is different from representative democracies, which only use specific representatives. This way, delegates can be selective about their participation in different areas of policy.

Low barrier to participation: Delegates do not have much difficulty becoming delegates. Most notably, they do not have to win competitive elections that involve costly political campaigns.

Delegated authority: Delegates act in processes on behalf of themselves and of individuals who choose them as their delegate. Their power to make decisions varies based on their varying support.

Privacy of the individual: All votes by individuals are kept secret to prevent any form of coercion by delegates or other individuals.

Accountability of the delegates: In contrast to the privacy of the individuals, the formal decisions of delegates are typically made public to their voters and the broader community to hold them accountable for their actions.

Specialization by re-delegation: Delegates are able to have both general authorities delegated to them from individual voters and specialized authority re-delegated to them from other delegates to work on their behalf.

Case Study: ☠ German Pirate Party

And yet adoption by political parties has yielded mixed results. The most notable case is that of the German Pirate Party.

The Berlin chapter of the GPP enthusiastically adopted the platform shortly after its release, in late 2009. Even though Behrens, Kistner, Nitsche, and Swierczek initially joined the Berlin PP, they soon found themselves in the midst of a political controversy over the public nature of voting. Because the Berlin Pirates initially tested LF for nonbinding consultations, they allowed members to use pseudonyms rather than their actual names.

“Only very few actually used this (pseudonym) possibility,” remembers Nitsche, “but this legacy turned into a major problem once the system was to become more binding.”

Initially the Pirates made a productive use of LF for developing the program for the 2011 Berlin elections and won an unexpected 8.9% of the vote. But the unresolved question of how to verify the vote—and hence the identity of voters—became a burden not only for the Berlin chapter but also at a national level.

Even though the Pirates made several attempts to resolve the issue, they failed to reach the 2/3 super majority necessary to change the party statute and establish a permanent online assembly ("SMV") based on LF, which would have been able to make legally binding decisions.

Frustrated at the Pirates’ impasse, the four developers decided to focus on the development of the software and to leave the party in January 2011.

Since then, the four have continued to develop LF and to promote digital democracy through the Association for Interactive Democracy, which has held workshops in Burma, Pakistan, Georgia, and Colombia. In 2014, the four co-authored The Principles of LiquidFeedback, a book that details the design principles, voting theory, and political philosophy behind the software.

Until today, particular decisions within software and product development have to be decided by privileged people. LiquidFeedback can democratize the decision-making process. The same is true for conflict resolution in collaborative projects, such as the free encyclopedia Wikipedia. The required add-on will be integrated in LF soon.


Liquid Feedback

Was built on the principle of delegated voting. It has a lot of additional features and it was being implemented in the Pirate Party since 2009. However, being initially developed as a delegation platform, it does not provide a clear structure for presenting initiatives.



LiquidFeedback's processes work across various application fields and use-cases. These include:

  • Corporations (employee participation, product development, data revision systems)
  • Cooperatives (digital assembly)
  • Political Parties (digital assembly)
  • Civil Society Organizations (digital assembly)
  • Cities, counties and other municipalities (civic participation)


One of the best known of these tools is Adhocracy, a modular decision-making platform that allows participants to collect ideas, discuss them, and refine them in text propositions that can be further amended. This modular structure has been mostly used in civic participation projects in Berlin, but also in political parties such as the Green Party, the SPD, and institutional contexts such at the German Federal Parliament.


It's built on the example of a discussion board. Suggestions, changes and comments are clearly distinguished. Delegation appears in the later version in 2010.

Adhocracy has been used for a range of different projects, including meinBerlin, an e-participation platform for residents of Berlin to participate in decisions about urban planning in the city.

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What unique perspective i can provide to the topic?

Liquid democracy seems to be at the early stages of development. There are some community, authors, and tools which inspire some trust. Previous experience shows the technology doesn't work without proper culture (which is hard to reproduce). The promise is great though and sparks the interest for further research.


#dgov foundation Researcher & Community manager

We have an ID app called Diia, in about a year it should allow direct voting from any place. I'd love to see the delegations feature there. Though probably for non-binding and prioritizing features and being ready for a low turnout initially.

Many other jurisdictions are playing now with advanced tools, I believe it was tried already on a small scale, though there's a lack of strong cases for implementation. And the test costs should be justified for the taxpayers. Maybe more progress can be achieved in the private-public cooperations.


Ministry of Digitalization of Ukraine Expert, Virtual Assets

Most tools look very usable visually. Concerning is the how to set a habit of voting / checking delegates. There're already some tools that support political alignment, even with some form of gamification. Though the effect could be short-term and the app can be easily forgotten in the daily race. It could be somehow integrated with the existent communication tools that are already used (like in Google case).


Solution Designer

- Thanks for your attention!