21.10.09

Origins of Personal Representation

After the idea for Personal Representation occurred to me in 2007, I cursorily searched for references to the idea.  I found none, which surprised me, as the idea seems obvious and perhaps provably optimal if one begins with a few reasonable premises.  I started this blog partly because I hadn't found my Big Idea published anywhere.

I finally hit google/wikipedia paydirt earlier this month with terms like direct representation and delegated voting. Further poking around led to similar ideas with names like "delegable proxy" and "liquid democracy," the latter of which my wife said sounded like a cocktail, and probably a nasty one.  Delegable proxy was actually my first thought for an ideal system, but I felt and still feel that personal representation (a.k.a. proxy voting) is simpler, perhaps more sellable, and more than good enough.  The differences among systems of personal representation, via one or more level of proxy, seem minor to me. I'll take any one I can get. Ha, ha.

Tracing the idea of Personal Representation (or proxy voting) back as far as I could, I found a fairly quick progression from Thomas Hare's re-invention of the single transferable vote and John Stuart Mill's advocacy of it, to Simon Sterne and his buddies coming up with the weighted proxy voting idea.  I was gratified they chose the same name for it as I have—Personal Representation.  They started a Personal Representation Society in New York to pitch the idea to that state's constitutional convention, publishing Report to the Constitutional Convention of the State of New York on Personal Representation in 1867.  The proxy idea is introduced on page 35:
Every person receiving at any election for members of assembly, a larger number of votes than the minimum quota fixed by law, should be deemed elected, and each member cast in the legislative body upon every measure or act coming to a vote, the number of ballots cast for him, and which he represents, be they six thousand or twenty thousand.

Boo-ya!  Right answer.

* * *

The convention didn't go for it.

Reading works by and about Sterne, Mill, Dodgson, and other 19th-century advocates of proportional representation has been educational, fun, and sad.  Praised be wikipedia and Google Books.  On the plus side, I'm glad to know this little ol' blog isn't the sole public source of the proxy voting idea!  I'm not alone.  On the minus side, our little team hasn't made much progress since 1867.  And if a bunch of big-time New York lawyers, right after a friggin' Civil War couldn't get people (who were already having a constitutional convention!) a to try a new system, it's probably going to be a rather difficult task.

Carl Andrae (Danish inventor of PR, 1855) spoke the truth in a 1871 letter:
Frankly, it is ridiculous that a matter really so simple should create such a 'big noise.'  There is another instance of human folly.

Amen, brother.  But living many generations later under a thoroughly broken, unresponsive, and pathetically non-representational system, I'd be happy just to hear some of that 'noise' regarding real representation in government.

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