Subject: [NYCGA-IWG] Re: [Occupy-dev] Social voting vs. administrative decision
From: Paul Bame
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 2011 11:04:33 -0500
To: David Stodolsky
CC: Michael Allan <>, Internet Working Group <>, OWS Solutions <>, Occupy Dev <>

I'm happy to see the questions being raised here because they resonate
with thoughts I've been having.

I've been a (mostly "formal", different from spiritual i.e. Quaker)
consensus process user, facilitator, and occasional trainer, direct
democracy advocate, feminist (meaning in this case, that I have a
critical analysis of power in society and in groups), community group
co-founder, and general process geek, for over a decade.  The two
thoughts I've been having come from that and are:

    1. what is the model for information other than votes?
    2. counting votes is a bit of a red herring

1. what is the model for information other than votes?

Even in the presumed US Democracy, there's a phrase I've usually heard
as "informed consent of the voters".  The wikipedia article on Informed
fleshes out the importance of this.  And one area of my work is against
sexual assault, where the informed consent is essential (for example
many policies state that people under the influence cannot legally give
their consent, whether for sex or in legal matters).

So far I've seen lots of good thought put into well-engineered tallying
of consent through vote counting, and less on the social & information
communications involved in reaching mutual understanding -- becoming

Sometimes a GA is my first exposure to an issue.  When that issue is
of any complexity, I feel frustrated by the pace (I benefit from some
time to think things over), and (lessor) amount of information I can get
from the GA gathering, because it's not enough for me to give informed
consent, not really.  I think some #occupations try to alleviate this
by having educational gatherings, materials, and even educational GAs,
prior to the consent discussion, and I think anything of scale larger
than an #occupation's GA will need maybe some formal work on this.
Maybe consensus journals are an answer, but I admit I didn't read that
proposal due to being overwhelmed right now.

2. counting votes is a bit of a red herring

Our society gives us lots of majoritarian training, and the mainstream
media, especially on election night, is fixated on the paper-thin margins,
50.01% and so forth seem pretty common these days and hard-won by the
Parties.  That .01% margin makes it Really Important to COUNT THE VOTE
RIGHT.  As tech geeks we have cryptographic tools to help make that
possible, and the excellent proposals here are a testament to it.

However I think that many of us feel that rule by the 50.01% is only
a shade more desirable than rule by the despicable 1%, and that's why
consensus processes get so much discussion.  A realistic compromise
that I've seen the Philly GA do, is not to go for 100% consensus but
rather some sort of obvious overwhelming majority.

Suppose a GA's principle is a proposal carries if 80% are behind it, and
that people at a GA felt a proposal had sufficient support and passed
it, but without actually counting.  Now suppose the talley, if actually
counted, were only 75%.  I think that's not a travesty, even though it
clearly would be in the majoritarian rulers world where 45.01% is WAY
DIFFERENT than 50.01%.  I'm not saying counting is bad in the GA
process, but that if more than a few people are fixated on the count
itself, it probably means the decision isn't ready to be made.

If "overwhelming majority", like 80%, is the criteria for a
federated/widespread multi-#occupation decision making process, what
that means to me is that we can tolerate a higher degree of inaccuracy
in vote counting, with a process which costs less to produce and
maintain, which means more tech resources could be applied elsewhere.