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Random-Sample Elections

Far lower cost, better quality and more democratic


David Chaum
ABSTRACT: A Random-Sample Election can be conducted regionally,
nationally, or even globally, with results that are more irrefutable than those of
current elections but at less than one thousandth of the cost. As a new member of
the democracy toolbo, random-sample elections hold great promise, for instance
ma!ing readily affordable" #etitions of government that prove ma$ority support.
%adder competitions that elect the most important and most clearly stated issues
to be put to vote. &uries for public policy with unprecedented immunity to
stac!ing and other manipulation. 'inding consultations of constituencies by
officials or parties. Even, in the etreme, full Athenian-style democracy, practical
at the scale and compleity of society today.
(he system wor!s by randomly selecting voters and auditing tallies in a novel
way. )t allows anyone to verify online that neither the selection nor outcome can
have been manipulated by anyone including governments. *oters are protected
but are unable to sell votes. *oters may also be better motivated and informed
since each vote carries more weight and each voter can meaningfully investigate
and study the single issue that voter is as!ed to help decide.
(he approach is compared with elections today in terms of nine attributes of
election +uality, the operational concept along with its properties s!etched,
historical contet discussed, and various adoption scenarios laid out. An appendi
gives implementation details, based on systems already proven in governmental
elections, sufficient to show technical and practical feasibility.
It is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot;
and as oligarchic when they are filled by election.
,Aristotle -#olitics ./0.a12-/34
)5(R6D7C()65
A new way is introduced here for translating the 8will of the people9 into governance.
(he aim of this white paper is to show that these systems can already be deployed by
almost any group and without need to involve governments,there is no catch,and also
to eplore the advantages and potential of this new approach. (he aim, however, is
neither values neutrality nor a manifesto for a particular ultimate system.
.
(he number of voters sampled can be small, depending on how close the contest, yet give
overwhelming confidence. :or instance, if the margin is at least ten percent, then a
thousand votes will li!ely yield a result that itself, without any assumption about the
margin and with only a one-in-a-million chance of error, establishes that a ma$ority are in
favor,even with an electorate of millions or billions. (his dramatic reduction in the
number of voters participating in each election compared to a conventional election today
results in a substantially proportionate reduction in cost.
A general benefit of such low cost, and also ta!ing advantage of the small number of
voters needed for an election, is that many more elections can be conducted, both in
parallel and more often. (his in turn means that each voter would typically only be
involved in an election infre+uently. )t also means that each election can be on a single
issue, allowing voters plenty of time to research and eplore the issue they are as!ed to
help decide. (he mechanics of supplying and even collecting ballots can be conducted
through paper mail; nevertheless, with today<s widely adopted information technology,
such as the web, search, forums, email access to eperts, and so on, voters are able to
investigate and deliberate even comple issues with unprecedented ease and depth.
Another benefit of the etreme cost reduction is an opening up of who can conduct
elections. Any interest group can create their own election initiatives, if they can bear the
modest epense, without re+uiring permission or assistance from government. A new
type of election infrastructure could, as another eample, allow anyone to easily submit a
candidate +uestion, and then conduct elections between such candidate +uestions until a
+uestion prevails and is put to a larger vote. #olitical parties or candidates for office could
also conduct their own non-governmental elections and even agree in advance to be
bound by the results. Every use helps establish efficacy and increase acceptance.
(he current government election paradigm is one of a right to vote and that every vote
should be counted. 7nfortunately, this hard-won mechanism of universal suffrage, from
which political legitimacy of government is etracted, may be failing. (rust in elected
governments has plummeted over the last two decades, at least for ma$or democracies;
while the number and, according to the various published ratings, almost all metrics of
democracies are also declining. Common eplanations include the low utility to the
individual of actually casting a ballot with the choices available and the corrupting
influence of economic power in such elections. (ransparency through information
technology is revealing compelling evidence of the current paradigm failing at its current
scale, such as an accelerating divergence from the fundamental values of society. (he
new approach<s techni+ue, in contrast, promises to obviate political corruption and to
ma!e each vote more meaningful so that policy can naturally converge with widely held
values, while benefitting both from transparency and from scale.
:urthermore, freeing the techni+ue of democracy from government, li!e with financial
disintermediation, opens new possibilities. )ssues cutting across national boundaries,
including even election-related issues such as access to information, for instance in terms
of anonymous=uncensored surfing and media supported by voted +uality, become
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something even a modestly-well-funded non-profit organi>ation could put to global vote.
(o whatever etent binding, random-sample elections can give powerful voice to issues
while gaining acceptance and raising the bar on election system +uality and performance.
?radually, as the techni+ues are proven out in practice, refined, and acceptance broadens,
adoption in governmental elections is at least plausible. (he techni+ues could be used for
such things as filling more positions by election or for binding national referenda, such as
allowing veto of a law or even ma!ing a ma$or policy decision. (hey then hold promise
for increasing participation, improving perception of fairness and efficacy of the process,
and strengthening the foundations of democracy and arguably society more generally.
(his new type of election, more fundamentally, allows continuous, effective and
indisputable monitoring of the will of the people on a very wide range of issues. )t thus
establishes feasibility of an alternative to representative democracy that has long been
believed infeasible,at least a challenging 8open problem9 to whatever etent it may be
desirable,Athenian democracy at the scale and compleity of governments today.
Even though it uses the strongest !nown techni+ues for integrity and transparency of
elections, this new approach can improve voter protection. Elections in which voters are
able to verify convincing online evidence that their votes were correctly included in
election outcomes have already been used to fill political offices in the 7nited States.
(hese techni+ues are adapted and etended here, as eplained later and detailed in the
appendi, to implement the new approach. An important property achieved, and
verifiable by anyone online, is that which voters are included is truly random and cannot
be !nown in advance or influenced by anyone. An etension ensures that vote buying is
ineffective. An optional etension can even hide the identity of voters in perpetuity.
A public source of future randomness, such as stoc! mar!et closing prices on an
upcoming date certain, not only in effect selects voters but also which data must be
revealed for audit. @hat allows vote privacy with audit is the idea, used in other secure
systems, of 8committing9 to data by publishing it in encrypted form in advance and being
re+uired to decrypt initially-unpredictable portions of it later. Stoc! prices from trading a
day after the commitments are published, for instance, select some of the individual
commitments to have their !eys published. (his lets these selected commitments be
decrypted and verified by anyone online. 5ot enough is revealed to compromise ballot
secrecy, but enough is revealed to ma!e such random public audit etremely effective.
(his wor! is organi>ed in five sections, each intended to mainly stand alone. )n the first
section, nine desirable attributes for +uality of public-sector elections are introduced and
used to compare current elections with the system introduced here. (he attributes are then
recast slightly so that the system introduced achieves the full desiderata.
(he second section summari>es the technical aspects of the system for the non-specialist
reader. Emphasis is on the ideas behind some of the more innovative aspects of its
security. (he various categories of participants in the system are laid out, the new
/
properties achieved are stated informally, and sample-si>es are derived from first
principles. (he system<s technical feasibility is shown in an appendi detailing it in terms
of component parts similar to those of systems already used in governmental elections.
(he third section considers contet in terms of the historical and current mechanics of
democracy. A variety of situations in which the approach can be applied outside
government as well as scenarios for gradual integration into government are s!etched in
the fourth section. :inally, the fifth section touches on some broader perspectives.
E%EC()65 A7A%)(B
Desirable characteristics of public-sector elections, defining what may be called their
8+uality,9 include" -a4 high voter turnout, -b4 well informed voters, -c4 effectiveness of
results in shaping governance, -d4 resistance to manipulation through advertising and
electioneering, -e4 indisputable=trustworthy tally, -f4 protection against voter corruption or
coercion, -g4 resistance to voter fraud, -h4 decisiveness, and -i4 low cost.
Current elections perform poorly against every one of these nine positive attributes.
Election reform, however, has been notoriously difficult and slow. 6ne eplanation is that
improving integrity, and by etension other aspects of elections, implicitly critici>es the
soundness of the very system that selected those to positions that can bloc! change.
#olitical parties are also sensitive to changes in voter demographics and potential for
manipulation, which can result from even small changes in election mechanisms.
6ther reasons for the sluggishness of reform may include momentum and economic
interests. Relatively large amounts of money have been spent on election e+uipment in
some countries, notably the 7nited States, 'ra>il and )ndia, while recurring ependitures
on administration are even higher in aggregate. Elections today entail massive campaign
ependitures, which in large measure benefit media and opinion eperts. -Such
advertising and electioneering ependitures, however, may be considered undesirable
because of the conflict of interest they raise between officeholders=parties and the public
with respect to various sponsors and lobbies.4
)t has been posited that individual voters epending significant effort to learn about the
options presented them in conventional elections is not economically rational, at least as
far as the probability of having an impact. (his analysis may account in part for low
voter-turnout. )t also predicts compounding of the problem of meaningful voter
participation, as technology continues to increase the compleity of governance and
policy options.
Current elections will here be called 8mass9 elections to contrast with 8random-sample9
elections, which may broadly be characteri>ed generally as a poll of a sample of the
population that is at least as secure against abuse as traditional secret-ballot elections.
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(he significance of each vote is elevated in a random-sample election, compared to a
mass election. (his allows those voters who are selected to rationally put substantial
effort into informing themselves, deliberating and voting, rising to the occasion much li!e
members of $uries. Additionally, participants in elections optionally could be paid, but in
a way that<s verifiably independent of how they vote, detailed later, such as is common
with $uries and as was practiced in ancient ?reece. Even without compensation, a
significant boost can accordingly be epected in effective 8turnout9 and etent to which
all contests=+uestions on ballots are voted. -Digh voter turnout EaF.4
6ther current impediments include unclear statement of issues or bundles of issues that
are too comple. (he obfuscation of beneficiaries of government policy through
voluminous regulation, comprised of convoluted and archaic language, is well !nown.
Random-sample elections can allow voters to peer more deeply into comple ballot
+uestions. (o the etent this new type of election is used to frame ballot +uestions, such
as through +uestion ladders mentioned above and discussed further below, it also holds
the potential to directly return us to the days when ballot language and legislation were
more comprehensible.
(hus, random-sample elections both raise the level of issues that can meaningfully be put
before voters and at hold potential to bring the statement of issues closer to what voters
can understand. -@ell informed voters EbF.4
(he combination of increased participation and meaningful deliberation $ust described
allows random-sample election results to be more fine-grained and useful than those of
mass elections in informing and steering governance. Goreover, the episodic election of
parties and representatives creates lag, discontinuities and short-term focus of public
policy; whereas continual polling facilitated by random-sample elections may foster
gradual evolution of longer-term policy while providing lower lag in response to
changing circumstances. -Effectiveness of results in shaping governance EcF.4
Advertisements and other types of media and campaigning are able to influence mass
election outcomes perhaps surprisingly well in this age of unprecedentedly widespread
and selective access to information. -)n the 7S, for instance, ependiture for related
advertising trumps the mechanics of elections by a significant factor thereby creating
decisive leverage for sponsors and lobbies.4 (his may be due to the shallow diligence of
rational voters mentioned above, but it also derives from the episodic nature of election
cycles. -Such cycles also in a related aspect focus perhaps too much of elected officials<
time and attention on campaigning instead of governing.4 )nfluencing an ongoing as
opposed to an episodic polling process through media and campaigning is far more costly
and difficult, especially when voters are motivated and able to investigate in depth, and
random-sample elections may thus reduce such influence. -Resistance to manipulation
through advertising and electioneering EdF.4
(he security features detailed below bring the integrity of a random-sample election up to
at least par with those of the best polling-place mass elections, such as so-called
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cryptographic end-to-end systems. )n some such elections that have been conducted, the
correctness of the tally is proved mathematically in a way that can be verified easily by
voters and also significantly by anyone interested enough to download or even write a
modest amount of software. -)ndisputable=trustworthy tally EeF.4
So-called 8improper influence9 of voters refers generally to vote buying and coercion of
voters. *ariants of both types of influence are !nown in practice in mass elections at
polling-places as well as in current vote-by-mail. *ote buying is essentially obviated
under random-sample elections by flooding the mar!et for sold votes with fa!e votes that
will not be counted but that are completely indistinguishable from genuine votes, as
detailed later; someone believing they may be coerced can also ta!e advantage of such
fa!e ballots in variants hiding voter identity. )nfluence of groups of voters is also !nown,
where for instance one locality is favored over others because of certain voting patterns;
however, integrity of results in random-sample elections obviates mass elections< need to
brea! results down by locality. -#rotection against voter corruption or coercion EfF.4
Abuses sometimes called 8voter fraud9 involve voting by those who are unregistered or
vote more than once. Doubt is sometimes raised as to whether such 8retail9 threats
significantly affect election outcomes; howver, there has been sufficient apparent concern
in some cases to cause restrictions on participation and even disruption of civil
governance. (he system introduced here substantially reduces such concerns, as it does
not allow voters to select themselves, but instead itself selects voters from the rolls
verifiably at random. 6f course any voting system<s resistance to voter fraud is only as
good as its roster of registered voters, a !ey re+uirement also of almost all of today<s
mass elections. -Resistance to voter fraud EgF.4
Decisiveness, the ability of an election to come to a conclusive result, is limited by what
may be called its 8precision9" how close a contest it can meaningfully ad$udicate.
#recision has both a technical and a policy dimension. 'est practices with conventional
elections include thresholds, though they are often set on unverifiable totals with poor
accuracy and thus are of +uestionable value. )n case of ties, unverifiable and often flawed
random procedures are re+uired in some cases under current law. )n theory mass elections
could properly ad$udicate etraordinarily close contests, even up to tie, yet their precision
in practice does not $ustify this and actually ma!es it undesirable since this can amplify
the efficacy of even small manipulations.
@ith random-sample elections, it would be preferable to discard and re-run with different
parameters when a result falls below a preset threshold of sample si>e or confidence
level. (he need for a decisive outcome, however, may also be reduced by the decoupling
with election cycles already mentioned. A random-sample election could also be
structured so that if the tally is too close the result is in effect verifiably-randomly
determined by reverting to randomness when the underlying precision is eceeded, a
better way to structure a vote that must be decisive by a date certain. -Decisiveness EhF.4
Cost, compared to a mass election can, as mentioned, be etremely low because the
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number of voters is far less and cost is mainly per voter. -%ow cost EiF.4
(hus, random-sample elections actually achieve essentially the above mentioned
desiderata" -a4 higher participation ratios, -b4 better informed voters rationally motivated
to delve into issues, -c4 increased effectiveness of results in shaping governance, -d4
improved resistance to manipulation through advertising=campaigning, -e4 increased
indisputability and trustworthiness of results, -f4 anonymity of voters with unsaleable
votes, -g4 voter fraud only through improper voter rolls, -h4 e+uivalent but safer
decisiveness, and all with -i4 significantly reduced direct and overall cost.
)5:6RGA% S7GGARB 6: (ECD5)CA% C65CE#(
)ndisputability of random-sample elections derives from public verifiability that"
-i4 6nly votes from the un-manipulatable random selection of voters are counted.
-ii4 (he tally correctly and un-manipulably reflects the votes cast.
-iii4 *ote buying -and optionally other 8improper influence9 of voters4 is impractical.
-iv4 *otes can remain unlin!able to voters, at least to all but the election authority.
Dow each of these four properties is achieved may be summari>ed as follows"
-i4 A pre-agreed public random process, such as stoc!-mar!et closing data, determines
which voters are to receive ballots that will be counted. (hus, voters can be selected
essentially independently and uniformly from voter rolls -such lists of registered voters
are typically available in the 7S for political purposes, such as getting out the vote4.
-ii4 Although the choice of voters is publicly verifiable as having been selected by the
results of the random process, cryptography hides the voter identities. (he ballots mailed
to the randomly-selected voters, however, will be !nown to those voters as being
etremely li!ely to be counted, as a conse+uence of published data that can be audited
online by anyone, such as used in elections with Scantegrity in (a!oma #ar!, Garyland.
-iii4 (o reduce the practicality of vote-buying, any registered voter can re+uest a 8fa!e9
ballot that will not be counted. 'ecause such re+uested fa!e ballots will only be
distinguishable by the re+uesting voter even after the election, they can be sold by
re+uestors to vote buyers. Since these fa!e ballots can be epected to be re+uested for this
purpose or entrapment, they are more li!ely to be sold than genuine countable ballots.
*oters may remain anonymous in perpetuity with an optional variant of -iv4.
-iv4 (o allow verification that the selected voters did in fact at least receive the
opportunity to vote, while limiting improper influence of voters, the identity of selected
voters -indistinguishably mied with those re+uesting fa!e ballots4 can be made public
once voting is over. Alternatively, a number of 8verifiers9 are selected at random, each
provided with the identity of a different one of the voters after the voting, and later only
the identities of these verifiers, not the voters, are made public. Each verifier is instructed
to contact that verifier<s voter to chec! whether the voter has in fact cast a ballot,and to
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raise an alarm if the ballot was not at least received by that voter. (his allows verifiers to
be chec!ed on by the public while essentially !eeping the identity of voters from
becoming public.
Compensation of voters or verifiers was mentioned above as an option. *erifiers, as well
as optionally voters who answer verifier +ueries, may collect rewards conditioned on
meeting certain public criteria that obviously must avoid biasing the outcome. Such
criteria could, for instance, include consistency of various responses or etra effort by the
voter. (o allow each verifier to chec! and then provide evidence of the successful
verification, verifiers can be issued parts of a numeric confirmation code that is !nown
fully to the voter. Additionally, if ballots are mailed 8signature re+uired,9 then the
authority has some recourse against a voter falsely crying foul.
(he participants in a random-sample election may be divided into five categories" a
single election authority, three very li!ely dis$oint sets of members of the public, and an
open-ended collection of auditors. (he five categories -and their roles4 are"
the election authority -commit to encrypted data initially, receive re+uests for fa!e
ballots, monitor public random events, mail ballots, decrypt part of the data4;
randomly-selected voters whose votes will be counted -receive a ballot in the mail,
send vote codes in, optionally chec! codes online and=or respond to in+uiry4;
self-selected re+uesting voters whose votes will not be counted -apply online, receive
a fa!e ballot, and try to sell the ballot4;
optionally, randomly selected verifiers who do not vote but rather chec! that a
corresponding voter did in fact participate -contact the voter whose information they
are provided, chec! part of code obtained from voter, return full code online4; and
members of the public who audit the election process -run open-source or self-written
software that uses published !eys to decrypt published data and chec! that it is in
accordance with protocol, published random values, and outcome4.
6ne way to determine how many votes are needed to establish a ma$ority is familiar from
coin tossing. :ew would dispute that the odds are overwhelming that 10 tosses of a fair
coin would include at least one tail, since the chance of all heads is less than one in a
million. (he same odds hold, for eample, for" 11 flips having at least two tails, 13 flips
three tails, and .00 flips 12 tails. -)n the language of statistics, the relative fre+uency in
the sample space of .00 independent fair coin flips of the event defined by less than 12
tails, calculated using the binomial cumulative distribution with success probability one
half, is less than one over one million and even less for a tails-biased coin.4 Suppose
organi>ers of an election believe that about three +uarters of voters are in favor. )f their
belief were reasonable, when they collect .00 randomly-sampled votes it is li!ely that
less than 12 voted against,and such an outcome would itself establish, independent of
their belief, and with overwhelming odds, that at least a simple ma$ority are in favor.
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)f the believed support is less than I3J, then larger samples are re+uired. :or instance,
since .K. out of /00 gives the same overwhelming odds, 1=/ support would li!ely return
a suitable number of affirmations in /00 or so votes. :or H0J support, .000 voters would
mean 3IH affirmations establish a one-in-a-million chance of error. Auestions that are
believed too close may be recast to provide more economical margins. %ess compelling
odds may also be acceptable or can even result in overwhelming confidence when votes
earlier in a series, such as with a ladder or ongoing polling, are all corroborated by
subse+uent votes. ?enerali>ation to super-ma$orities, multi-way contests, and even
correcting for the distribution of voters using different rosters, are all possible.
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Random-Sample Elections may be appreciated in the contet of historical and current
practice related to the mechanics of democracy.
Guch of what is regarded as @estern culture and civili>ation, including philosophy,
constitutional law, science, mathematics, medicine, sculpture, theater, music, literature,
sports, and arguably even the phonetic alphabet, can be traced to the .I0 years of
democracy during the 8classical period9 of Ancient ?reece. All governance, not only
ad$udication of criminal and civil disputes, was decided by large, randomly-selected
$uries without $udges and using only yes or no votes. -Such $uries could, for instance, be
invo!ed by any citi>en to decide constitutionality of legislation and criminal penalties for
legislators even proposing unconstitutional bills.4 A then appreciated attribute of their
practice of random selection to fill most government posts, called 8sortition,9 was its
resistance to lobbying and corruption,something lost in what we now call 8democracy,9
which is in fact the +uite different system of 8representative democracy.9

&uror selection in common law countries, albeit unverifiable and heavily post-culled, is
all that remains of Ancient ?ree! democratic mechanics. Random selection of citi>ens,
however, is widely used" conscription for military service, for instance of over fifteen
thousand 7S conscripts who lost their lives in *ietnam; random selection of ta audit
sub$ects; selection of citi>ens in policing generally, for instance at airport chec!points;
and random selection of poll wor!ers such as in 'ra>il. Safety testing and regulation by
government in medical, food, transportation, and other sectors is often based on random
selection or sampling, as is research underlying much scientific advance. :urthermore,
indirect random selection is re+uired by law in various $urisdictions around the world in
ways that can directly affect election outcome, such as random listing order of candidates,
random selection in transferable vote counting, and random choice in case of apparent tie.
Random selection is also used heavily by political parties, candidates for office, and
interest groups,in electioneering,far less so, however, beyond trying to influence
election outcomes. Respondents in so-called 8public opinion polling9 are in principle
selected at random and as!ed to +uic!ly answer a series of +uestions related to candidates
and issues of the day. As currently practiced, however, such surveys are neither
transparent, deliberative, trusted, nor believed worthy of public trust.
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#ublic opinion polls are traditionally conducted by ban!s of +uestioners calling more or
less random phone numbers using a script aimed at identifying a random voter among
those present in the household. Gobile phones have rendered this even more difficult and
online pools of persons and even persons selected in shopping malls are also used as
respondents. Demographic data obtained from respondents, often of dubious +uality, is
often used presumably in an attempt to correct for the bias in the sampling method, but
based on unpublished models that may themselves bias outcome. (urnouts are very low.
Respondents have little if any time to eplore the meaning or conse+uences of +uestions,
let alone thin! about, research or deliberate on, issues in such 8opinion9 surveys. -(he
related field called 8deliberative democracy9 is premised on the utility of group settings
and has even been used in binding public-sector elections, but suffers from high cost and
is sub$ect to well-studied techni+ues developed for manipulating $uries.4
Surveys have other well-!nown problems as well. Dow +uestions are worded and
se+uenced is a notorious form of bias. Auestioners also bias the results, whether they
intend to or not, by how they communicate. (he published results of multiple such polls
often deviate significantly on the same +uestion, depending on the orientation of the
entity conducting or sponsoring the survey, contributing to erosion of public confidence
in such polls generally. 6pinion polling predicting election results, a significant revenue
source for polling organi>ations andis at best as flawed as the underlying elections. )t has
a self-fulfilling effect, and conse+uently some countries ban publication of its results
close to elections. )t has even been suggested that Asimov<s .K33 short story 8:ranchise,9
about an artificial intelligence that votes for a whole society based on a few +uir!y
+uestions as!ed of an apparently randomly-selected citi>en, is a !ind of half-hearted
straw-man argument by scenario against public opinion surveys.
(he techni+ues presented here could be ta!en to be merely an incremental improvement
on public opinion polling, but are better understood instead as potentially providing so
large a +ualitative improvement, even surpassing the +uality of mass elections
themselves, that they offer really new options for democracy.
Some countries, such as Swit>erland, routinely have binding referenda on +uestions at a
national level; many countries have them only rarely; and most countries, including the
7nited States, have no provision for national referenda. (he techni+ues introduced here
go a long way toward mooting traditional first order reservations about referenda" the
lac! of deliberation, inability of the public to deal with comple issues, and ease with
which the public can be manipulated temporarily by media campaigns. )ronically, these
same concerns, obviated by random-sample elections, are present in representative
democracies, where policies often seem driven by short-term waves of public opinion.
)t is !nown that those who control what candidates or +uestions are put to vote, how
contests are grouped and ordered, and when polls are held, can significantly influence
outcomes, even with more direct systems li!e referenda. Dramatically lower cost might
allow referenda to be conducted without the need to aggregate or se+uence contests, fit a
.0
sparse schedule, or even let government control the +uestions put to the electorate. (hus,
these second-order concerns may also be obivated.
A related perhaps tertiary problem is what are called election -or more generally
aggregation4 paradoes, ways to combine policy choices so that preference for various
combinations seem surprisingly at odds with at least some intuition about the original
individual policy choices. Arrow<s impossibility result from social choice theory is a well
!nown eample, but the more indirect the bigger the problem. Such issues are avoided
when independent or 8separable9 yes=no policy decisions are voted independently in
parallel, and non-separable issues are voted se+uentially. 7sing random sample elections,
these separate contests can readily be conducted in practice and at low cost.
AD6#()65 SCE5AR)6S
Eample early adoption scenarios for random-sample elections flowing from the above
discussion include interest-group initiated surveys of the public on a particular issue.
Such an election offers its sponsors a way to ma!e a statement about the will of the
electorate that is irrefutable,far more compellingly than petitions and perhaps more
effective and less damaging than protests. )t could also legitimi>e a spo!esperson or
organi>ation, such as to serve as a representative in a consultative process.
Another eample use is public opinion surveys related to mass elections. :or one thing,
this would be more resistant to manipulation and thus potentially of more interest and less
li!ely to be banned. :or another, many mass elections around the world are disputed.
Rationale ranges from technical fraud to registration and polling place discrimination and
is often a miture that includes these. A parallel random-sample election with improved
turnout might neither validate nor invalidate a mass election, but it could perhaps more
importantly provide indisputable information on the will of the electorate.
An eample use that is generative of ideas or suggestions and competitively filters them,
is a ladder of contests to establish issues to be sub$ected to a general vote. Such a ladder
simultaneously and transparently arrives at specific language for +uestions that emerge.
(he initial rung of candidate +uestions could be submitted,with a low barrier, such as
8CA#(CDAS,9 a minimum of supporters, or a small fee,by anyone. (he sample si>e could
be small at the lower rungs and increase as successful wordings move up the ladder. 6ne
variation allows each person to pay only a limited amount towards a +uestion, such that
when a +uestion receives sufficient funding it is put to vote; another variation uses
delegated or li+uid proy voting to fill lower rungs. #roviding such avenues for self-
selected supporters to push +uestions to vote advantageously allows motivated or epert
groups a way to develop +uestions without allowing such groups to control outcomes.
(he scale of elections need not be huge, however. 7se with smaller populations, such as
large volunteer organi>ations, universities, or corporations, may allow a wide range of
less contentious issues to be efficiently decided by what are in effect small, randomly-
constituted committees, where near unanimity can !eep sample si>e +uite small.
..
6ne eample !ind of transitional scenario towards full use in governance lets candidates
for political office or political parties commit in advance or later simply opt to use a
random-sample election. (hey could use it to determine one or more aspects of how they
eert their elected power, such as by voting a certain way in a legislative body or
implementing a policy. :or instance, guaranteeing a veto option for any vote for war.
%imited initial use by governments is another type of transitional scenario. @hen, for
eample, a particular issue must under law be sub$ect to vote, and a mass election is too
costly compared to the significance of the issue or the delay in conducting a mass
election is problematic, a random-sample election may be used instead. Another eample
limited use is an initial culling of candidates, allowing more focused debate and voter
focus on a smaller set of candidates chosen without bias. A conventional initiative or
referenda usually re+uires submission of a certain number of signatures, presumably to
enhance the chance that the measure is worthy of public attention and winnable. Allowing
a random-sample election as a trigger -to say nothing of its ultimate superiority in
conducting the final vote4 would do a better $ob and at lower cost.
Bet another !ind of transitional scenario involves groups not well aligned with the largely
geographical hierarchy of governments today. Some regional groups, for instance, are
split between governmental $urisdictions; their elections could be allowed to define their
own boundaries. A related use is appointing eternal representatives of such groups.
(here has never been a global referendum. Ga$or issues are increasingly global, but
democracy does not currently eist between or above nation states. Goreover,
democracies, whose sovereignty derives from that of their citi>ens, may be hard pressed
to $ustify opposition to the studied and proven will of a ma$ority of the citi>ens of each
ma$or country, at least with respect to global issues. @hile there are a variety of ma$or
issues that would no doubt engender substantial global interest and support, one class of
issue specially relevant here includes information policy and rights. *oters being able to
obtain information without ris! and arrangements that promote transparency and +uality
of information available, illustrated above, are particularly relevant to election efficacy.
(he cost of even a global election might be as low as ten million dollars for a sample si>e
of a thousand or so, since the lion<s share of voters would be in countries with ade+uate
infrastructure. )n countries without such infrastructure, voters can still be identified as the
person living in a dwelling selected randomly from those in a randomly selected region.
-Rules for automatically selecting regions of similar population from satellite imagery
and for ordering dwellings within regions would ideally be fied in advance.4 (hen an
election wor!er, perhaps with a translator, would go and collect the vote. Eample topics
include )nternet privacy and access, which are additional eamples of issues relevant to
elections themselves, as well as economic, environmental, human rights, taation, drug,
food policy and geographic sovereignty issues.
@hat if someday a government wished to, perhaps because of epression of the will of
.1
the electorate after positive eperience with non-governmental elections, change the legal
framewor! so that they could start really using random-sample elections. @hat !inds of
elections might be consideredM Simply deciding the same +uestions typical of mass
elections would probably ran! rather low, as there would be little advantage and less
voter involvement. Ga$or policy decisions are an obvious choice for referenda.
Swit>erland<s what is sometimes called 8half-direct9 democracy lets voters approve laws
and this could also ta!e advantage of the increased number of elections possible with
random-sample elections. Another eample is appointment of the !ey persons actually
running governments, such as cabinet member heads of ma$or departments, !ey
legislative committee leadership roles, and even supreme court $udges. (he increased
number of elections could allow such more fine-grained democracy.
D)SC7SS)65
Conventional secret-ballot mass elections are a paper-based technology that is .30 years
old -concurrent in the 7.S. with etension of the franchise to male citi>ens, roughly,
though women<s suffrage too! another 30 years4. (oday<s sophisticated information
technology, however, is used to manipulate political processes by those with more direct
access -for eample in redistricting, ferreting out and influencing public opinion using
random sampling, and interest group monitoring of legislator votes4. Geanwhile, voters
have so far been left with a technology for voting,or a high-tech simulation of it, which
ma!es the point that it is actually a paradigm for voting,that was developed and
promulgated well after the 7S constitution but before the first telephone call.
Random-sample elections can thus be interpreted more broadly as providing a way
forward, from our current paradigm-induced disparity in access to the power of
information technology, towards allowing effective voter steering of governance.
(here may be some who wish for a return to Athenian random selection of
representatives, ignoring the compleity of today<s policy issues. Similarly, in future
there may be some who long to vote in mass elections, perhaps romantici>ing about the
act of casting a secret ballot in person among one<s neighbors or at least the chance to
submit a vote no matter how futile. 'ut there will li!ely be few who would oppose the
deeper and wider and more continuous monitoring of the will of the electorate provided
by random-sample elections,once efficacy is established,at least informing if not
being binding on government. (he Ancient ?ree!s< conflation of random selection of
officials with democracy may in future be considered as naive as today<s conflation of
mass elections with democracy.
C65C%7S)65
Random-sample elections offer practical low-cost yet unprecedented +uality for groups,
officials and even governments in assessing the will of electorates, with each election
potentially a step towards finer-grained and more effective democracy at scale.
./
APPENDIX
DE(A)%ED E%EC()65 #R6CESS
A random-sample election can be conducted as shown in the diagram on the last page. A
specific eample of the more general concept, using Scantegrity ) in an Eperio format, is
illustrated to convey the underlying ideas concretely and in a way that is also suitable for
practical implementation.
Each voter receives by mail a paper form li!e that on the left side of the diagram. (he
voter first chooses freely one of the two ballots printed on the double-ballot form
received, in the eample either serial number N.00a or N.00b. (he voter then enters this
serial number online. (o cast his or her vote, the voter net enters online the uni+ue 8vote
code9 printed on the form ad$acent the desired 8BES9 or 8569 vote. At this point, for the
ballot serial number not voted, both vote codes and their corresponding votes are
displayed, so voters can chec! that what<s displayed matches what<s printed. -(he red
ovals highlight the eample choices made by a voter, with 8A9 being the choice of the
upper ballot on the double-ballot form and 8'9 the 8569 vote and its vote code.4
(he election authority posts data online in a format allowing audit of election integrity
while protecting ballot secrecy and not revealing which ballots are fa!e. (his posted data
consists of multiple copies of a table of data, which includes ballot and vote information.
'efore posting, the election authority separately transforms each identical copy of the
original table with three transformations, based on secrets it has randomly chosen. (he
first transformation is 8row-shuffling,9 resulting in an unpredictable re-arrangement of
the rows. (he two rows corresponding to the same ballot, for instance, find themselves
each shuffled into different positions in each of the different tables. (he second
transformation randomi>es pairs of numbers in ad$acent columns, called 8summands,9
but in a way that !eeps their sum unchanged. (he third transformation encrypts each
column instance as a whole using a secret !ey uni+ue to that table and column.
)n the eample illustrated, 130 transformed copies of the original table are posted, each
made up of 2 columns, with two rows for each ballot. (his data could be handled by a
simple spreadsheet that supports encrypted columns, but needs an encryption algorithm
with uni+ue decryptions so that the data is unalterably committed. (he eample sends
double-ballots to .,000 voters, divided between fa!e and real. (he double-ballot form
results in 1,000 ballot serial numbers and accordingly C,000 rows per table. -(he red
ovals follow the eample vote along its row in table number one, the top table shown" the
ballot serial number and vote code in oval 8C9; and in 8D9 a 8569 vote mar!ed
8*6(ED.94 (he .,000 ballots in the eample are distributed among the .0,000 potential
.C
voters, whose addresses are posted as what is here called the 8voter9 roll or roster,
sometimes elsewhere called a registration or electoral roll or roster.
Ga!ing sure all the encrypted columns are published before the final random draw, and
which columns to decrypt then being controlled by that random draw, ensures that the
election authority cannot post anything but correct tables without being detected in audit.
6ne reason is that the type of encryption loc!s in the data mathematically admitting
decryption in only a single way. (he other reason is that the draw determines
unpredictably which one of the five batches each table ends up in, and each batch means
decryption of a different selection of columns. An election authority posting table content
that deviates enough to li!ely alter the outcome or manipulate the choice of voters would
be detected with overwhelming odds. (his is effective because there are etremely few of
vast number of ways the tables can be divided which would allow any particular
deviation to go undetected.
Decrypting more columns in a batch than in the combinations used would compromise
privacy, but not decrypting these combination would leave the tally less convincing. :or
eample, the vote column is never decrypted together with columns of the same table
revealing vote codes and serial numbers of voted ballots, which would allow voters to
show how they voted. Enough columns are, however, decrypted to ensure that what
voters see on the bulletin-board can be cross-chec!ed ade+uately to ensure that the tally is
correct. As another eample, of the pairs of columns that allow the election authority to
insert fa!e ballots, at most one column of each pair is decrypted. )f both columns of a pair
and the serial number column were decrypted for the same table, summing the two along
with the third summand found in the published list under the serial number would reveal
the voter in the roster that received the fa!e ballot. -(he second summand pair 8E9 is
0000 and 3333, with the same sum as the other pairs for this double-ballot, 3333. (he
entry in the list of third summands, corresponding to serial N.00a, 8:,9 is 1111. Summing
all three summands, 0000O3333O1111PIIII, yields the position number 8?9 in the
8voter roster9 address list to which the ballot should be mailed.4
(he final step of the election is similar to what in mass elections is sometimes called
certification. )t reveals all voters to whom ballots were to be mailed, but of course
nothing about how they voted or whether ballots were fa!e. (his is done by decrypting,
for a batch of tables, the serial number column and a pair of summand columns. (he
alternative to such certification mentioned earlier, where verifiers provide anonymity of
voters, is omitted here for simplicity but can be added using an elaboration of the same
techni+ues. (hat option can also be included in more distributed variants where the
election authority is replaced by a multiparty computation that protects privacy from all
but collusion or compromise of a ma$ority of parties.
(he eample election is in nine se+uential steps, indicated by the numbers in blue discs
and matching numbers in parenthesis below, as follows"
.3
-.4 :our encrypted columns -shown yellow4 are posted by the election authority in this
first step. (he election authority chooses the row shuffling for each of the 130 tables,
ideally independently and uniformly at random. (he two pre-draw summand columns, 3
and H, are filled randomly but with the same sum for all instances of the same ballot. (his
can, for eample, be done by choosing any three of the four summands randomly and
then ad$usting the fourth so both match, but redoing to avoid a sum already used by
another ballot. (he authority then posts, for each table, the four separately encrypted
columns, ., /, 3, and H. (he roster of voters is also loc!ed at this time.
-14 #ublic random values are drawn after step -.4 is completed, in this initial draw, so that
they were unpredictable during step -.4. (he list consists of third summands -shown
purple4 each labeled by its respective ballot serial number. (he audit of step -24 ensures
that the election authority could not have manipulated the selection of voters receiving
real ballots, because when the first two summands for real ballots are posted, the list of
third summands is unpredictable. (his list may simply be defined as successive four-digit
outputs of the initial draw, s!ipping any repetitions. (hese draws can be conducted once
step -.4 is completed, even before the +uestions are !nown, and can be shared across
multiple elections.
-/4 (wo additional encrypted columns -shown green4 are posted by the election authority,
who also then prints and mails the double-ballot forms to voters. (he authority first
copies the pre-draw summands, which are for real ballots, from columns 3 and H into
columns I and 2, respectively. )nstead of copying the 8:AQE 'A%%6(9 indication, the
authority ma!es up and inserts the corresponding post-draw summands. A post-draw
summand for a fa!e ballot in, say, column I, is first chosen by the authority at random.
(he summand for the corresponding column 2 is then computed by the authority so that,
along with the summand labeled by the ballot serial-number in the list of third summands
now !nown from step -14, the sum of all three summands is the position of a desired fa!e
voter in the voter roster. (hese positions in the roster, along with the similarly computed
positions for the real ballots, yield the addresses for mailing the respective ballots.
-C4 *oters cast votes by posting, on the electronic bulletin-board, the ballot serial-
numbers they wish to vote along with corresponding vote codes. (he cast vote itself,
however, is neither sent in online nor included on the bulletin-board. (his prevents voters
from using prior-!nowledge of vote codes to prove how they voted to vote buyers. -7se
of the choice of which form half to convince a vote buyer, though limited by its fifty-fifty
chance of cheating, can also be thwarted by a draw verifiably posted after the ballots are
mailed.4 Each voter is re+uested to also chec! that the un-voted ballot on the double-
ballot form is correctly posted on the bulletin-board, vote codes matching votes. (he
bulletin-board publicly posts and verifiably retains unmodified all this bulletin-board data
for use in the audit of step -I4.
.H
-34 (he last two encrypted columns -shown blue4 are posted by the election authority
once the polls close. Column 1 shows serial numbers and vote codes for all un-voted
ballots, allowing cross-chec!ing with the audit of step -I4. Column C mar!s the rows
whose vote codes were voted, so that after the decryptions in step -24, the real votes can
be tallied.
-H4 (he final public random draw is performed after the outputs of step -34 are posted.
(his draw is used to unpredictably divide the 130 tables into five batches" 30 tables for
each half of the first two audits, with the remaining 30 for step -K4. (he rule defining this
division places the first 30 table numbers that appear in the specified draw into the first
batch, the second into the second, and so on. (his draw is ideally completed +uic!ly, so
that audit can begin shortly after polls close, but need yield only a relatively small
amount of random output that can again be shared across multiple concurrent elections.
-I4 (he first audit verifies printing of the un-voted ballots. Columns ., 1, and C are
publicly decrypted for the first batch of 30 tables and columns 1 and / for the second 30.
Cross chec!ing with the bulletin-board ensures consistency of which serial numbers were
voted. )t also allows chec!ing the printed pairing of vote codes to votes that voters saw
on the bulletin board to be cross-chec!ed with columns posted before the ballots were
mailed, and is ideally completed shortly after the close of polls.
-24 (he second audit establishes the tally and ensures that all real voters were chosen
randomly. Columns /, C, 3 and I are publicly decrypted for the third batch of 30 tables
and /, C, H and 2 for the fourth batch. Rows mar!ed 8*6(ED9 in column C, but not
mar!ed 8:AQE *6(E9 in column 3 or H, are valid votes and their summation is the tally.
(he last two decrypted columns, in either case, 3, I or H, 2, should be identical, unless a
8:AQE *6(E9 appears in the pre-draw column of the pair. (his verifies that at least those
rows with votes in the tally were in fact committed to before the initial draw and
conse+uently that the choice of real voters determined by the tables is as un-manipulable
as the commits and initial draw. (his audit can be delayed until the result is to be revealed
and could even be repeated with additional tables for etra certainty later.
-K4 (he positions in the voter roster containing addresses to which ballots were sent are
revealed by the election authority in this final certification audit step, but without
revealing whether the ballots were real or fa!e or how they were voted. (he remaining
batch of 30 tables is publicly decrypted in columns ., I and 2. 'y using a serial number
entry in the first column to loo! up a third summand in the published list and summing
that with the summands in the other columns, anyone can locate the addresses in the voter
roster to which ballots should have been sent. (hey can then verify, such as by alerting
voters, chec!ing registered mail or online receipt records, or even by directly as!ing
voters, that these voters did in fact receive ballots reflected on the bulletin-board.
.I
NO
YES
NO
YES
2222
3333
0000
1111
6666
5555
2222
3333
0000
1111
3333
2222
5555
4444
3333
4444
3333
2222
5555
4444
YES
NO
VOTED
VOTED
not
voted
not
checked
not
checked
not
checked
not
checked
not
voted
not
voted
not
voted
#100a
9343
#100a
1134
#200b
2385
#200b
5446
#100b
7653
#100b
8584
#100b
7653
#100b
8584
fake
vote
fake
vote
fake
vote
fake
vote
reveal
all
voters
audit voter
selection
& tally
audit
casting &
printing
2
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a batch, by draw out of all 250
copies, and their underlined
columns are publicly decrypted

batch 1

batch 2

batch 3

batch 4

underlined columns of the 50 remaining tables


are publicly decrypted and anyone can then sum
the green rows and corresponding purple rows to fnd
voter indices in the voter roll and check with voters
(example: table 12
selected at random
to be in batch 2, so
key[2,12] & key[3,12]
are posted/revealed)
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batch 5
c[1,1] c[2,1] c[3,1] c[4,1] c[5,1] c[6,1] c[7,1] c[8,1]
c[1,250]
c[8,250] serial #s &
vote codes
print
check
pre-draw
summands
fnal
summands
possible
votes
marked
as voted
list of third summands
from initial draw to be
added to each respective
sum of frst and second
summands (unencrypted)
voter roster (with positions
from 0000 through 9999)
#100: 2222
#999: 3460
7777: Cleo Polis,
222 W.23d St., NY, NY
double-ballot form mailed
to the voter address at
position 7777 in voter roll
9343
1134
YES/NO BALLOTS
Instructions: Choose
one of upper or lower
ballot to vote online
by entering vote code.
Serial #100a
vote code: vote:
YES
NO
7653
8584
Serial #100b
vote code: vote:
YES
NO
Please check online
that ballot not voted
was correctly printed.
fnal
draw
columns
posted
columns
posted
columns posted
& ballots mailed
voters cast ballots on
electronic bulletin board
reveal all
voters
audit voter
selection & tally
audit casting
& printing
initial
draw
voted: #100a, 9343
checked: 7653 NO, 8584 YES
C
A
D E
F
B
G