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Quadratic and Conviction Voting: new ways to make decisions

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

Traditional voting systems have been instrumental in shaping our societies, but as we progress and confront new challenges, it's important to consider alternative methods that can better represent the people's choices. The Wellbeing Protocol recognises the emergence of new and improved governance systems that are emerging in the web 3 / Blockchain / DAO worlds. We have built on the research from numerous people including Glen Weyl and Jeff Emett at Common Stack to explore how these innovative voting mechanisms can be made accessible / usable to anybody in place based communities.

The following highlights some of the key innovations we have incorporated into our initial participatory grant-making tool.

Continuous Voting

The vast majority of the voting systems that we use are based on being able to make a choice between one or more options within a predefined time period. But does this reflect the reality of community decision making? We wanted to create a system that could allow community members to continuously compare and vote on available options as they emerge in real time and with no time limit. The app allows voters come up with ideas, vote and change their vote at any time on any number of ideas and proposals. New ideas and proposals are constantly being created and others are being funded or being archived.

Quadratic voting (expressing your passion)

Figure 1 - Ideas tab

Quadratic voting is a system that gives all voters an equal predefined number of “voting credits”, in our case everybody starts out with 100 credits (indicated in the circle in the top right of the app, see figure 1) that are used to “buy” votes, so everybody has a limited number of votes. At any time there are an ever changing number of ideas or proposals that anybody can give up to 3 votes on. But here’s the interesting (quadratic) part. To give 1 vote to an idea/proposal (i.e. I quite like it) costs me 10 credits, to give 2 votes (I really like it) costs me 40 credits and 3 votes (I LOVE it) costs me 90 credits. i.e. the cost of votes goes up quadratically / exponentially. So for example I can only “Love” 1 idea/proposal at a time or really like up to 2 or like up to 10.

Note that when an idea/proposal disappears off the list (e.g. get’s funded or archived) then people who voted for it get their voting credit back.

So why is QV important? It allows voters to better convey the intensity of their preference for a particular idea/proposal, leading to a more accurate representation of community sentiment. A voter can show that they deeply care about an option as opposed to just caring about it a little (and we stop people from saying that they deeply care about everything by making it exponentially more expensive to deeply care).

Conviction voting (adding the time dimension)

Figure 2 - Proposals tab

In addition to all the benefits of quadratic voting we also added an additional dimension: time. So remember that in a continuous voting system anybody can change voting preference (i.e. add or remove votes from a proposal) at any time. Conviction voting works on the principle that the longer a person leaves their vote on a specific proposal the stronger their conviction. In practice this means, when a voter votes on a specific proposal it takes time for their vote to reach its full potential (conviction). For the mathematically minded - it follows a logarithmic function with a half life (say 3 or 6 days) specific to each community.

So for example let’s say the community half life is 3 days. If a voter loves a proposal and uses up almost all their voting credit (90) to give it the maximum 3 votes on Monday. The actual votes that the proposal gets from that person will gradually rise from 0 to 1.5 on the third day (Wednesday), by day 6 (Sunday) it will be 2.25 etc until it eventually gets to 3. And if they take their vote off it follows a similar formula to gradually move down from where it was to their new preference.

The basic principle is that the system gives community members with consistent preferences more influence than short term participants merely trying to influence a vote. It also helps to reduce last minute voter swing and voter coercion issues found in real time voting systems.

This combination of quadratic and conviction voting reduces tyranny of the majority (a fundamental problem of most voting systems where a majority group places its own interests above the interests of a minority group). It allows the long-term passionate minority to compete with the short term majority. You can imagine if I am part of a minority group within a community, if I can persuade a small number of people to put all their three votes on a proposal and hold them there, then I’ve got a greater chance of getting something across the line than a traditional 1 person 1 vote voting system.

Variable thresholds

At any time there should be between 3-8 proposals that the community can continuously express and change their relative preference for (i.e. by allocating up to 3 votes towards). So the number of total votes (the blue bar in Figure 2) is always changing. Each proposal has a threshold (the vertical black line): this is the number of votes that it needs to pass. This threshold is dynamic, automatically calculated by the system based on three parameters:

  1. The number of available voters. As new members join or leave the community, the number of available votes changes and the thresholds automatically adjust.

  2. The cost of the proposal. Higher cost proposals need more votes to pass. For example in figure 2 the lower cost proposal of $200 has a lower threshold than a more expensive proposal of $3000.

  3. The amount of money left in the fund. As the fund amount reduces (in response to other proposals passing) the threshold for remaining proposals increases. This is set so that it eventually becomes impossible to pass a proposal if there isn’t enough money in the fund. Conversely as more money gets put into the fund the thresholds all decrease, making it easier to pass proposals.

So the thresholds are constantly changing in response to people voting, new proposals coming and going and the changing community. Once the number of votes meets the threshold the proposal is automatically funded and drops off the list (with voting credits returned to voters)

The governance, coordination and user interface innovations we have implemented in our participatory grantmaking app (being used in the Tāne Ora trial) is now available for other communities to use and has become a key milestone towards The Wellbeing Protocols vision. If you would like a demo please drop us a line.


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