Race for 15th: Sergey Piterman proposes ‘liquid democracy’ to better connect voters with state lawmakers

Oakland software engineer Sergey Piterman is on a long list of candidates for State Assembly in the 15th District. Photo: Guy Marzorati/KQED

This story is part of a weekly series of profiles of candidates running for the 15th Assembly District. You can see all the profiles and news about this race here.

All of the 11 candidate left running for State Assembly in the East Bay are hoping to get to Sacramento and change state policy in the legislature.

One candidate in the race wants to change the entire way votes are cast in the Capitol.

Sergey Piterman, a software engineer in Oakland, contends that lawmakers can easily lose touch with their district’s needs in the time between elections, which occur every two years for the State Assembly.


“There’s no real accountability for their actions,” he said. (Listen to the audio version of this story below.)

Piterman didn’t give a specific example of a local vote where a state lawmaker betrayed the interests of his or her district, but said “people should have more of a say on individual bills, but that’s logistically really difficult.”

To solve the problem, Piterman turned to code; he helped develop an online platform that pilots the idea of liquid democracy.

Here’s how it works: lawmakers would have to commit to following the will of voters through the platform. Then, voters would weigh in on each vote scheduled in the legislature. Voters could also choose to pass their vote to another citizen (theoretically a neighbor, family member or friend with more interest or expertise in certain policy) who would then cast two votes.

“It’s creating greater accountability for the politicians so they now have a reference,” Piterman said. “[They] can see, what does their community actually want?”

A major goal of Piterman’s long-shot candidacy in this crowded Assembly race is to promote the idea of liquid democracy, and the platform, United.Vote. He’s promised to use the platform if elected to keep a pulse on how voters in the district want him to vote.

Piterman admits the platform is still a work in progress, with only 1,500 users, a fraction of the nearly 300,000 voters in the 15th Assembly District alone. He also worries about making sure the system is inclusive of residents who lack access to technology.

“The goal is if we got to a certain critical mass, we could start just listening to the people and voting exactly how they want us to,” Piterman said.

Liquid democracy comes with a problem familiar to California’s initiative system: it takes out the ugly, but often productive horse-trading that takes place in the Capitol.

If an official is bound to vote a certain way, they may not be able to negotiate a compromise that spans multiple bills.

Warts aside, Piterman said it’s important for candidates in this closely-watched race to think beyond winning the election, and actively working to improve our democratic system.

“It’s really easy to be cynical, but it’s a lot harder to be hopeful and actually try to build something,” he added.

KQED pointed the microphone at Sergey Piterman. Listen: