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Polkadot uses a sophisticated governance mechanism that allows it to evolve gracefully over time at the ultimate behest of its assembled stakeholders.

To do this, we bring together various novel mechanisms, including an amorphous state-transition function stored on-chain and defined in a platform-neutral intermediate language (i.e. WebAssembly) and several on-chain voting mechanisms such as referenda with adaptive super-majority thresholds and batch approval voting.

All changes to the protocol must be agreed upon by stake-weighted referenda; the majority of the stake can always command the network.


In order to make any changes to the network, the idea is to compose active token holders and council together to administrate the network upgrade decision. No matter whether the proposal is proposed by the public (DOT holders) or council, it finally will have to go through the referenda to let all DOT holders make the decision.

The following steps are the governance procedure in the Polkadot network:

To better understand how the council is formed, please read this section.

Proposing Referenda

  • Public: Anyone can propose a referenda by depositing the minimum amount of DOTs for a certain period (No. of Blocks). If someone likes the proposal, they may deposit the same amount of tokens to support it. The proposal with the highest number of support bond will be selected to be a referendum. The bonded tokens will be released once the proposal is tabled. At genesis, every two weeks there will be a referendum for the most supported proposal.

  • Council:

    Unanimous Council - When all members of the council agrees on a proposal, it can be moved to a referendum.

    Majority Council - When agreement from only the simple majority of council members is needed. (More Aye votes to Nay votes for acceptance, more Nay votes to Aye votes for rejection.)

Voting for a proposal

To vote, a voter must lock their tokens up for at least the enactment delay period beyond the end of the referendum. This is in order to ensure that some minimal economic buy-in to the result is needed and to dissuade vote selling. At the same time, holding only a small amount of DOT tokens does not mean that they cannot influence the referendum result, you can read more about the Voluntary Locking.


Peter: Votes `No` with 10 DOTs for a 12 week lock period  => 10 * 6 = 60 Votes

Logan: Votes `Yes` with 20 DOTs for a 2 week lock period => 20 * 1 = 20 Votes

Kevin: Votes `Yes` with 15 DOTs for a 4 week lock period => 15 * 2 = 30 Votes

According to the above scenario, even though combining both Logan and Kevin's DOTs is more than Peter, the lock period for both of them is far less than Peter, leading to their voting power counting as less.


Depending on which entity proposed the proposal and whether all council members voted yes, there are three different scenarios. We can use following table for reference.

Entity Metric
Public Positive Turnout Bias (Super-Majority Approve)
Council (Complete agreement) Negative Turnout Bias (Super-Majority Against)
Council (Majority agreement) Simple Majority

Also, we need the following information and apply one of the formulas listed below to calculate the voting result. For example, let's use the public proposal as an example, so Super-Majority Approve formula will be applied. There is no strict quorum, but super-majority required increases as turnout lowers.

approve - the number of aye votes

against - the number of nay votes

voters - the total number of voting tokens

electorate - the total number of DOTs tokens issued in the network

Super-Majority Approve

A positive turnout bias, whereby a heavy super-majority of aye votes is required to carry at low turnouts, but as turnout increases towards 100%, it becomes a simple-majority-carriers as below. $${against \over \sqrt{voters}} < {approve \over \sqrt{electorate}}$$

Super-Majority Against

A negative turnout bias, whereby a heavy super-majority of nay votes is required to reject at low turnouts, but as turnout increases towards 100%, it becomes a simple-majority-carriers as below. $${against \over \sqrt{electorate}} < {approve \over \sqrt{voters}}$$


Majority-carries, a simple comparison of votes, if there are more aye votes than nay, then the proposal is carried. $${approve} > {against}$$

To know more about where these above formulas come from, please read the democracy module.


Assume we only have 1,500 DOTs tokens in total.

John  - 500 DOTs
Peter - 100 DOTs
Lilly - 150 DOTs
JJ    - 150 DOTs
Ken   - 600 DOTs

John: Votes `Yes`for a 2 week lock period  => 500 * 1 = 500 Votes

Peter: Votes `Yes` for a 2 week lock period => 100 * 1 = 100 Votes

JJ: Votes `No` for a 6 week lock period => 150 * 3 = 450 Votes

approve = 600
against = 450
voters = 1050
electorate = 1500

$${450 \over \sqrt{1050}} < {600 \over \sqrt{1500}}$$

$${13.887} < {15.492}$$

Based on the above result, the proposal will be approved. In addition, only the winning voter's tokens are locked, which means if that referendum hurts the network, then those who voted against it can immediately get their locked tokens back. They can exit the network and sell their tokens to the market before the proposal becomes effective. Moreover, winning proposals are autonomously enacted only after some cool-down period.

Voluntary Locking

Polkadot utilizes an idea called Voluntary Locking that allows token holders to increase their voting power by declaring how long they are willing to lock-up their DOTs, hence, the maximum number of votes for each token holder will be calculated by the following formula:

Max votes = tokens * periods 

Based on the current testnet setting, the maximum number of lock periods is set to 6.

Each period takes 2 weeks, which means the longest lock period would be 12 weeks.

Adaptive Quorum Biasing

Polkadot introduces a concept "Adaptive Quorum Biasing", which functions as a lever that the council can use to alter the effective super-majority required to make it easier or more difficult for a proposal to pass in the case that there is no clear majority of voting power backing it or against it.

Let's use the above image as an example.

If there is publicly submitted referenda only has 25% turnout, the tally of "aye" votes has to reach 66% for it to pass since we applied the Positive Turnout Bias.

In contrast, when it has 75% turnout, the tally of "aye" votes has to reach 54%, which means that as more token holders vote on referenda, then the super-majority required decreases as the turnout increases.

Suppose there is a unanimous proposal proposed by the council, Negative Turnout Bias would be used, so that means the proposal is passed by default. Hence, more token holders have to participate in voting to prevent it from passing if they do not like this proposal.

Referring to the above image, when the referenda only has 25% turnout, the tally of "nay" votes has to reach 34% for it to reject.

In short, when turnout rate is low, a super-majority is required to pass the proposal, which means a higher threshold of "aye" (yes) votes have to be reached, but as turnout increases towards 100%, it becomes a simple-majority.


Since not everyone is interested in participating in governance, there is a council entity to represent the passive token holders. To understand more about what the council is responsible for, please read here.

How to be a council member?

At genesis, there will be 6 to 12 seats to start. All stakeholders are free to signal their approval (or not) of any of the registered candidates. For every two weeks, one of those seats is up for election and increase over the course of 9 months to 24 people (roughly one extra individual coming on every two weeks). All members have a fixed term (1 year). Council members can be removed early only by a referenda.

To elect a new council member, Polkadot employs approval voting method to allow token holders that choose a list of candidates they want to support in equal weight and the one with the most approval votes wins the election, while top-N runners-up remain on the candidates' list for next election.

Basically, instead of using one person one vote, approval voting is a more expressive way to indicate their views. Token holders can treat it as boolean voting to support as many candidates as they want.

Let's take a look at the example below.

Round 1
Token Holders Candidates
Peter X X X X
Alice X
Bob X X X
Kelvin X X
Total 2 1 3 2 2

The above example shows that candidate C wins the election in round 1, while candidate A, B, D & E keep remaining on the candidates' list for the next round.

Round 2
Token Holders Candidates
Peter X X
Alice X X
Bob X X X X
Kelvin X X
Total 4 4 1 1

For the top-N (say 4 in this example) runners-up, they can remain and their votes persist until the next election. After round 2, even though candidates A & B get the same number of votes in this round, candidate A gets elected because after adding the older unused approvals, it is higher than B.

This would be the tentative governance configuration for Polkadot in the initial genesis. It will be changed if any security loopholes have been found after third-party auditing.


Usage of DOT


How to create a proposal

How to join the council

How to propose a referenda