Guess I drew the short straw
October 13, 2018 11:13 AM   Subscribe

Why Not Have A Randomly Selected Congress?, Brianna Rennix and Nathan J. Robinson, Current Affairs - "Selecting the House and Senate like juries would not be ideal, but it would definitely be better."
posted by the man of twists and turns (79 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
Because having people without any interest in doing the job would be some kind of better solution.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:19 AM on October 13, 2018 [15 favorites]


Typewriter repairmen?
posted by thelonius at 11:25 AM on October 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


But having people who are interested in having the job for venal or self-serving reasons is not good either. And there are plenty of those in elected office.

You also can't assume everyone who'd be randomly chosen to serve would have no interest in it. There's a big difference between "has never run for office" and "has no interest in serving as a leader." I know in my country, you generally need to be well funded and have lots of connections to be successful in running for federal political office. I imagine it's the same in many countries. That cuts out lots of people who are smart, interested, politically engaged, and probably capable of making good decisions.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:34 AM on October 13, 2018 [31 favorites]


Most of the problems I can think of (actual illiteracy for example) could be taken care of by limiting it to those who have either a 2 year degree or have reached the rank of E-6 in any military branch.
posted by Typhoon Jim at 11:43 AM on October 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


I recall reading a Jacobin article a while back that noted that in the long stretch between the fall of Athenian democracy and the bourgeois revolutions of the 1700s, those few ultraradicals who took the idea of democracy seriously tended to think of elections as the opposite of democracy, and “electoral democracy” as a contradiction in terms. It wasn’t until the bourgeoisie used the concept of democracy as a cudgel to rid themselves of the old systems that “elections” and “democracy” started being seen as compatible with each other.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:47 AM on October 13, 2018 [33 favorites]


The problem is that someone has to have knowledge and power and randomly chosen people will have less of it, leading to the actual power being in the long term positions in the bureaucracy. So that's where the power hungry would go and where the corruption would flow. Or perhaps the government itself would wield relatively little power relative to private interests and lobbyists. You'd have a majority who are kind of disinterested in the job who take the advice of any "experts" and lobbyists that make a good pitch. Career politicians have at least some incentive to think long term and have time to get experience on not getting hoodwinked.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:49 AM on October 13, 2018 [50 favorites]


Representative democracy not hopelessly screwed by linking it to acreage and not terminally weighed down by vote rigging and gerrymandering would seem like a good thing to try first.
posted by Artw at 11:50 AM on October 13, 2018 [91 favorites]


Because having people without any interest in doing the job would be some kind of better solution.

Except everyone has interests in politics, or at least its effects. That might be self interest, the interest of a community, a particular ideology, whatever. Few people are uninterested in exercising power, because they cannot be disinterested in it. If you can randomly select a parliament to provide a roughly representative sample of interests within a polity, that seems pretty democratic. It's not as if most of the actual work on policy is done by elected officials in any case: they primarily exist as a means of selecting policies, rather than formulating them.
posted by howfar at 11:52 AM on October 13, 2018 [6 favorites]


I thought a fair amount of the disapproval of Congress was typically directed at representatives who the person hadn't voted for; if you want a more representative Congress, surely it would be more sensible to use a nationwide parliamentary system, where you vote for the platform more than the person, than to just put random people with random views in office.

(I also agree with Zalzidrax that you'd functionally end up with a "Yes, Minister" style civil service making the decisions under sortition.)
posted by tautological at 11:52 AM on October 13, 2018 [9 favorites]


I'm a big fan of sortition and I think many of the problems surrounding it can be solved -- Athenian democracy worked pretty well until Alexander conquered them -- but I am dismayed that the various 'Citizens' Assemblies' that have been tried in the last couple decades have failed to have any success, e.g. Ontario and BC voted down their recommendations in referenda. It's hard to see how we can get from here to there through any kind of election-based process.
posted by crazy with stars at 11:52 AM on October 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


Ursula K. Le Guin's excellent novel The Dispossessed tackles this idea. A central conceit is almost everyone is mad if they get chosen to run government, because it's a hard boring job and something you'd rather not be doing. Kind of like jury duty, which is a sort of random selection process we do in America.

Anyway it's a dumb idea. Plenty of countries have a group of governing politicians that works better than America's. The way to get there is to start with campaign finance reform. As Maciej Cegłowski recently wrote, the current system favors people who are independently wealthy and/or have some bizarre talent for calling strangers and asking for money six hours a day.
posted by Nelson at 12:01 PM on October 13, 2018 [33 favorites]


for whatever it’s worth, if we’re theorycrafting a better system, I hold that the superficial problems with sortition can be solved by always selecting large deliberative bodies for any question. If you randomly select one person out of the population, you will likely end up with someone unqualified to make decisions (though random chance would be hard-pressed to select anyone worse than our current monarch). However, if every decision is made by a deliberative body of about 500 people or so, with the members selected randomly, you’ll get something like a normal distribution of the entire population, and so the deliberative body would likely yield a broadly reasonable, generally acceptable answer to the question put to them.

To this I’d add that the questions put to any particular sortition-selected deliberative body should be fairly small — something on the scale of “should lot 48 be turned into a park or be made the site of a new Sweetums factory?” — and that each body should deliberate on exactly one question and then disband.

If it’s necessary to have a more stable organization to manage long-running projects and overarching economic/foreign relations decisions, the “large juries/small questions” lower house could be augmented by an upper house selected through workplace democracy on the lines used in the russian soviets before the bolsheviks boofed them up. Each workplace elects representatives, who they can recall at any time; these representatives serve in local soviets and elect representatives to larger soviets; these representatives can in turn themselves also be recalled at any time.

This is all useless bullshitting in our current times, but maybe 200 years or so from now these thoughts might be useful to the folks trying to decide how to run the fully automated luxury communist society established by the first interplanetary international of workers and sentient machines.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:02 PM on October 13, 2018 [12 favorites]


crazy with stars, I immediately thought of the BC Citizens' Assembly when I read this article. I actually think that was pretty successful despite the vote not having passed. The threshold was 60% and 57.7% voted for STV.

The other thing I liked about that CA was the immense amount of effort that went into educating those who participated. I was able to attend a presentation by people who were a part of the BC CA, and they described how engaged they and their fellow members became over the course of their education.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:03 PM on October 13, 2018 [5 favorites]


It's a fun idea, but I'm trying to imagine capitalism not fucking this up, and I just can't. Yeah, we have career politicians looking out for #1, but I can only imagine that anyone who served in this randomly selected Congress would be wooed by everyone with money. It would be a great opportunity to sell out. Sure, you don't have to worry about straight-up bags-of-money corruption, but maybe you just get softer, gentler corruption. Reelection won't be a concern, but vote our way, and we'll put you on the board when you're done with Congress. Support our business interests, and we won't tell all your friends back home about your embarrassing secrets.

Lots of companies in competition will indeed spark innovation: in the fields of graft, extortion, and bribery. Who knows, under this system, any one of us could have our morals tested by people with the means to completely change our lives for the better or worse. But finally, the choice will be ours!
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:10 PM on October 13, 2018 [14 favorites]


In 1985, Ernest Callenbach, the author of Ecotopia, co-wrote a book about this very thing: A Citizen Legislature, in which the authors proposed using random selection for the House only, leaving the Senate for the moneyed classes/people who WANTED to serve:
Adoption of a Representative House would thus reintroduce true bicamerality into the American legislative process. The ultimate sources of power of the two bodies would again be markedly different: the Senate would rely on the moneyed interests that secured its members' election, and the House would rely on its role as direct representative of the people at large. Thus, a Representative House would extend into contemporary conditions our traditional concern to limit any undue concentration of power.
Oh look - it's online: A Citizen Legislature: A modest proposal for the random selection of legislators.
posted by kristi at 12:17 PM on October 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


What about strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords then?
posted by Fizz at 12:54 PM on October 13, 2018 [29 favorites]


Well that’s no basis for a system of government.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:57 PM on October 13, 2018 [11 favorites]


Most of the problems I can think of (actual illiteracy for example) could be taken care of by limiting it to those who have either a 2 year degree or have reached the rank of E-6 in any military branch.

There are a not-insubstantial number of perfectly literate people who never went on from high school, and never went into the military.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:03 PM on October 13, 2018 [48 favorites]


Athenian democracy worked pretty well until Alexander conquered them


Classical Athens was a slave-state, with a population smaller than modern Iceland. It also suffered a coup, followed by a catastrophic military defeat, and a period of externally-imposed tyranny nearly a century before Philip of Macedon ever got around to conquering it.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:06 PM on October 13, 2018 [41 favorites]


I've thought a lot about the notion of ad hoc, anonymous "juries" for a lot of different things, including policy and legislation. I don't think an entirely random selection is a good idea, but a selection among interested + qualified folks could be interesting. As always, the practical implementation poses challenges, such as how the qualifications are set, and how the group is comprised.

The fact is that in the modern era, far more than any other time in history, we have legislatures that are too small, too partisan, and too parochial to make intelligent decisions.

Case in point.
posted by tclark at 1:08 PM on October 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


There are a not-insubstantial number of perfectly literate people who never went on from high school, and never went into the military.


I also know several people with post-secondary degrees, and at least a couple of E-6s, whose reading comprehension is questionable at best.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:09 PM on October 13, 2018 [20 favorites]


My car needs work. I don't want to do it. I already have a specialty so I don't want to learn how to be a mechanic. So I hire someone to do it. Since my individual life is a dictatorship, I select my mechanic unilaterally. If my life were a democracy, everyone would have the right to select my mechanic for me with my input in proportion.

Of course mechanics are fully qualified before they hang out their shingle but politicians are amateurs by definition when they start out. They have to learn on the job. How do you know who to choose, then? Principles, policies, priorities, etc. Next time around you can go on their record.
posted by klanawa at 1:25 PM on October 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


Most of the problems I can think of (actual illiteracy for example) could be taken care of by limiting it to those who have either a 2 year degree or have reached the rank of E-6 in any military branch.

Thus making a relatively small number of institutions and their leaders the gatekeepers to power? If we think voter suppression is bad now, imagine the outcome when we let university administrations decide who gets to be in congress. Fortunately, the president at my local university would likely not meddle in anything that didn't have something to do with building the football program.

>I hold that the superficial problems with sortition can be solved by always selecting large deliberative bodies for any question.

Years ago I saw an article about an experiment in China with picking small groups to make specific policy decisions. They found that given the weight of responsibility, most people actually take this responsibility quite seriously, listening to various experts and discussing at length the issue. For the most part these were local decisions like whether to build a bridge or change a law. I've spent the last hour searching for it and can't find it. I think it was on Slate.

But as people point out, there are lots of potential issues with something like this. It's easier to sway a small group with bribes or intimidation. It's inconvenient and potentially expensive to administer. But I think it's worth a crack.
posted by Jacks Dented Yugo at 1:25 PM on October 13, 2018 [12 favorites]


almost everyone is mad if they get chosen to run government, because it's a hard boring job and something you'd rather not be doing

Managing the local road repair and support of the poor was done at the parish level for a lot of British history, with the job usually technically going in a rota around all the landholdings -- and not only is it one of the positions of authority that there are plenty of women on record as doing, it's one that people used to try to get out of. Lots of responsibility, mostly trying to get your fellow landholders to perform their legal duties, and lots of ways to fail. (From the Webbs' glorious history of the Poor Law, which I can't find a good online version of; lots of badly OCR'd shovelware.)
posted by clew at 1:31 PM on October 13, 2018 [3 favorites]


You'd have to sortition their staffs as well. In the end, we and the elected officials are all of us beholden to the Sir Humphrey Applebys of this world.
posted by BWA at 1:34 PM on October 13, 2018


augmented by an upper house selected through workplace democracy on the lines used in the russian soviets before the bolsheviks boofed them up. Each workplace elects representatives, who they can recall at any time

So my representation would be entirely dependent on having a job? No thanks, it's bad enough having health care tied to employment.
posted by tavella at 2:01 PM on October 13, 2018 [6 favorites]


Congress doesn't just vote on things--it sets the agenda on what things are to be voted on. Each of the complex federal structures that arise from our laws was drafted, in its complexity, by members of the legislature (if not by them, then by outside lobbyists and then rubber-stamped by at least one member. Adjust your cynicism knob as desired.). Then committee chairs decide which of those bills is important enough to them and their party to put on the calendar and vote out of committee. If they don't it doesn't move.

So, with a randomly chosen set of legislators, who's left to get the drafting right? Make sure that the law isn't blatantly unconstitutional? Make sure that, because of the way it changes a definition, it doesn't accidentally make different-sex marriage illegal? Sure, there are solutions to those problems, but they will tend to put even more power in the bureaucracy, as others have noted, or simply increase the influence of outside lobbyists, who today don't only wield influence through money; they also wield it through expertise. Someone shows up and knows all the ins and outs of an existing law, and they educate (again, feel free to twist that cynical control slider) a new member on an issue. That would increase a thousandfold, even presuming substantial campaign finance reform.
You just end up with splashier marketing campaigns directed at an audience of five hundred and thirty five.
posted by pykrete jungle at 2:02 PM on October 13, 2018 [8 favorites]


And to the points about juries being made above: Juries do seem to really try to get things right, once they're empaneled, but they're contained within a system specifically designed to limit the scope of the questions presented to them. All these rules of evidence? About what is and isn't relevant to the case at hand? What is and isn't accurate or fit enough to be considered by a jury? Those are designed in large part to allow non-experts to be presented with a problem of limited scope.

Juries also tend to serve for limited amounts of time. Most people, acting in good faith, will do their best even for a largely thankless job, for a short time. Require someone to engage in a tedious bureaucracy for two years? People are going to be checked *out* with the worst case of senioritis after a while. Unless everyone gets to pick their own committees. Which would leave lots of vital issues left in fewer, less accountable hands.

The issues we need Congress to address are *not* of limited, isolated scope. They are long-term, and broadly interrelated.
posted by pykrete jungle at 2:08 PM on October 13, 2018 [5 favorites]


I found the related article I was looking for in Time. The term is kleroterion and given the limited experiments, it seems promising.

A broadly elected body and a sortition system are not necessarily mutually exclusive either. A mix of the two systems seems like it would be possible.
posted by Jacks Dented Yugo at 2:16 PM on October 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


The main issue with deliberative or consensus-based bodies that are appointed to resolve even local issues of limited scope, is that they are still susceptible to being derailed by cranks or people operating in bad faith.

Frankly, regardless of what democratic system is in place, it is only as healthy as its participants' willingness to uphold its spirit. Any system, whether it is a parliament, a democratic federal republic, or a set of Mondragon-style cooperatives, can be gamed if there is insufficient will to prevent actors with pernicious intent from doing so.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:25 PM on October 13, 2018 [10 favorites]


Of course, eventually some idiot will decide that computers could do the random selection more efficiently, and we'll end up with functionally the same system we have today.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 2:28 PM on October 13, 2018


> The main issue with deliberative or consensus-based bodies that are appointed to resolve even local issues of limited scope, is that they are still susceptible to being derailed by cranks or people operating in bad faith.

The difference is that the American system, at least, seems to encourage and reward cranks and people operating in bad faith and gives them a systemic advantage. At least with random selection those folks don't pop up nearly as much and their power is limited.
posted by Jacks Dented Yugo at 2:40 PM on October 13, 2018 [3 favorites]


i think we're looking at this a little backwards - what we should have is what we have now, two houses of congress, a president and the supreme court - take away the veto power from the president and give it to a randomly selected group of 1000 people - their only power is to vote yes or no - and yes, that veto could be overridden by congress like now

i think this might stop a lot of instances where congress goes against the popular will
posted by pyramid termite at 2:59 PM on October 13, 2018 [10 favorites]


The guy who was recently arrested for planning to blow up a 200 pound bomb on the Washington Mall was doing it to advance this method apparently. The articles make it sound like some radical ideology, whereas it just sounds to me like the guy is radical, not the idea.
posted by Rufous-headed Towhee heehee at 3:02 PM on October 13, 2018


The current problem in the US is not that people in government are being chosen the wrong way. The present difficulties are the result of a large minority of the population voting for people whose stated aim is to dismantle the system and impose a form of mild despotism.

If this view is prevalent across a large enough section of society, then it will also be represented in a body constituted through random selection. If enough of these people decide to collaborate against the aims of government, they will just as likely derail a sortition-based system.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:03 PM on October 13, 2018 [17 favorites]


A simple but major reform would be to force all lawmakers to vote in the same legislative body at once, with no other changes to their terms or boundaries.
posted by Brian B. at 3:06 PM on October 13, 2018


Thanks for showing up to your randomly selected FPP duty, Man of twists and turns!

I recall seeing this idea in an Arthur C. Clarke novel, The Songs of Distant Earth, quite a while ago. In the book, the idea was that education had been standardized and high quality enough that any citizen was pretty much qualified unless they were certifiable or developmentally disabled. I think representatives voted through a wristband or something.

I could see this working with a large enough representative body, but I think you'd need to make it voluntary and well compensated -- not well compensated enough that it's a lottery ticket (because then you'd end up with a weird plutocracy), but well compensated enough that most lower and middle class people would agree to do it. And there'd have to be a rule that you couldn't take consulting jobs afterwards.

You could also have some sort of crash course for the initiated - as in, for a few years after selection but before service, all members go on a ride-along with the existing body, learn the ins and outs of legislation.

All in all it strikes me sort of the way Julian Jayne's bicameral mind strikes me -- a probably crazy, and most likely wrong, idea that's really intriguing.
posted by condour75 at 3:16 PM on October 13, 2018


People are randomly sampled at birth so why not just simplify things by giving them the same job as their parents.
posted by ethansr at 3:39 PM on October 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


I proposed this in another thread: legislative juries.

Each bill, once it's ready to leave a committee, gets emailed to courthouses around the country, and at each, a jury is taken off the jury pool and made to vote on it. That would put a good incentive not to add corrupt riders to a bill. And it would mean if the feds summon you to jury duty, you're more likely to be empaneled on something no matter what, so no point trying to game that.
posted by ocschwar at 3:41 PM on October 13, 2018 [10 favorites]


I've thought about stochastocracy (my term for it, until I researched and found that drawing lots WAS the original Democracy)...

I posited a few different ideas:
1) Sortition for representation
2) Laws that are written, but then randomly selected.

I can't quite recall I feel like I had another 1 or 2 options for random selection, but forgot.

The main issue with this is how often do you set this up? While one doesn't want to just have someone entrenched in a system, there's still the functioning system and all noobs need to understand the processes. How do you help with that regards. Sortition is great in simpler systems, but it seems a larger complex system will take *some* technocratic know how of the bureaucracy...
posted by symbioid at 3:48 PM on October 13, 2018


We could do as the Athenians once did, and select our legislators like we select our jurors: by picking citizens off a list, and asking them to govern.

But we don't actually select jurors that way, do we? Like, yes, people are randomly selected to show up at a courthouse on a specific day, but the way we select our jurors is that we let lawyers ask questions to the people who were told to come to the courthouse, then those lawyers pick 12 people who are going to be jurors. I think the lawyers select jurors who they feel will be able to come to a verdict. If we actually randomly selected jurors, I'd imagine that there'd be lots more trials that end up where the jury just cannot come to a decision. I don't have lots of faith that a randomly-selected group of political representatives would be able to do their job well, either.
posted by 23skidoo at 4:10 PM on October 13, 2018 [7 favorites]


another thought that occurs to me - in a sortition system the votes could be secret, since there's no need to see how your representative voted. So that would probably make it harder to bribe individuals.
posted by condour75 at 4:11 PM on October 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


I think the lawyers select jurors who they feel will be able to come to a verdict.

Crucially, both parties' lawyers are involved because the lawyers are all trying to select jurors who they feel will be able to come to a particular verdict, and then they're starting from a pool of people who have no knowledge of what they're actually being asked to decide, and how well does that work? Jury selection methods would be terrible for government; they're pretty terrible even for juries, and we have literally centuries worth of documentation of juries seriously getting things wrong because of their personal biases. I can't help but think that anybody who think juries make a great model for the whole government must be, at the very least, white.
posted by Sequence at 5:00 PM on October 13, 2018 [16 favorites]


Require someone to engage in a tedious bureaucracy for two years?

My idea of the juries is that the Congress would be mostly the same as representatives and setting the agenda, but the juries would be ad-hoc based on the topic and law being proposed.

For example, if it's an automotive safety question, the Congress would pass a bill, and that bill would be submitted to a jury specifically empanelled for that bill. The jury would be a large number of people (say, 60 or 80) randomly chosen from a set of people who have "automotive issues / product safety / other similar qualification" (perhaps by passing a domain knowledge exam) and that expressed their interest in working on topical issues. The jury would review the bill, and the associated supporting information provided by the Congress, ideally not knowing who the other members of the jury are, and if there is a significant supermajority (2/3? 3/4?) of the jury that approves the law at the end of the review period, it would then be sent on to the President for signature. If within a specified length of time (1-2 weeks, perhaps), if the jury cannot achieve a supermajority, the bill dies. The jury pool would be thousands of people, of which hundreds would be temporarily empaneled for an individual bill. For items with less and less (or no) domain-specific knowledge, it would be opened to wide groups, or all jury volunteers where the 80 or 100 jurors would be pulled from the full set of all national volunteers in the hundreds of thousands or millions.
posted by tclark at 5:04 PM on October 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


We’ve already tried a Congress populated largely by uneducated, inexperienced people who were “interested” in politics, and that was the Tea Party. We currently have a president of the United States who literally knows nothing about how governing works and is throwing our democracy into chaos—or finishing the job that the Tea Party started, if you want to put it that way. All of which serves the private interests which support those candidates.

And somebody’s big idea is to make ALL members of Congress as equally inexperienced and shitheaded as Trump? Like that would somehow be better? What’s next, we start randomly selecting people from the population to build passenger jets? I know, let’s randomly select people to run the space program. No, let’s put randomly selected people in charge of the CDC. Maybe we should randomly select people from the population to perform brain surgery! What could go wrong?

Governing is a skilled job. You need people who are educated and experienced. Just like any other job that requires complex navigation and management of the basic needs of millions of people. You don’t just pull people out of the crowd for that. If Trump isn’t enough of an object lesson in that regard, I don’t even know what to say. Instead of allowing any moron to have the job, maybe we should try increasing the qualification requirements. If you want to be considered for a senior-level technical position, you need several years of experience, and/or advanced degrees, and/or a pedigree of demonstrated accomplishments. Why are we not requiring that for Congress or the presidency? It is, in fact, a job, and should require relevant experience and education. If people want to argue that it eliminates people from consideration because they’re too broke to go to college, I’ll say that we currently have that problem already and secondly, it’s a fuck of a lot easier to fund a scholarship and get a motivated individual the education and internships they need, than it is to get them into office without experience or relevant background.

Getting rid of Citizens United and putting a hard limit on campaign funds and duration of campaign season would be a much faster shortcut to accomplishing this though. Everyone gets $10M to run, and two months to make their case. 5 TV spots, three debates, they can send as many text messages and promotional emails that they want.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:04 PM on October 13, 2018 [32 favorites]


That's a long way of basically proposing another idea I had, which is a third house of Congress that only exists as a "YES/NO" gate on the passed laws, and numbering in the thousands or tens of thousands, for example, at the same representation level that the original 13 states had in the House.
posted by tclark at 5:06 PM on October 13, 2018 [3 favorites]


That’s what the executive branch is supposed to do.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:07 PM on October 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


I've been saying this for years.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:24 PM on October 13, 2018


Beyond Electoral Democracy, Tom Malleson
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:07 PM on October 13, 2018


If we think voter suppression is bad now, imagine the outcome when we let university administrations decide who gets to be in congress.

Well, congressional educational achievement is already well above American public already. So if anything, allowing 2 year degrees and military service would open things up considerably.
posted by pwnguin at 6:49 PM on October 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


As an Australian I have to remind y'all of an idea I don't think anyone in this thread has considered yet - make voting in elections compulsory.
posted by other barry at 7:18 PM on October 13, 2018 [14 favorites]


Even the progressive role-model Nordic countries top out at about 40% women in their legislatures, so there's something to be said for a system that would at a stroke bring full proportional representation to not only women but every category of people.
posted by Pyry at 7:52 PM on October 13, 2018 [8 favorites]


I would do this tomorrow over the system we have now.

1. Makes representation more representative
2. Takes money out of politics
3. Reps can stop spending 80% of their time campaigning / getting funded
4. Reps make decisions on factors other than getting re-elected
5. Destabilizes political factions

Juries do a pretty damn good job of deciding court cases. There's no doubt in my mind this would be better than now. I'm not sure it wouldn't be better than a reformed system either. A country run by its citizens? That would be pretty... democratic!
posted by xammerboy at 8:12 PM on October 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


According to the comments in this thread any randomly selected group of citizens will be:

- Uneducated
- Trump clones
- Fictional British politicians/bureaucrats
posted by runcibleshaw at 8:21 PM on October 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


I think this is a great idea. It would have to be coupled with much greater structural supports for civic engagement and knowledge, as well as a universal basic income and universal healthcare, childcare and eldercare, so people would have the time to participate.

Maybe you could do an upper house of electeds as others mention as well? I do think there is a value in people having institutional knowledge which is why I'm not a big fan of term limits, or at least I think term limits should be generous. So some sort of balance between people with institutional knowledge who stick around and the randomly selected public seems pretty good to me.
posted by latkes at 8:33 PM on October 13, 2018


For me at least, it's easy to imagine this system working absolutely brilliantly in times of relative peace and prosperity, and just as easy to imagine it breaking down completely in times of crisis.
posted by mstokes650 at 9:12 PM on October 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


So would the proposed system allow people who've served time to be chosen or is this too going to disproportionately deny black representation through bias, not unlike the kind that's so affected the jury system? If you allow those who've served time to combat, then is there any check on criminal behavior from those selected; is it a good bye to the me too?

Is there any reason to suspect average citizens know enough about trade, technology, economic systems, banking regulation and all the rest to effectively produce legislation governing those things? Or are they to just catch up quickly when called? Doesn't that give far more power to lobbyists? Is sacrificing Elizabeth Warrens to rid ourselves of Mitch McConnells a good trade when the result is people who know less about the system and that which it governs than either? When there are no elections there are no promises to constituents just individual decisions based on unknown beliefs, is that better than having a campaign where values are put forward to be voted on?

What is the effect on those drafted into service against their own wishes? The cost they'll pay for having to leave their lives behind and face incredible public scrutiny? Do you allow people to opt out, then who chooses to serve and who chooses to avoid service and what biases will that produce? Who will the uninformed turn to for their information about the choices they need to make and legislation they need to write even if lobbyists are accounted for? Are relatives and friends that have close influence with the drafted to just be considered a part of the system? What happens after these selected individuals serve, how are they protected and what is their reward for service? Do they just get shipped back home to pick up their lives as best they can, will they be lured into lobbying, or perhaps given something for the years spent in service?

Why would this method be better than working to remove harmful influence from politics as it otherwise is? Is there even any agreement on what those harmful influences are across the spectrum of belief or is it just assumed that this is a design to improve liberal influence, in which case why be cute about it as if that won't be noticed? A new system has to be voted in by the old system, so how do you get from here to there with that in mind? Or is this just for funnsies as a thought exercise so worry about any of the many problems is just killing the groove?
posted by gusottertrout at 9:58 PM on October 13, 2018 [4 favorites]


HOA.... if you've been in one, you know what would happen if you gave an HOA a standing military. Armageddon. I like sortition and other efforts to make representation more... uh... representative.

Directly having all citizens vote on things would make life too busy for the citizens and they would
make votes un-informed. like how we choose politicians currently.

Sortition would humble the tasks our government could perform and citizens would need practice and training a-la drivers liscences so that roberts rules or some such could be facilitated. For small groups and small towns this might work better than consensus or just electing the local chamber of commerce...

I'm not convinced, because the HOA that controls the gravel road to my land is prone to bullying, threats, grindingly long and bitter meetings, budgetary chaos and that is 23 families who all have equal votes and skin in the game... 500 might smooth that out... but they might just pass The Purge as their first law :(
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 10:03 PM on October 13, 2018


People are randomly sampled at birth so why not just simplify things by giving them the same job as their parents.

Some of them could be Divergent. What then?
posted by scalefree at 11:01 PM on October 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


Even the article states that the only point of having a randomly selected Congress is that it would be more demographically representative of the population, and that there would likely be no actual benefit to the country by doing so.

I don’t want our government to be more demographically representative. Half the country has been poisoned by Fox News, is completely susceptible to propaganda, and is actively antagonistic toward education, health care, the social safety net, and government itself. There’s no reason to think that the system for selecting people wouldn’t be just as biased and exploitative as every other system currently produced by our current crop of Bernie Bros, Red Pillers and James Damores. There’s no reason to think that the people in charge of managing that system would have any more integrity, either.

We don’t need to be a more representative system in the sense that we need to select randomly from the population to serve. We need to be more representative in the sense that our laws and policies actually benefit everyone instead of a select few. The absolute last thing we need is to give Congressional power to randos who literally have NOTHING to lose and will spend their term targeting the individuals and groups they hate, and giving their prejudices the force of law while simultaneously in utter ignorance of the law. I mean what, you’re going to elect three dozen white supremacists or religious crazies by random selection, and then hand them the authority to declare war? Are people insane? Do they live under a rock? Have they read the news at any point in the last 17 years? If you need to catch up on what it’s like to be governed by people who know nothing about governing and are in it entirely for their own self-interest, we have the political threads documenting the process in detail. Go take a look and then imagine all of Congress being that way instead of merely the majority of it. With nukes.
posted by Autumnheart at 12:45 AM on October 14, 2018 [10 favorites]


To clarify, if members of Congress were selected to match the racial makeup of the population, then it would still be 77% white (17% of whom would be white Hispanic), 13% black, 4% Asian and 1% aboriginal (Native American, Native Hawaiian). It would be slightly more than half women. It would be 75% Christian, 51% of whom would be Protestant and 24% Catholic, and in general it would mean that 30-35% of Congress would be evangelical Protestant. About 13% would be disabled, and that adds a further layer of complication in whether their disability would prevent them from serving. Except for women, we would still see a very small number of minorities in Congress, and there’s no reason to think they would have an influence equal to their number either.

But that isn’t what we would end up with. Random selection is just as likely to choose 435 white men as it is a diverse group by race or gender. It’s just as likely to choose an entirely right-wing group as a more politically balanced spectrum.

If you want a system that’s more just and gives a greater amount of Congressional power to vulnerable populations, you don’t want a demographically representative Congress. You want one where minorities make up the overwhelming majority. You’re not going to get that by random assignment, certainly not with any frequency significant enough to make major changes.
posted by Autumnheart at 1:11 AM on October 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


The question I keep coming back to is whether humans as a species, particularly the vintage of humans produced in the United States, are even capable of forming a government capable of serving more than 300 million people that does so fairly, without being twisted to serving a small class of people or allowing the majority (or belligerent minority) to have tyranny over others.

Our systems of education and informing the citizenry are insufficient, and the vast majority of people seem disinclined to do the work of participating in government except when it serves their immediate self-interest or a problem has metastasized to the point it must be addressed.

Most folks seem to want to find a magical incantation that will guarantee an honest government that will serve their interests - so long as it doesn't require learning anything about complex issues, history, or paying attention more often than once or twice a year to cast a vote. If that. While I realize we have a real problem with voter suppression in this country, it doesn't account for all of the population that doesn't bother to register to vote or actually show up at the polls.

What I'm saying is our system of government could be improved, but our current system could function pretty well if we actually were an informed population that cared to participate and pay attention. All the elegant systems in the world aren't going to fix the fact that we have a large chunk of the population that is either proudly ignorant, apathetic, convinced that their tribal religion should dictate secular policy, or all three.

The traitorous criminals that have pushed through Kavanaugh, protected Trump, and are dismantling the threadbare social safety nets and regulatory protections we do have can only operate the way they do because of a non-functioning, myopic populace that either approves of what they're doing or is unwilling to mobilize to remove them from office.

While they have certainly taken advantage of the archaic Electoral College, imbalanced Senate, and gerrymandered and suppressed votes to gain and maintain control - they've still only done so by slim margins that could not exist if we had a more robust and interested voting population.

I've served on a randomly selected jury that couldn't have found its ass with both hands, but it was a fine representational sample of the public - people who couldn't assess clear evidence directly in front of them, nor overcome their own biases to deliver a fair verdict. Adopting a system of government similar to random selection of juries might solve some problems, but I wouldn't bet on it delivering a better or competent government.
posted by jzb at 3:51 AM on October 14, 2018 [9 favorites]


Anyone interested in reading more about Athenian democracy might enjoy taking a looking at the Agora excavations page here or this overview.
posted by Mouse Army at 6:17 AM on October 14, 2018


Random selection is just as likely to choose 435 white men as it is a diverse group by race or gender.

White men are maybe 1/3 of the US population; the probability of picking 435 of them is about (1/3)435, which is an astronomically low number. Congress is currently 1/5 women: the probability of getting of getting this few women in a random selection of 435 people is about 2/1038.

As another example, there has never (openly) been a member of congress who is transgender-- with random selection, there would be a 93% chance of picking at least one person who is transgender, assuming they are 0.6% of the population as a whole. If congress were increased to 1000 people, then there would be a 99.8% chance of choosing at least one transgender person.

In other words, the current composition of congress is so far from demographic proportions that you're about as likely to spontaneously quantum tunnel into the ground* as to get a less diverse congress through random selection.

*(not literally, that's beyond astronomically unlikely)
posted by Pyry at 8:15 AM on October 14, 2018 [10 favorites]


People are randomly sampled at birth so why not just simplify things by giving them the same job as their parents.

Three words...
President.
Barron.
Trump.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:41 AM on October 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


Our systems of education and informing the citizenry are insufficient, and the vast majority of people seem disinclined to do the work of participating in government except when it serves their immediate self-interest or a problem has metastasized to the point it must be addressed.

I agree, and we should be considering, as methods, how we choose professional judges to rule cases over us more than just choosing juries to vote yes or no in a local trial. I would argue that a retired professor or civic leader, chosen for their past achievement and owing nobody for their position, could represent the interests of most people better than a disorganized group would by representing themselves. It's a matter of proven lifelong commitment and vision. More to the point, we can't assume that someone with decision power will or should represent the people of their class, color or gender more than themselves and less than others. It's a corrupt premise to begin with. It is good to consider democracy for the way it represents the best interests of all people as outcomes, and not just in the way it appears to as input. Inexperienced group decision is best when it is up or down voting from assumed self-interest, which leaves plenty of room for the final passage or veto of anything proposed, as pyramid termite mentioned.
posted by Brian B. at 8:42 AM on October 14, 2018


electing the doge!

also btw non-territorial voting, but only for women -- over a period lasting 200 years (depending on women's vote ;) -- to rectify historical inequities: "Suppose instead of election a man were qualified for office by petition signed by four thousand citizens. He would then represent those four thousand affirmatively, with no disgruntled minority, for what would have been a minority in a territorial consituency would all be free to start other petitions or join in them."

oh and #PacktheHouse
posted by kliuless at 9:57 AM on October 14, 2018


"Suppose instead of election a man were qualified for office by petition signed by four thousand citizens. He would then represent those four thousand affirmatively, with no disgruntled minority, for what would have been a minority in a territorial consituency would all be free to start other petitions or join in them."

Professor Bernardo de la Paz, September 2076, speaking before the Luna Free State Constitutional Convention.
posted by scalefree at 11:57 AM on October 14, 2018


I love this is and I want it to happen and the workaround for worries about whether or not this or that rando American assigned to a term in office is qualified and able to carry out their duties is to make sure we create a society so safe and secure and supportive that yes, any given citizen would be fit for congressional duty if they got the call tomorrow. We gotta make sure everyone has food, shelter and medicine, with zero exceptions! We might need them to be senators next term, you never know.
posted by EatTheWeak at 4:42 PM on October 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


Jzb said it, but it seems that most of the problems come down to culture — is the populous well-informed, clear-thinking, fair-minded, open-minded, tolerant, honest, and do they care? A lot of political problems could be solved more easily if culture were better; and a lot of political problems are nigh unsolveable if culture is worse.
posted by brambleboy at 5:17 PM on October 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


Just putting it out there, not saying it’s a good idea, but we now have the technical capability to allow the entire population to vote yes/no on things that affect them. Now sure, people can be tricked/miseducated into making decisions that go against their own interests, and discriminatory biases come into play, but given this tendency of people to make voting mistakes, maybe it’s best to spread the voting out over lots of little votes that allow them to gain wisdom and experience as they participate, rather than restricting it to infrequent high-stakes elections.
posted by mantecol at 6:10 PM on October 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


You just end up with splashier marketing campaigns directed at an audience of five hundred and thirty five.

Yes, having representatives to our national government only number in the middling hundreds despite having a population over 300 million is indeed one of our larger political problems. Combined with FPTP, it's essentially guaranteed that our politics will be divisive and participation will be low. Why would it be otherwise when people feel unrepresented?
posted by wierdo at 5:35 AM on October 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


The book Against Elections by David Van Reybrouck makes a good case for sortition (choosing representatives by lot).

Despite the dramatic title there are also less dramatic ways to incorporate it into modern democracy than just replacing elected bodies. For instance the 2012 Constitutional Convention in Ireland used a body including randomly selected members of the public to recommend changes, one of which was same-sex marriage. A similar body existed in Iceland in 2010 for their new constitution.

If you go back to the start of modern democracy in the 18th century, the great debate was between Edmund Burke arguing against democracy in "Reflections on the Revolution in France", and Thomas Paine defending it in his response "Rights of Man". When reading these, what stands out is that Burke constantly talks about abilities and Paine constantly talks about interests. Burke maintains that because government is complicated, only able and experienced people can do it, and naturally such people will be at the top of society. Paine's point is that you need to reflect the interests of the people: an elite will act in the interests of that elite, only a government of ordinary people will be motivated to act in the interests of ordinary people.

These days, though almost everyone pays lip service to democracy, Burke seems to have quietly won the argument that the government should be made up of people of exceptional abilities. This argument behind modern democracy, that we shouldn't trust any elite to represent the interests of average people, seems to be getting forgotten.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 5:37 AM on October 15, 2018 [3 favorites]


How do you help with that regards. Sortition is great in simpler systems, but it seems a larger complex system will take *some* technocratic know how of the bureaucracy...

Seems pretty simple to me: overlapping terms.
posted by wierdo at 5:39 AM on October 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


While I realize we have a real problem with voter suppression in this country, it doesn't account for all of the population that doesn't bother to register to vote or actually show up at the polls.

This is an absurd statement that nullifies every other thing you say about this topic.

You cannot actually have a goddamn clue about the state of voter suppression if your instinct even after acknowledging it is to immediately throw the blame on people for being too lazy to "bother" to register (despite frequent evidence of registration suddenly going missing or being invalidated for spurious reasons if you happen to be attempting to vote while not a white GOP supporter) or being too lazy to "bother" to show up at the polls (despite non-white non-GOP supporting areas frequently being targeted with poor/faulty equipment and intentionally overcrowded polling places designed to keep people from voting).

You are literally buying into the same old bullshit justifications used by the GOP as they hold down non-white non-GOP voters and repeatedly hit them in the face while yelling at them that they should stop hitting themselves.
posted by tocts at 5:41 AM on October 15, 2018 [6 favorites]


This piece by Zoe Leonard identifies the features that a president worth occupying the office would have. It is noteworthy that there is no plausible way for a president with these features to come to power by electoral means, since electoral systems tend to select specifically for the people who have none of those features; as Leonard puts it, electoral systems always select for clowns, johns, liars, thieves, and bosses rather than hookers or workers.

Tellingly, more often than not a sortition system sometimes would yield a president worth occupying the office; not always, but at least sometimes.

It might even happen often!
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:00 PM on October 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


@tocts: "You cannot actually have a goddamn clue about the state of voter suppression if your instinct even after acknowledging it is to immediately throw the blame on people for being too lazy to "bother" to register"

"You are literally buying into the same old bullshit justifications used by the GOP as they hold down non-white non-GOP voters and repeatedly hit them in the face while yelling at them that they should stop hitting themselves."

Lemme be very clear. I believe voter suppression turned the last election and we'd be looking at President Clinton and a DEM majority if it weren't for voter suppression, all other things being unchanged. I find it funny to be attacked about this given I've literally spent two years arguing that voter suppression is a problem and that Trump's administration is completely illegitimate. But. It wouldn't work if we didn't have a large body of people who aren't being actively suppressed who could vote, but don't.

The GOP has their thumb on the scale, but there's also a ton of apathy - and I'm not talking about non-white voting either. I'm not only talking about the elections since the Supreme Court gutted the VRA - I'm talking about decades. The GOP is definitely being super-blatant about voter suppression since the VRA was knocked down.

I've been voting for 30 years. Registering to vote wasn't the first thing I did after I turned 18, but it was in the top five or so. I grew up in a small town where registering & voting were simple, fast, and easy. I'd say maybe 40% of my peers actually bothered to vote, based on my discussions with people around elections. That was, uh, not a town with a huge non-white population being suppressed because they weren't going to vote Republican.

Historically, voter activity drops in the midterms - is that because the GOP is suppressing votes more actively, or because people are apathetic about any election that doesn't feature a presidential race? The midterm races are deeply important too, but a lot of people just don't bother.

The voter suppression in 2016 was certainly enough to swing the election, given the state of voter turnout. It's evil, and I don't buy into any of the justifications used by the GOP to suppress voters. And yes, white voter turnout was up slightly while black voters were down significantly in 2016 which I attribute largely to suppression.

But what's the excuse for the roughly 42% of white voters who didn't turn out? That's not all voter suppression, and I doubt even half. A lot of people simply can't be bothered.
posted by jzb at 3:20 AM on October 16, 2018


If you go back to the start of modern democracy in the 18th century, the great debate was between Edmund Burke arguing against democracy in "Reflections on the Revolution in France", and Thomas Paine defending it in his response "Rights of Man". When reading these, what stands out is that Burke constantly talks about abilities and Paine constantly talks about interests. Burke maintains that because government is complicated, only able and experienced people can do it, and naturally such people will be at the top of society. Paine's point is that you need to reflect the interests of the people: an elite will act in the interests of that elite, only a government of ordinary people will be motivated to act in the interests of ordinary people.

There's two chambers right there. One permanently crafts and proposes legislation and is seated for any emergency, while the other ratifies on a random jury basis with a line item veto. And not to be left out of the creative process, the latter could also approve membership in the former from a long list of candidates qualified by signatures, their job being to interview them.
posted by Brian B. at 7:13 AM on October 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


Continuous elections
For a variety of reasons, I think it a good idea that we introduce into our voting system a greater element of stochasticism, of structured, intentional randomness. This may be counterintuitive — sure, a manipulated news cycle may not express the will of the people, but how could a random number? The deep fact of randomness is that while an individual “draw” may be noise, random selection has characteristics that are well defined, widely understood, and intuitively accessible. When statisticians want to examine a population, they take a random sample and characterize that. With good randomness and a reasonably large sample size, it becomes extremely unlikely that the characteristics of the sample will fail to represent the broader population. This fact is already a part of our political process. Pollsters, who affect electoral possibilities as well as characterizing them, seek (very imperfectly) random samples of likely voters. We select juries largely by lottery, on the theory that this is a good way to get a representative sample of ones “peers”. There have been a variety of democratic experiments with sortition, simply choosing by lot, picking random names from the phone book. Perhaps overcynically, many of us might consider that an improvement over our present, professional political representation.

I do not favor sortition for the constitution of our legislatures. There is a lot to be said for choosing among representatives who express an interest in and commit to doing the work, and to some kind of voting process that ideally filters for quality. What I do favor is an idea called “lottery voting” or “random ballot”. I really encourage you to read the first link, a very readable academic note by Akhil Reed Amar which introduced the idea. You should also read this essay by David MacIver (ht Bill Mill). In a nutshell, everybody votes in the way they currently do for their preferred candidate. Then we throw the ballots in a big hat, and draw the winner like a bingo hall door prize.[2] You’d never want to use lottery voting to elect a President. Who knows who you might pick? It’d be totally random. But for a large legislature, lottery voting will predictably yield proportional representation along whatever axes or characteristics are salient to voters, not just formal political parties. Further, lottery voting is immune to gerrymandering, and every vote always has equal influence... It is simple, effective, resistant to entrenchment of incumbents or capture by political parties.
posted by kliuless at 6:00 AM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


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