Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Select Congress by random lot. A work around Citizens United ruling obstacle to better represent people

Choose legislative body by random lottery, rather than election. Then it doesn't matter how much money one spends on the campaign. Winning the seat is just up to random lottery. If the legislative body is large enough, it would represent a random cross section of the population.

This idea came to my mind after listening to a Diane Rehms interview with Kevin Bleyer about his book "Me The People: One Man's Selfless Quest To Rewrite The Constitution Of the United States of America." While he mentioned the idea of selecting the president by random lot, I got to thinking how about a legislative body instead? Problem with selecting the president randomly is that you're stuck with only one president and the lottery could pick a real "bone head." On the other hand, given 100, or more, rolls of the dice for a legislative body you would begin to get a random distribution across the entire population.

This would be a total rewrite of the government. It might not be called democracy anymore though maybe only one body of the legislative branch would be selected this way. The other body could still be elected, by popular vote. It would be a new twist to the concept of "checks and balances." Not totally unprecedented in our society, we do have random selection of juries in the judiciary branch. Somewhat random selection, that is. Why not random selection in part of the legislative branch?

Currently, those who are elected are the ones who run the most popular campaigns. Often the ones who can get the most money backing. Not really representative anymore. Attempts at reforming campaign finance never seem to work very well. There's always ways around the best intentions. Always ways to circumvent the rules.

Then along comes the Citizens United Ruling by Supreme Court which really screwed things up. Gives corporation unlimited ability to dump money into the process.

So much money is now running politics that people have become cynical and say that we have already lost the democracy. Money runs it all. Might as well not even vote.

Since democracy is basically already dead and gone, I guess (maybe I'm not quite that cynical) time to change the system. This is especially true at the national level. Local government may not be quite as ruled by money due to things being on a smaller scale.

How about selecting the Senate this way. Get a random selection across the population. Some would be boneheads, of course, but a large enough random lot would chose people from many walks of life not well represented now. There would probably be some farmers, teachers, janitors, solders, scientists, small business owners, electricians and so forth. A better representation than just slick campaigners and lawyers.

I'd say choose the Senate this way since the House means each district only has one representative for that district. At least with the senate, each state would get two tries and having the lottery come up with a decent politician.

Ideally, the body of random legislators would be selected at large, rather than from states or districts. Maybe we could replace the House, rather than the Senate, but have it selected at large. Members of the House could represent various walks of life, rather than representing geographical districts.

Of course those who don't wish to run for office could be taken out of the pool of potential legislators. People could sign up for the "lottery" if they wanted to have the chance to serve. Then, in rare instance, if your number gets selected, you head to Washington DC to sit in the body.

Under this system, many legislators wouldn't know much about politics and there would be this danger (or maybe it's not that bad of a danger). Other branches in government might lead and bully the random legislative body around. I might turn into something like the Washington insider pros leading around the freshmen in the body picked by random lot. The "seniors," figuratively speaking, from the President's office, other legislative body and the bureaucracy, in general, bullying the greenhorns around.

It wouldn't be a perfect system, but what we have now isn't perfect either. What we have now has been pretty much corrupted with too much campaign money. The idea of random selection, for some of the legislators, is worth contemplation at least.


Theslowlane Robert Ashworth said...

A friend of mine said that the Ancient Greeks had a legislative body selected by random lot. Interesting. So I looked it up.

david said...

I've been pushing for this for awhile with my friends. I think there's a gigantic negative selection bias with elections in that actively seeking political office is negatively correlated with being a responsible and rational human being. My current best iteration of the idea would be to expand congress 10x with randomly selected representatives who vote online and don't go to DC. The elected representatives could continue to go to DC to formulate bills and oversight stuff.