Comments: Jury Duty Democracy

This is presumably tongue-in-cheek since it won't happen, but it seems like a good idea. The jury duty thing really rings true--maybe ordinary people drafted off the street would do a better job. Probably couldn't do significantly worse.

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 18, 2009 07:59 PM

It would be hard to imagine anything worse than what it is, anything would almost have to be an improvement. Phil Gingrey form the not so great Red state of Georgia suggests and encourages the carrying of assault weapons to Obama events today. After all if you're a repugnutin wing nut and can't get your way..., violence, intimidation and assassination are always attractive options. These nuts cannot be ignored and reason is not an option they are willing to entertain.

Posted by knowdoubt at August 18, 2009 08:01 PM

I don't see so much tongue in cheek, looks to me like it would be a huge improvement, it certainly illustrates just how broken what we have is, more of the same is not going to make anything better.

Posted by knowdoubt at August 18, 2009 08:05 PM

California is trying to get something like that going to form a constitutional convention (to pick randomly the people in charge of reforming the constitution). It'll be interesting to see what happens.

All very zany, I agree, but the current system's corruption is off the charts.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at August 18, 2009 09:05 PM

It's funny: I was thinking about this just the other day. Someone proposed the same idea in an article in The People's Almanac about 30 years ago. I remember reading it as a kid and thinking that it was great idea. I still think it's a great idea. Maybe I am still a kid at heart.

Posted by cemmcs at August 18, 2009 09:40 PM

Randomly pick representatives from each district. That way, you ARE represented - you get one representative who lives near you and presumably understands your problems.

And just have the Congress pick a Prime Minister, no need for a President.

Posted by Publius at August 18, 2009 09:42 PM

brilliant

Posted by N E at August 18, 2009 10:43 PM

I've always thought it would be a good idea. Why not elect the 1 millionth person through the check out or something.

Pay the candidates the same if they elect to refuse the honor of being chosen.

Posted by DavidByron at August 18, 2009 10:59 PM

would be a massive improvement. sadly, won't ever happen.

Posted by ran at August 18, 2009 11:07 PM

I've heard they did this at some period in classical Greece. Didn't they? Anyway, there's certainly something to be said for considering this proposed method a kind of "true" democracy, and for any electoral system inevitably becoming oligarchy.

Posted by Cloud at August 18, 2009 11:12 PM
I suggest that all US senators and representatives should be picked at random among the adult population.

Wouldn't we wind up picking illegal aliens like this?

And at random? Really? Have you seen the adult US population? Get out much?

Posted by angryman@24:10 at August 19, 2009 12:09 AM

I WANT TO be the one calling out the Bingo Democracy Numbers.

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 19, 2009 12:10 AM

YOUR representatives DON'T represent YOU because YOU do not force them to. I think EVERYBODY should carry an assault weapon to the townhall meetings, EVEN The President.

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 19, 2009 12:16 AM

Yes, some cities in Ancient Greece did do it before Cloud. I'm unsure as to how it worked, but I think it was generally ok in those circumstances.

Bernard, wouldn't you still have lobbyists? Part of their impact is merely by having them being the voices that congresspeople here, they take their counsels as received wisdom. Corporations and others would still want their voices loudly heard.

And of course there's always bribes. But, I can't see how any of that is better under the current system.

Posted by Graeme at August 19, 2009 12:31 AM

while I'm not convinced it would be an improvement, it occurs to me that the jury duty model does allow for a limited amount of voting. In big trials particularly, we have big jury pools and the prosecution and defense get a certain number of jurors they get to strike.

So if you follow that aspect of the analogy, you could randomly select one voter out of every thousand to be a senate candidate, which would mean that larger states would have larger slates of candidates,and the voters would choose from all the candidates who didn't disqualify themselves. With a model like that either larger states would have to have multiple stage elections, or all states could have statewide caucuses designed to whittle it down to the top 10 candidates or so, then they'd have the actual election a week or 2 later.

It would also make more sense to me to do it in just one house first(I'd choose the senate) and see how it works at that level. I'd also like to shorten the 6 year term of a senator to 3 or 4 years, but maybe that's just me.

Posted by grimmy at August 19, 2009 01:27 AM

Athens had random selection of senators for quite a while, in a very similar manner to this. However:
1. the percentage of population considered "citizens" was exceedingly low, and of course, all from the higher classes.
2. certain positions (such as generals) weren't chosen in such a manner, and individuals who held these positions often wielded overwhelming power over the process.

We could throw in:
3. there was no "bill of rights," or protection from the tyranny of the majority in any way.

This last factor, in theory, would limit the amount of damage that a randomly selected jury could do in the U.S. In theory: it doesn't stop congress today, does it? But randomly selected people would be far less knowledgeable about the various methods of getting around the law, for sure.

All in all, a great idea, I think.

Posted by matthew at August 19, 2009 02:05 AM

throw in term limits and I am all for it....

Posted by Susan at August 19, 2009 02:51 AM

"I think EVERYBODY should carry an assault weapon to the townhall meetings, EVEN The President."

Exactly!

Haha, Mike. Always a step ahead.

Posted by Nikolay Levin at August 19, 2009 04:09 AM

Yes, let's just have a big shootout and the last man standing gets his way. If you can't win an election there's always force and intimidation. Never give up and never compromise, the party of NO spiraling downward to hell and determined to take the country with them.

Posted by knowdoubt at August 19, 2009 05:45 AM

Removing the corrupting influence of money from elections is certainly a good idea, but there is still the problem of lobbyists which I cant see as not being in the picture...They will still be all over Washington trying to push their agenda...Just because elections are done away with that doesnt necessarily mean no more lobbyists. A you scratch my back I scratch yours kind of thing...

we should also be able to recall reps as soon as it is clear they are no longer representing their constituents and replace them as needed....sort of like a tainted juror to use your analogy.-Tony

Posted by tony at August 19, 2009 08:27 AM

Bernard, wouldn't you still have lobbyists? Part of their impact is merely by having them being the voices that congresspeople here, they take their counsels as received wisdom. Corporations and others would still want their voices loudly heard.

While I've hadd the same thought myself, and I think it could be a significant improvement, I think it's safe to say that the lobbyists would capture the legislature just about as effectively as in the current system. You'd see a bureaucracy of "advisors" spring up who would offer their services gratis, and throw in extra enticements designed to flatter the newly-elected statesman. I think we've seen systems like this before, in empires ruled by hereditary noble dilettantes. Given how eagerly Americans respond to pathetically transparent commercial enticements aimed at them, I don't have a lot of faith that they'd be any less manipulable once in office.

As for lawyers: I think that lawyers in office is a buffer against this sort of rule-by-advisors. Actually putting together legislation is one of the few tasks a legislature is supposed to be able to do, and being a lawyer is (relative to the average citizen) a significant aid in this respect. The ABA and other all-lawyer organizations actually manage to put together coherent, rational model codes governing all sorts of activities, so I think it's fair to say that the presence of lawyers on a rulemaking committee is probably a net gain, and that the ills of federal legislation can be attributed instead to the need to please special interests and cretinous constituents.

Posted by Picador at August 19, 2009 09:48 AM

I have frequently had similar, nay identical, thoughts. It really can't be much worse than the system we have at the moment, which basically insures that the only people who wield power are about the very last people on Earth that you'd want to. The jury really is the most democratic institution we've got.

"And at random? Really? Have you seen the adult US population? Get out much?"

Well, they vote already... Unless you're advocating the rule of philosopher kings, it comes down to them in the end.

Posted by Dunc at August 19, 2009 10:13 AM

2..... I dunno. I am sure there's a second flaw somewhere. You have to help me here.

Mark Levin

Posted by Steve J. at August 19, 2009 10:16 AM

Mmm...so much happens at the staff level. Staff chosen the same way? Chosen by members from a pool of applicants? I think the latter...

I had a government prof who proposed the entire voting populus as the Supreme Court. Advocates present their cases on TV, all voters who wish to write an opinion send one in. Sort them into Yea and Nay; big pile is Opinion, small pile is Dissent.

Posted by nima at August 19, 2009 10:25 AM

Hey, this plan will also put more independents in the joint. Currently there are two independent senators (caucusing with the Democrats), and one fusion party senator (Franken). Off the top of my head, I can't think of even one independent in the House.

Posted by nima at August 19, 2009 10:34 AM

So who here thinks it would be easy to take 2 years off from their current job and just pick that job right back up 2 years from now, with no loss in income, client base, professional contacts, professional knowledge, etc. Or is this not meant to apply to people who have jobs like that? And what about spouses who work, do they also have to just deal with the spouse's absence, or move to DC? Jury duty has so many exemptions, would those also apply? who gets to decide if serving is a hardship? Another down side is one that happens with terms limits: the staffs run the show, since they are the ones who understand the rules, the system, etc. So this does not seem like a good plan.

Posted by Barbara at August 19, 2009 11:50 AM

Another big advantage -- more people would have lifelong health care benefits and pensions due to having been members of congress. And a greater percentage of them wouldn't have already been millionaires who don't actually need the FEHP coverage in any real sense.

Posted by Aunt Deb at August 19, 2009 12:01 PM

Alternatively, how about we abolish congress and just elect a monarch for life? He does whatever the hell he wants, with the explicit or implicit understanding that he's getting strung up if he pisses people off enough. No whining about "obstructionism" or "pragmatism" or "bipartisanship" to deflect responsibility.

So go ahead, build yourself a golden palace and decree that dogs must wear pants. Just remember that we're watching you... and only you.

Posted by druff at August 19, 2009 12:36 PM

In any case, I'm 100% sure that geographic representation needs to go. Whether it's replaced by proportional representation or Bernard's jury-duty parliament.

Because as it is living in Utah, for my rep I get to choose between a Republican, a Pat Buchannan clone, and a Democrat who makes sure to say in the voter information booklet that he's really like a Republican.

Posted by Cloud at August 19, 2009 01:28 PM

I love the basic idea. Here's one big flaw (you asked!):

Congressional staff are already a significant element of the permanent government. The 'jury duty' system would would increase their influence tremendously (as would term limits generally, one of the many reasons to oppose term limits).

Your member of Congress and Senators are very unlikely to make public the names and areas of responsibility of their DC staff. Some will not do so even when politely requested by a constituent seeking to direct issue-specific information to the staffer assigned to that topic. Committee hiring is equally opaque.

Yet a third of Congressional staff go on to work for lobbying organizations.

I'm for changing that before tackling the method by which we choose the figureheads whose names are on the doors. (For which my greatest hopes are in public campaign financing...)


Posted by Nell at August 19, 2009 01:43 PM

Wyoming is progressing and internally progressive over all, but due to the small population will have a Republican face in the Federal level for years to come. Every other governor has been a dem for a while now.

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 19, 2009 01:51 PM

I'd like to see EVERYBODY getting paid by TAXDOLLARS having to be ELECTED, EVEN the janitor, and the gardener.

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 19, 2009 02:02 PM

There was a scifi short story decades ago about the same idea. I probably read it fifteen years ago when I was 11-ish, what follows is very likely a complete distortion.

It dealt only with presidential elections. One of the themes was that, to somebody who isn't a power-hungry psychopath, being president is utterly hellish: not enough time with your family, too many life-and-death decisions. Thus they instituted a system of "time off for good behaviour."

Now, I'd love to remember the title or author...

Posted by James Cranch at August 19, 2009 02:28 PM

There was a scifi short story decades ago about the same idea. I probably read it fifteen years ago when I was 11-ish, what follows is very likely a complete distortion.

It dealt only with presidential elections. One of the themes was that, to somebody who isn't a power-hungry psychopath, being president is utterly hellish: not enough time with your family, too many life-and-death decisions. Thus they instituted a system of "time off for good behaviour."

Now, I'd love to remember the title or author...

Posted by James Cranch at August 19, 2009 02:29 PM

So who here thinks it would be easy to take 2 years off from their current job and just pick that job right back up 2 years from now, with no loss in income, client base, professional contacts, professional knowledge, etc.

Oh, pretty much anybody in the National Guard these days know just how easy that is, Barbara.

Posted by nima at August 19, 2009 02:30 PM

The Senate should definitely be chosen as you suggest. As for the House, simply make the districts represent the same number of voters (about 200,000) as each representative did in 1911 (the year the Congress limited the size of the membership in the House instead of the population size of the district) or better yet, at the founding of the republic (about 30,000.) The districts contain about 700,000 each now. Such an increase in Members would have a pretty far-reaching effect on the type of people in the Hallowed Halls. Of course Congress will have to pass any such law, so who are we kidding?

Posted by drip at August 19, 2009 03:28 PM

Sortition is the only way to begin a discussion about representative government in my opinion.

Is there any decision that a President has to make that couldn't be made by an executive committee? Why does the executive branch have to been controlled by one person, other than to replicate the God, King, Emperor system?

Posted by Marcus at August 19, 2009 03:54 PM

What about lobbyists and congressional staffers? Good question. My plan needs to address that.

1. Members of congress will be paid a fixed inflation-adjusted salary for life and will be banned from receiving any compensation from anyone up to 10 years after they've left office. They'll be given a budget while in office to make house calls. (Literally, I want them to go from door to door in their districts and only open their mouths to ask: how can I help?).
Politicians should not be the ones telling us what they will do in office. We should be the ones telling them. They'll have office hours. They won't be allowed to receive any money from anyone. Lobbying will de facto vanish.

2. Staffers will be selected by the members of congress as a whole from a pool of qualified applicants. They'll have strict term limits and, once hired, they'll be assigned to members of congress randomly. This will reduce their role to that of legislative plumbers. They know how the pipes work but they're not the ones who get to use them.

Marcus: We need a president so we have someone on whom to focus our anger. It's cathartic. (But maybe I should cut down on plumbing metaphors.)

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at August 19, 2009 04:38 PM

At the risk of not being amusing the thing that needs most changing isn't the process of selection but the pool from which the representatives are drawn, the socius itself. Losing the illusion that there's something static about the body politic, getting and keeping the knowledge that what that is is moving always either toward or away from a higher level of being, just like we do as individuals, that would help, because then this egregious horseshit of preserving the status quo would disappear.
Or be seen for what it is.
Parasitic allegiance to the stuck vein and the sucking proboscis.

Posted by roy belmont at August 19, 2009 04:59 PM

randomacracy is true democracy.

Posted by n o o n e at August 19, 2009 06:06 PM

This is not a new idea, of course. The name for it is "demarchy": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demarchy

Posted by saurabh at August 19, 2009 06:15 PM

To all of you who pointed out that others before me came up with this idea, I'd like to remind you of ATR Rule No.1:

It's NOT because people come up with an idea years, even centuries, before us, ATR posters, and express it sooner and better than we ever could THAT THEY DID NOT STEAL IT FROM US!

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at August 19, 2009 07:30 PM

Or we could have a reality TV show that's on for several months to two years where the one candidate who convinces the largest number of people of his sincerity, electability and ability to raise gobs of cash in the final episode becomes the president.

Posted by Carl at August 19, 2009 11:01 PM

by the way, James C., the wikipedia "demarchy" entry that saurabh mentions above discusses some SF stories that feature such a scheme(the demarchy, not the TV show).

Posted by Carl at August 19, 2009 11:06 PM

2 & 1/2 millennium too late. Perhaps somebody mentioned this up thread, but the Athenians used pot chard's with each citizen's name attached.

It worked well.

Posted by S Brennan at August 20, 2009 12:53 AM

Public officials and representatives were selected by lots in Florence in the early 15th century.

But to qualify, one had to be debt free--that would be a big problem today.

Also, whoever controlled the lottery tended to stuff the bag with their favorite candidates.

I recommend Florence And The Medici by J.R. Hale. It's a truly fascinating book on banking and politics.

Posted by Paul Avery at August 20, 2009 12:24 PM

It's a truly fascinating book on banking and politics.

Now there's a sentence you don't see every day...

Posted by Dunc at August 21, 2009 07:31 AM

We don't need to elect representatives, we need to be able to choose a representative who represents our views. Anyone who can collect some "followers" should be able to resgister as a "represenative" and be able to cast a number of votes equal to the number of their followers.

Posted by John at August 21, 2009 12:52 PM

Athenian democracy is a terrible model for any modern society. Athens was a slave society; its wealth was built on the backs of people held in the cruelest kind of bondage, made by force to do the work that the "free citizens" of Athens would not. It's impossible to use a society that does not value the lives of all (or even most of) its citizens as a model for one that does (or aspires to).

Posted by saurabh at August 21, 2009 03:48 PM

Coming off my recent comment expressing my irritation with people for criticizing Michael Moore for being fat, I say-- as I often have-- that we need to chose our leaders via a pie-eating contest.

I'm guessing either Bill Richardson or Fred Thompson would be president now. Either way, presumably the state of the union would not be conspicuously worse or better than it is with Obama.

Posted by Jonathan Versen at August 21, 2009 11:36 PM

To start right off the bat, I'm an anarchist and I fundamentally believe that giving out power is handing out oppression, so needless to say; Republicanism is not high on my list of successful government.

Still, I have hope that something might just prove me wrong and that something is returning public service back to it's roots, St. Benedict-style!

When you live a humble existence that prohibits enjoying things like worldly pleasures and unproductive perks, what else can you do but serve the public good? As long our public servants'...unfortunate..concessions are enforced, we'll have hard-working and dependable representatives in no time!

The genius about this system is that only the most qualified would dare apply and the people desiring the position for any other reason would surely drop in number.

It's hard enough for ascetic Roman Catholic priests to tend their flocks without... erm.. touching them. How about ACTUALLY being responsible for an entire Congressional district!?!

Posted by Nikolay Levin at August 22, 2009 04:05 AM

I've been advocating for this idea off-and-on since I was about 12.

Posted by Dayv at August 22, 2009 04:00 PM

This would be a swell idea if it started with abolishing the senate.

Posted by buermann at August 22, 2009 11:18 PM