3. Government by democratic lottery
A group is putting forward a unique way to break U.S. political gridlock — replace legislators with ordinary citizens chosen by democratic lottery.
Why it matters: Government by democratic lottery may seem extreme — but so is the current period of partisan gridlock, which has made it increasingly difficult for the government to tackle long-term problems.
How it works: Instead of regularly electing legislators, democratic lotteries would have representatives in legislative bodies chosen at random from the citizen body, albeit with adjustments to be made for the final selection to represent the demographic and ideological makeup of the population.
- The system is a throwback to how democracy worked at times in ancient Athens, where citizens — or at least free male citizens — were chosen by lot for political office.
Context: The Athenians used democratic lotteries because they believed elections inevitably led to corruption and division, according to Adam Cronkright, a coordinator at the democratic lottery group of by for*.
- With this system, "there are no stump speeches, no attack ads, no campaigns, no political parties, because none of that matters with a democratic lottery," he says.
Examples: This past fall, of by for* convened a citizens' panel in Michigan of 30 people chosen by democratic lottery.
- Citizens on the panel — who had vastly different political backgrounds — met remotely to debate action on COVID-19, one of the most divisive issues facing the country today.
- Despite their divisions, members were able to debate the issues and come up with policy recommendations that had over 70% support of the panel — significantly higher than much of what's passed in a deeply divided Congress.
The catch: Beyond the constitutional changes that would be required to put any democratic lottery in place, the sheer complexity of the U.S. government goes far beyond what citizen-legislators in ancient Athens had to face.
- Trying to ensure that a democratic lottery selects a true cross-section of the American public would be a logistical and judicial headache.
Yes, but: Removing elected representatives would cut off the oxygen of a growing number of politicians who seem more interested in social media posting than governing.
The bottom line: Americans are accustomed to viewing the health of their democracy through the prism of elections, but coming after a year when the U.S. had the highest voter turnout in decades but remains dysfunctional, we may need to rethink that.