Why Not Choose Members of Congress by Lottery?

Terrill Bouricius, David Schecter, Campbell Wallace, and John Gastil write on Zócalo on KCRW:

We Already Randomly Select Our Juries. Why Not Choose Members of Congress by Lottery?

Conflicts of interest, corruption, and systemic dysfunction are woven through American legislative history, from Tammany Hall in the 1780s to the Savings & Loan crisis of the 1980s and the recent federal government shutdown. One reason is that the electoral system itself often attracts the wrong kind of candidates and rewards unethical campaigning. Gerrymandered district boundaries, voter suppression efforts, and winner-take-all election laws serve to restrict voter choices. People who choose to run for election are too often driven by ego and personal ambition, qualities at odds with the genuine give and take of deliberation. Donald Trump may seem to stand out in this regard, but his character flaws are less distinctive than his willingness to parade them publicly as a kind of perverse populist brand.

So why not random selection instead? Yes, tossing Congress, en masse, out its own front door and refilling the chamber with everyday citizens might seem like a crazy idea. But when asked about this prospect in surveys conducted in 1999 and 2012, Americans place more trust in a randomly-selected body than in Congress.

So what if we took that idea seriously? Could we replace some of our elections with selection by lot, also known as “sortition?”

Manipulation of Elections by Hacking

As if we needed more proof that elections are hopelessly vulnerable to manipulation, here are some excerpts from an article in Bloomberg Business Week on how a gifted hacker made use of social media to rig elections in Latin America. The article is well worth reading in full. We can expect much more of this in the future.

For eight years, Sepúlveda, now 31, says he traveled the continent rigging major political campaigns. … He led a team of hackers that stole campaign strategies, manipulated social media to create false waves of enthusiasm and derision, and installed spyware in opposition offices…

On the question of whether the U.S. presidential campaign is being tampered with, he is unequivocal. “I’m 100 percent sure it is,” he says.(…)

For decades, Latin American elections were rigged, not won, and the methods were pretty straightforward. Local fixers would hand out everything from small appliances to cash in exchange for votes. But in the 1990s, electoral reforms swept the region. Voters were issued tamper-proof ID cards, and nonpartisan institutes ran the elections in several countries.(…)  [so other methods became necessary]
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