U.S. should try choosing its leaders at random

Tyler Brown from Reading, Pennsylvania, writes the following in a letter to The Reading Eagle:

Your Oct. 23 editorial (“Be prepared when casting votes this fall”) claims that it’s time to get ready to make an informed vote. But being informed makes no difference. A candidate’s decision to run for office is disqualifying in itself.

People do not run for office for altruistic reasons, they run because they are power hungry ne’er-do-wells seeking to leech off productive members of society. Even the most blameless person would be corrupted by our dirty, money-laden election process.

The simplest fix would be to make a non-vote count as a vote for sortition. Consider that in 2020 there were about 255 million U.S. citizens. Roughly 81 million voted for Joe Biden and 74 million for Donald Trump. Another 5 million voted for someone else, bringing the total to about 160 million.

Therefore about 95 million citizens did not vote at all. Why should their voice not count? They all saw the candidates, considered all options and decided not to vote. Biden was about 14 million votes short. In such a case the office should be filled by random draw much like jury duty.

If a candidate cannot even win a plurality of their constituents, then what real claim can they possibly have to hold office? The very inventors of democracy, the Athenians, considered sortition to be the test of a democracy. They considered voting to be oligarchic.

I’d much rather entrust the future of our country to randomly chosen citizens rather than partisan politicians.

In a response, Daniel Jamar writes:

How could sortition ever happen when the only people that would benefit is the general population? Lawyers and politicians make the rules and it would largely put them out of business.

6 Responses

  1. While it may seem absurd to fill a single-seat office such as POTUS at random, I’ve always advocated for this logic to be applied to multi-seat elections: those who chose not to vote for any candidate should be put in a lottery from which as many representatives would be drawn as was the percentage of abstention, the final result being a mixed chamber (elected and allotted, in a proportion organically decided by the people themselves).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Arturo,

    While having a “natural” partition of power based on the choice of the citizens at the ballot box is a real advantage of this proposal, the standard argument against having allotted and elected delegates in the same chamber, i.e., that as professionals the elected would have a built-in advantage, seems like a real objection. I wonder if there is a way to have a similar ballot-box determined partition of power while keeping the elected and the allotted in separate chambers or separate stages of the process.

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  3. Yoram,
    That does not seem to me like an insurmountable objection. With the right procedures in place to empower the allotted delegates (secret ballot, a separate Citizens’ Caucus, etc.) they could be the ones who tilt the balance and hence hold the power.

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  4. It seems to me this issue is more serious than you take it to be, Arturo. I don’t think it is ever easy to overcome the advantage professionals have over amateurs, and I don’t think there would be a straightforward solution in this case.

    Specifically, a secret ballot, like any kind of secrecy, is always problematic, creating opportunities for uncertainty, suspicion and manipulation. I would suspect it would only further empower the professionals. Secrecy is generally to be avoided in a democratic political system.

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  5. While we can’t know for certain about the dynamics of combining elected members and allotted members in the legislative process, as a former politician myself, I am pretty sure this would not work well at all… especially if they were in the SAME chamber, but also if the elected and allotted were in separate chambers, as in a hybrid bicameral system. Here is an academic paper I wrote on the subject:
    https://www.academia.edu/37578530/Why_Hybrid_Bicameralism_is_Not_Right_for_Sortition

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  6. Terry,
    I have revisited your paper and I have found myself again agreeing with all the points you make.
    However, you did not address the key feature of the system proposed here, namely that the elected and the allotted represent different sections of the people.
    You wrote:
    Portraying themselves as champions for their constituents, the elected leaders would likely play the “natural aristocracy” card. It is easy to predict the themes they might use—dismissing the sortition chamber as “a random gaggle of dishwashers and hairdressers who are completely unaccountable to you, the people, because they never have to face you in an election.”
    The answer would be as follows: “They never have to face you in an election because they are representing other people who do not trust anyone who stands in an election pretending to represent them.”

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