Monday, November 10, 2014

Should we choose our Congress-critters randomly?

Should we choose our Congress-critters randomly?  William F. Buckley famously said:
I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.
That's a colorful way of saying that he'd rather be governed by randomly selected citizens than by elites, and that's a notion I have a lot of sympathy for.  I've observed before that by and large, the sort of people who want to be elected are precisely those people I don't want elected.  The natural extension of that thought is that randomly-selected people who don't want the job would make better Representatives and Senators than those we elect.

As this article points out, that general notion is something already embodied in American government, in the form of jury selection.  The process is called sortition, and it has a long and honorable history.

The idea of using sortition to choose Congress-critters is an interesting ponder, though it's extremely unlikely to ever actually be used.  It would require a Constitutional amendment, and every lobbying organization in the universe would oppose it with all their might – including, most especially, the politicians themselves.

The key to making sortition work for this purpose would be to identify the candidate pool to randomly choose from.  It could be as simple as everyone over 21, or it could be more restrictive.  For instance, perhaps we'd exclude those with a criminal record, or those who didn't graduate from high school (or have an equivalent certification).  Perhaps we'd enter some people twice or more: those with military service, or who are business owners.  That pool of candidates has much opportunity for tweaking.

And then, of course, we'd need a really good true random number generator to actually select our new Congress-critters :)

Would this be better than our current system?  My first thought: how could it possibly be worse?!?!

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