One of our readers, Michael Pitts-Campbell has a interesting suggestion. And while some may think it’s a new and different idea, the idea is actually old and has an elite pedigree. Thanks for reminding us Michael.
Here’s what he sent me when I asked for reform suggestions
“Here’s one that probably stands as much chance of passing as the others suggested, but would accomplish term limits, removal of campaign money, and probably other goals: for Oregon, make the position of State Representative a civic duty. Just like the Selective Service draft of the bad old days, this would read “Greetings from the Governor. You have been randomly selected to serve as Oregon State Representative for District ?? for the next two (2) years.” The list used for random selection would probably be the list of those holding drivers’ licenses. No partisanship, no political debts owed, no sleazing your way into office as was done in Klamath and Curry Counties, just “You’re drafted.”
We certainly wouldn’t have any campaign contribution limit or spending caps to worry about, or be concerned about special interest candidates buying their way into office.
The method of position by drawing lots is called Sortition. The following is a brief history of sortition’s implementation, (from wikipedia – yeah, I’m lazy, but I did edit it a bit for brevity).
Ancient Athens: Athenian democracy developed in the 6th century BC out of what was then called isonomia (equality of law and political rights). Sortition was then the principal way of achieving this fairness. It was utilized to pick most of the magistrates for their governing committees, and for their juries (typically of 501 men). Aristotle relates equality and democracy:
Democracy arose from the idea that those who are equal in any respect are equal absolutely. All are alike free, therefore they claim that all are free absolutely… The next is when the democrats, on the grounds that they are all equal, claim equal participation in everything.
It is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot; and as oligarchic when they are filled by election.(emphasis added)
In Athens, “democracy” (literally meaning rule by the people) was in opposition to those supporting a system of oligarchy (rule by a few). Athenian democracy was characterized by being run by the “many” (the ordinary people) who were allotted to the committees which ran government. Thucydides has Pericles make this point in his Funeral Oration: “It is administered by the many instead of the few; that is why it is called a democracy.”
Northern Italy and Venice – 12th to 18th century: The brevia was used in the city states of Northern Italy during the 12th and 13th centuries and in Venice until the late 18th century. Men, who were chosen randomly, swore an oath that they were not acting under bribes, and then they elected members of the council. Voter and candidate eligibility probably included property owners, councilors, guild members, and perhaps, at times, artisans. The Doge of Venice was determined through a complex process of nomination, voting and sortition.
Lot was used in the Venetian system only in order to select members of the committees that served to nominate candidates for the Great Council. A combination of election and lot was used in this multi-stage process. Lot was not used alone to select magistrates, unlike in Florence and Athens. The use of lot to select nominators made it more difficult for political sects to exert power, and discouraged campaigning.
Florence – 14th and 15th century: The scrutiny was employed in Florence for over a century starting in 1328. Nominations and voting together created a pool of candidates from different sectors of the city. These men then had their names deposited into a sack, and a lottery draw determined who would get magistracy positions. The scrutiny was gradually opened up to minor guilds, reaching the greatest level of renaissance citizen participation in 1378–82.
Switzerland: Because financial gain could be achieved through the position of mayor, some parts of Switzerland used random selection during the years between 1640 and 1837 in order to prevent corruption.
India: Local government in parts of Tamil Nadu such as the village of Uttiramerur traditionally used a system known as kuda-olai where the names of candidates for the village committee were written on palm leaves and put into a pot and pulled out by a child.
Today: In the political realm, sortition occurs most commonly in order to form policy juries, such as deliberative opinion polls, citizens’ juries, Planungszelle (planning cells), consensus conferences, and citizens’ assemblies. As an example, Vancouver council has initiated a citizens’ assembly that will meet in 2014–15 in order to assist in city planning.
We’d have to update the Sortition process by including all eligible voters, though we could impose an age limit or other minimum requirements. But our dear reader is absolutely correct, a Sortition, just for the State House of Representatives perhaps, would eliminate campaign contributions that cause undue influence and the fear of perpetual oligarchy class of politicians, political operatives, and consultants.
Interesting idea. And one that the founders of western democracy and some of the most famous democratic societies in history embraced as a way to defeat corruption. If that’s one of the goals of a Democracy.