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A Really Radical Plan: A draft lottery to serve in the Congress


I have thought up a really radical idea for elections to our Senate and House of Representatives.  It is actually an old method, going back to the original Athenian democracy.  However, it is really radical in the sense that it will change everything and cause a dramatic improvement in governance over our current situation (what could be worse?).

The idea is simply to choose our representatives by lot: every citizen over the age of 25 (or 45 for the Senate) will be included in a lottery for the seats that are open.  Any person chosen by lottery can refuse, in which case the lot is drawn again (easy and quick with current technology.)  Otherwise, there will be no change in the organization of the House and Senate.

The only change will be the elimination of elections.  Instead, citizens of each district and state will be entered in a lottery, and the requisite number of representatives will be selected by random choice of a computer (even a physical lottery device like a bowl of chips would be suitable.)

Just think what the change in attitude will be among those who accept jobs as our representatives for two or six years.  Those who serve will be truly representative of the people because everyone has an equal chance to be chosen by lot.   They will likely feel an acute sense of honor and duty far more palpable than that shown by the people currently serving.

It is likely, given current average salaries and current House and Senate pay, that the honor will be attended by a dramatic raise in salary, temporarily.  This will help to insulate members from the ministrations of lobbyists to some extent, although the promise of a job after working as a representative will still be possible.

Of course, adding a requirement that one return to one’s old job (if employed) would help as well.  Nonetheless, the elimination of elections alone would go a long way towards reducing the problem of money in politics.

(Added May 19 8AM PDT:)

The other problem that would be solved is that of “term limits.”  If a lottery is held for each seat for every two years in the House and every six years in the Senate, each person would have the same, tiny odds of being picked again in the next Lottery.  Term limits of a single term are the automatic result of this system.  Drastic but fair.

Since each representative will only serve a few years, they will not have the requisite training in drawing up and presenting legislation, and working it through the system after it is presented.  Professional congressional aides with Civil Service qualifications will be necessary to keep the system running in the same way that it has historically.

There is a side issue that makes any  reform either effective or doomed: the issue of professionalism.  History has shown that the best guarantee of professionalism is a well funded, independent Inspector General for each department of government.  All employees must understand that their conduct is expected to be objective and independent, and that lapses will always be detected and punished appropriately.  Including the congressional aides in this system under an Inspector General is essential.

A detail of this arrangement is that we will not call it a “lottery.”   We will call it a “draft” like the Selective Service that was eliminated by that warmonger Nixon.  The reason is that we do not wish to be associated with the popular “lottery” in which you pay a dollar and get a ticket that gives you a one in thirty two million chance of winning.  We prefer an association with duty and honor which the Selective Service “draft” could be thought to imply.

The only offices that will still be elective are those of President and Vice President.  The reason for this is to continue the popular tradition of a popularly elected President.  To enhance this popularity contest, the result will depend on the national total of votes rather than the Electoral College as it does now.  The candidate with the most votes over the entire nation will be the winner.  If more than two candidates run, it will not be necessary to gain more than 50% of the votes to win– a plurality will be enough.

Retaining popular election of the President will soften the blow of the loss of elections for representatives and will help balance the government by forcing the President to gain the support of powerful and wealthy individuals and groups or else a vast majority of small supporters.  It is important for federal government to be led by a powerful and unitary executive, but with numerous checks and balances that ensure a balanced course of government and avoid tyranny.

The organization of the Judicial branch of government could use some improvement.  Most glaring of the illicit practices now in use are the elections of judges at state level.  This practice has already led to a blatant fraud: a coal company spent millions of dollars in advertising to back its favored judicial candidate; after election, the judge voted in the coal company’s favor on a multimillion dollar liability case.  Fortunately, this was reversed at the federal level.

So it is already clear that judges have to be appointed.  In the case of appointment, however, there is also great danger.  A prominent case of this danger is shown by Justice Clarence Thomas.

Justice Thomas was accused by multiple young women (not just the one who testified in open session at his confirmation hearings) of sexual harassment.  Since his elevation to the Bench, it has come out that his wife is very active in conservative causes, to the point of accepting a salary as an employee of a conservative organization.  Justice Thomas has been an extremely reliable voter in favor of conservative decisions that have come down from the Court in recent years.

Justice Thomas almost never asks questions in open session of the Court, and his written decisions have been extremely conservative, to the point of denying known realities.  For example, he has referred to prisoners as being well-muscled because they have plenty of time to exercise in prison.  In fact, exercise equipment has been banned from virtually all prisons for over a decade.  To be well-muscled without equipment requires intense, prolonged concentration, a trait which once developed would tend to turn a person away from a life of crime.

This would be annoying enough if not for the fact that he is jet black and his wife is white (which would be nobody’s business under normal circumstances) and it has been established that Justice Thomas is, or at least was for decades, an avid consumer of pornography (entirely the legal type.)  None of this behavior is obviously illegal and only comes to our attention for its prurient interest and its reflection on his personality generally.  One would think that his consumption of pornography would elicit a highly negative reaction among his conservative supporters if it became known (and believed.)

To suggest that Justice Thomas recuse himself from any case involving any of a large number of issues, including but not limited to gay marriage, abortion, and spousal abuse, is only to assert the obvious theory behind a radical legal argument, e.g. for impeachment by the House.

Appointment of judges is not, therefor, a foolproof method for obtaining them.  Appointment by the President with confirmation by the Senate is only effective if the Senate is objective.  This issue has already shown itself to require additional thought and discussion, so we will not treat it further here.

(Back to original date:)

I expect that this solution is so simple and sensible that it will be rejected out of hand by anyone with the ability to change anything in politics today.  There is no possibility of adoption for this plan.

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