Is a Lottery the Way to Fix Politics?

Alexander Guerrero of U Penn makes an interesting proposal in a recent article in Aeon Magazine. It’s time, he argues, to move the U.S. legislative selection process to a lottery-based system. Today’s money-driven model has become so corrupted, he argues, that only the introduction of a randomness element to the selection process can re-establish some element of fairness to the current system.


Writes Guerrero:

There are hard questions about how exactly to structure a political system with lottery-selection at its heart. Here’s one approach, which I am in the process of developing, that I call lottocracy. The basic components are straightforward. First, rather than having a single, generalist legislature such as the United States Congress, the legislative function would be fulfilled by many different single-issue legislatures (each one focusing on, for example, just agriculture or health care). There might be 20 or 25 of these single-issue legislatures, perhaps borrowing existing divisions in legislative committees or administrative agencies: agriculture, commerce and consumer protection, education, energy, health and human services, housing and urban development, immigration, labour, transportation, etc.

These single-issue legislatures would be chosen by lottery from the political jurisdiction, with each single-issue legislature consisting of 300 people. Each person chosen would serve for a three-year term. Terms would be staggered so that each year 100 new people begin, and 100 people finish. All adult citizens in the political jurisdiction would be eligible to be selected. People would not be required to serve if selected, but the financial incentive would be significant, efforts would be made to accommodate family and work schedules, and the civic culture might need to be developed so that serving is seen as a significant civic duty and honour. In a normal year-long legislative session, the 300 people would develop an agenda of the legislative issue or two they would work on for that session, they’d hear from experts and stakeholders with respect to those issues, there would be opportunities for gathering community input and feedback, and they would eventually vote to enact legislation or alter existing legislation.

This is one of the more interesting reform ideas I have come across in a while, and the article is certainly worth a serious read. And before you say that this is a fanciful idea, consider that this is how juries, who must often make life and death decision, are chosen. While my sense is that it is not too late to reform the model the founding fathers left us, Guerrero’s plan may be a part of American Democracy 2.0.


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Carlos Alvarenga

Founder and CEO at KatalystNet and Adjunct Professor in the Logistics, Business and Public Policy Department at the University of Maryland’s Robert E. Smith School of Business.

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