Lot and Democratic Representation: A Modest Proposal by Alex Zakaras

Here's a short excerpt from an excellent article by Alex Zakaras examining the potential for random selection in modernizing democracy:

Far too little attention, however, has been paid to alternative methods of candidate selection.  Lot (or lottery), especially, deserves more serious consideration as a way of correcting some of the democratic deficiencies of election. Lot, of course, simply means random selection from a pool of candidates, each of whom has an equal chance of being chosen. Lot was widely used in early democracies and republics: in classical Athens and in the Renaissance city-states of Florence and Venice. And although modern, mass democracies have used it very sparingly (for jury selection, for instance), several political theorists have recently suggested
that we consider using lot much more widely, as a way of rendering our political institutions more democratic.

In a 2006 article in the American Political Science Review, John McCormick outlines a tentative proposal for a “tribunate assembly” of 51 citizens, each of whom be chosen by lot from the adult population and would serve a year-long term. Political and economic elites would be “excluded from eligibility.”16 The tribunes could veto “one piece of congressional legislation, one executive order, and one Supreme Court decision” in the course of their term.17 They could also call one (binding) national referendum on an issue of their choice, and initiate impeachment proceedings against one federal official. Kevin O’Leary has advanced a much more detailed plan in his book Saving Democracy for a system of 435 100-person citizen assemblies – one in each congressional district. Members would be chosen by lot, and as a group, these 43,500 citizens would discuss and assess federal legislation, first in a strictly advisory function but eventually with full veto power.18

GRS: For an invigorating discussion on the merits of random selection see the entire article here (PDF format)

1 Response to "Lot and Democratic Representation: A Modest Proposal by Alex Zakaras"

  1. Peter Stone February 6, 2011 at 3:08 PM
    Zakaras' fascinating article has received extensive attention on the blog of the Kleroterians, a group dedicated to promoting the practice of random selection in politics. You can find some of the discussion at--



    And yes, I'm blowing my own horn a bit here, but the blog has some really cool stuff on it, and not just stuff by me :)

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