Sunday, April 18, 2010

Congressional Lottery Redux

I've mentioned the idea of selecting Congress by lottery instead of elections as a way of eliminating campaign finance corruption. On further consideration, I find that my idea also helps curtail some of the serious problems inherent in the two party system.

To recap my earlier argument, the problems with campaign finance would go away if we no longer had campaigns. One way to do away with campaigns is to do away with elections. We could just as effectively choose Congress in a lottery. That way, anything that anyone gave to a Congressperson would be a transparent bribe.

Another benefit of the Lottery System is that political parties would no longer be primarily concerned with electioneering and winning elections. We would doubtless still have factions but these would be concerned first and foremost with governance rather than campaigning. We would likely avoid the dangerous situation that we have now where one of the major political parties, the GOP, is incompetent to govern effectively when it gets power and invariably makes a mess of things.

The current system has led to a duopoly of two parties which exclude all other factions or potential factions from meaningful participation in the political process. The Lottery System would smooth the way for multiple parties and shifting alliances and coalitions with less potential for polarization into two hostile camps intent on thwarting one another. Congresspersons would be able to form coalitions for special purposes rather than toeing strict party lines. They would be able to remain independent from parties altogether if it suited them. The Lottery System would permit a broader range of views to be represented in Congress.

While we are changing the system to eliminate corruption inherent in political campaigns, let us also make Congress more representative. 435 members is way too few for a population in excess of 300 million. Let's double the number of Congressonal districts to 870 to bring Congresspersons closer to their constituents and to allow for greater diversity of opinions, backgrounds, and perspectives. Better yet, let's triple them to 1,305.

Under the Lottery System, Congresspersons would be selected at random from the residents of each district. The only disqualifications would be youth, felony convictions and receipt of money from any governmental source during the previous ten years, including government contracts. I propose that their terms in office be at least 6 years so that they are not cycled out just as they are learning the ropes. No person would be required to serve if they were unwilling to do so. If the selectee declined to serve, the next name would be drawn until a selectee accepted the position. If we are careful about how districts are drawn, the resulting Congress will invariable look like America. About half of the members will be women. A wide range of age cohorts would be represented, and the distribution of classes in Congress would largely mirror those in the country. In short, we would have a truly representative body.

The Senate, if we decide to keep it at all, could be returned to the original system where its members were selected by state legislatures or it could be chosen by random lottery. I propose that the powers of the Senate be significantly curtailed and that it be limited to voting on legislation passed by the House rather than advancing its own legislation and to advice and consent. In the case of advice and consent, the Senate should be obliged in all instances to give an up or down vote on every nominee within 60 days of nomination and on every treaty within 180 days of submission to the Senate. If it does not, the nominee or treaty should be deemed confirmed or ratified.

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