Within these pages I’ve argued for substantial changes to our plan of government, legal system and administrative organs. I don’t imagine many of these reforms will be seen anytime soon but I wanted to promote a comprehensive plan for the sake of argument. The single improvement I would hope to advance immediately is Sortition. A logical starting point for all future improvement is presumably first to reform the process of choosing law makers; instituting some version of that practice earlier described as Civil Service Candidacy. If we modify our procedures for selecting legislators – removing the obvious sources of corruption – these new less compromised Representatives should at last be capable of debating systemic reform. That’s my hope anyhow. Rome wasn’t built in a day and Washington certainly won’t be remodeled over the weekend, but I believe the first practical step towards better government is to implement some version of sortition in those states most amenable to the idea. Good things may hopefully follow.
Theoretically one might advance a sortition agenda on the federal level but I strongly suspect it will be much more realistic to begin in one of those states possessing a ballot initiative. This way the issue may be presented directly to the voters without getting derailed in the legislature. It’s pretty obvious sortion won’t be popular with the political establishment (Left, Right or Center). I expect an end-run in the states is the best hope for initial implementation of this program. And anyhow, because there are many different ways to approach the critical details of sortition it’s probably desirable to experiment with different versions in different states.
Alternatively one might start a sortition “party” , not even seeking state involvement, but a third party is something most people (understandably) have a very tough time getting excited about. Because the endeavor is avowedly non-partisan, with no specific platform or interests associated, it seems reasonable the state should sponsor such a plan. Public campaign financing was never an overwhelming success but does this mean we should stop trying to separate money from politics? Sortition may be seen as the logical successor to public financing; a modest experimental investment in democratic innovation.
The state should sponsor sortition but from a practical perspective it is essentially a third party; certainly the established parties won’t die anytime soon. Prospects are infinitely brighter if the initiative includes provisions for instant runoff voting. This way voters can participate in this novel experiment without risking the “loss” of their ballot. It should also make the overall package an easier sell; something any independent voter can feel good about even if the idea of sortition is a little too far-out for their taste. As I envision it the “public candidates” (a slate of randomly selected citizens*) would have their own primary race alongside the established parties. Then, in the general election, each voter would list their favorites in descending order. One might for example select public candidate/working families/democratic. Ultimately all that’s envisioned is for voters to have a greater range of choices, including one as neutral, non-partisan and non-commercial as possible. What’s not to like? – unless of course you’re a member of the political establishment.
How exactly to implement such a program in the real world? I’m sure I have only a rough idea but given the necessary financial support I will delegate this task to those better qualified. Currently SortitionNow is only an idea but I hope to incorporate a non-profit specifically designed for the task of bringing this concept to life. Once it’s funded and staffed I would happily take a back seat on the day to day issues and allow those better qualified to do the heavy lifting. I’m nobody’s idea of a manager and I’ve never owned a suit in my life.
A corporation designed to implement sortition (hopefully on a national scale) will require lawyers, media consultants and a budget in the millions. I see most of this money coming from the more enlightened corners of the corporate world, not individual donors. However, these big shots will need to be motivated by the sight of grass-roots support. I’d never credit too much altruism to the corporate sector but when CEO’s see that SortitionNow is “trending” they’ll want to burnish their image by cozying up to it. A few execs may genuinely appreciate what I’m trying to do but for the most part I trust these folks no farther than I can throw them. For this reason I expect the grass-roots contingent to be the conscience of the organization.
I believe SortitionNow will require both an executive body (to finance and implement) and a supporting membership of small donors to oversee that executive. Influence (and public visibility) for the executive members would be in direct relationship to their financial contribution. Other than a very clear mission statement I’d give the executives carte blanche, but the supporting members would have the ability to block the executive if they ever felt the mission had been compromised. Presumably the executive body has an elected director; I’d give the supporting members the power to depose this director with a no-confidence vote at any time. If an executive member has more than one nominee deposed I’d ban that member from the organization.
I believe the concept is timely and sound but I’m certainly not the person to handle the details. If the support exists however I’m sure there are professionals who’d be happy to sign on. It’s a novel idea – I suppose – and hardly guaranteed to work – but isn’t it worth a gamble? The Greeks tried it and liked it so well they honored Democracy with her own deity. I’d say that’s a fairly strong endorsement. Based on their example I’d be willing to place a modest wager on the Goddess of Democracy.
If you like this idea I hope you’ll make a pledge of support. I’m not currently equipped to accept donations (superstitious, I suppose) but if I see the interest I’ll set up a crowdfunding page immediately.
Paul Rosenfeld may be reached at Prose61@gmail.com