Random Rules

A standard reaction following elections is that they are not fair. For instance, in the United States it is easy to win the Presidency with a minority of the popular vote so long as you win in a small number of key states. Democrats raised this issue vis a vis Bush and Gore, but quickly forgot it–until Donald Trump reminded them on the basis of false information–that they too could benefit from such a system. Likewise, in Canada and other first-past-the-post parliamentary systems, it is possible for parties with a strong foothold in densely populated regions (for instance, the suburbs of the major cities), but otherwise unpopular to win majority control of the House of Commons. Indeed, it is possible to do so while only winning roughly 35% of the so-called popular vote. In most Western democracies it takes hundreds of millions and, in the case of the United States, billions to even be able to run for office. This obviously excludes the vast majority of “the people” from participating in democratic politics. Finally, in recent elections there have been serious attempts to prevent people from voting, ranging from confusing registration rules to excessively long-lines to “robocalls” instructing people likely to vote for your opponent to show up at fake polls. There is an easy, obvious and fair way to resolve these issues: do away with elections.

This might seem like an odd solution, but it is the only democratic solution that takes the people seriously. Rather than have expensive elections where the goal is to confuse people and prevent your opponents from voting, open up the process to everyone while simultaneously getting rid of a perpetual election cycle, thus letting politicians get down to the business of government. This is what I propose: anyone who is interested in a given “elected” post is immediately eligible for the post. Indeed, to a certain extent, it likely doesn’t matter if they are a citizen or not. On a given date, all candidates are randomly assigned a token (a number, a symbol, or whatever) and that token is put into a hat of a reasonable size. The winning candidate, obviously, is the one whose token is chosen from the hat. The whole system would literally cost $25. (By comparison, according to this site, the first to show up in a Google search, the 2012 US election will cost $5.8 billion, at a minimum, but this total cost does not seem to include the administrative/bureaucratic costs.) A significant improvement over the tens of billions of dollars that are spent on crappy advertisements in Ohio and it would destroy the institution of the “celebrity fundraiser.”

There is an obvious objection: if anyone can run, then everyone will run. On the one hand, this isn’t a problem. If a hat is too small, use a barrel. On the other hand, this is a benefit of the system. The whole point of democracy is that people have an active role in the construction of their communities and public lives. A system that is more inclusive must be, from the perspective of democracy, a good thing. But, it is doubtful that the majority of people will, in fact, run because, clearly, being President or Prime Minister is not the sort of job that most people want.

Another objection is that you are more likely to get a bad candidate than a good candidate because there has been no filtering process. Perhaps. But this misses the obvious problem with the current system: no one (and one might include the candidates themselves here) actually believe that the best candidate is the one that runs or wins. This is revealed in the nihilistic bon mot that tells us to “vote! it doesn’t matter who you vote for! just vote!” If it doesn’t matter who you vote for, then the institution of the vote is worthless. It is little more than a nihilistic compulsion to obsessively repeat. That isn’t politics; it is neurosis. Similarly, the present process gives overwhelming advantage to sociopaths: vote for Obama or Romney or vote for Harper or Trudeau, either way you are going to get a sociopath. A random system works to the disadvantage of sociopathy, which can only be good given that sociopaths enjoy doing things such as blowing up people with robots or cutting off limited social assistance so you can have more money to buy robots to blow people up with.

Basically, what I’m proposing is The Hunger Games minus the teenagers wielding bows and arrows and the sociopathy.

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