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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Thursday, November 6, 2014

How Elections Might Work in an Improved Future Republic

We have just finished another cycle in the very diseased system known as the American political system. By and large the winners were those with the most money, the most insider cronies, and the most corporate connections. One can have little hope that this sick system will get better anytime soon. But perhaps one can have a little fun imagining this: how might elections work in some future republic (here or in another continent) with a much fairer political system? Below are some characteristics that such elections might have.

Characteristic 1: Seats in Congress would be exactly proportional to population, so that any two areas of the republic with the same population would have the same degree of representation in the government.

The United States government does not have this characteristic. There are two houses of Congress, and in one of those houses (the Senate), each of the 50 U.S states elects two senators. But the tiny states of Rhode Island and Delaware get to elect the same number of senators (two) as the huge states of California and Texas.

What this means is that under the US constitution, residents of California and Texas are basically second-class citizens with a lower degree of representation, and residents of little Rhode Island and Delaware are specially privileged citizens with a higher degree of representation.

So let us imagine that in our future republic, there is only one house of Congress, and that congressional election districts are divided in such a way so that each has roughly the same population. This means that geographically speaking, each citizen of the republic gets equal representation in Congress.

Characteristic 2: Congressional representatives would serve a single term of 4 years, with 50% of their terms expiring every two years.

The designers of the US constitution imagined that if congressional representatives in the House of Representatives did not look out for the average man, they would soon be tossed out by the voters. The founding fathers failed to anticipate our current political landscape, in which it typically happens that representatives who do not well serve the common man continue to be re-elected year after year, because they have spent much of their time in office courting crony connections and raising money from the rich and corporations.

The best way for a future republic to avoid this problem would be to limit every congressional representative to a single term. The whole concept of re-election would be abolished. Congressional representatives would focus on passing good laws, rather than spending half of their time doing things related to their re-election, such as seeking political donations from fat cats.

It might be argued that you need congressional representatives who have been around a long time, to help handle all the intricacies of legislation. But the fine details of government could be delegated to bureaucracies to keep things simple enough so that people recruited from other occupations could serve as congressional representatives. There is no reason why a Congress needs to be passing bills with thousands of pages, when most of these details can be decided by appointed bureaucrats. With a system under which half of Congress was replaced every two years, there would always be “old timers” around with two years experience, who could “show the ropes” to new representatives.

Characteristic 3: A system would exist making sure that Congress consisted of persons from each major occupation, with the makeup of Congress mirroring the number of people in those occupations. Such a system would issue people invitations to make a fully funded run for office for a single term, with the invitations being randomly generated by lottery from particular occupational classes.

The United States Congress has way too many lawyers and professional politicians. When almost all of its members are used to earning large incomes each year, one can hardly expect Congress to look after average people very well. One way to remedy that would be to have a system that guarantees that Congress consists of people drawn from the general public, with each major occupational class getting equal representation.

This could be accomplished by a system in which a lottery is used to issue invitations to make a fully funded run for Congress. The invitations would be issued in such a way so that major occupational classes got an equal number of invitations. For example, if 10% of the people in the republic were information workers, then 10% of the invitations issued would go to information workers; and if 5% of the people in the republic were farmers, then 5% of the invitations would go to farmers. The invitation system and funding would be paid for by taxes.

Under this invitation system, you might, for example, be working as a restaurant chef, and you might one day be surprised to get an official government invitation inviting you to make a fully funded run for Congress. You would be told that your name had been randomly selected from a list of those in your occupation. You would know that there would be only a few other competitors for the congressional seat you could run for, because only a few other people would get such an invitation to run for that particular congressional seat.

The invitations issued would be adjusted so that the population of Congress always mirrored the occupational background of the general republic. So, for example, if 5% of the population were farmers, and farmers tended to lose elections or decline an invitation to make a fully funded run for Congress, then there would be a temporary increase in the number of invitations to farmers to make a fully funded run for Congress (so in one year the number of invitations might exceed their percentage in the population). Eventually things would balance out, and Congress would well reflect the occupational percentages of the general public.

The best result of this system would be that Congress would be made up almost entirely of the common people, and would be far more likely to pass laws favoring the common people. This would be a great improvement over our current system of government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.

Some will say: come on, you couldn't have a system in which crucial decisions on people's futures are made by randomly selected citizens from all walks of life. But we already have one such system which works well: the jury system.

Characteristic 4: Instead of the current system where there is rarely more than 2 viable candidates for an office, there would be 5 fully-funded randomly selected candidates for each congressional seat.

How many times have you anticipated voting, and thought to yourself: none of the above. This problem could be partially eliminated by a system like the one described previously, a system that would guarantee that there would be five fully funded candidates for each Congressional seat.

Assuming that half of the people are conservative, and half are liberal, a random lottery invitation system would have only about 1 chance in 32 of producing a slate of all liberals or all conservatives in a particular voting district. This would probably be better than under the current system, where your odds of having no real choice in a particular congressional district is probably greater than 1 in 32 (since so many Democrats are barely distinguishable from Republicans, and many seats are uncontested).

Characteristic 5: Only those who had received the randomly generated invitations could run for Congress.

Under such a rule, it would not be possible for a rich ambitious person to appear on the ballot for Congress because he had used his own funds to gather a sufficient number of signatures supporting his candidacy. There would be no way for the rich to buy their way into Congress.

Characteristic 6: There would be an “instant runoff” system of voting wherein you list a first, second, and third choice.

Our current system of voting creates many strange paradoxes, and the evil of “strategic voting,” in which you often end up voting for someone other than the person you prefer most. In a race with three contestants, when going to vote, you may favor candidate X; but you may worry that if you vote for candidate X you will help throw the election to candidate Y (who is in a tight battle with candidate Z, who you like a little more than Candidate Y). So you end up voting for candidate Z, who is not really the person you want to win. Such strange effects can be eliminated by an “instant runoff” system in which you specify a first choice choice, a second choice, and a third choice. In this case you would specify candidate X as your first choice, and candidate Z as your second choice. You would not worry that your vote would have the effect of being a vote for candidate Y, because under the instant runoff system if candidate X loses, you have not enhanced the chances of candidate Y winning.

An "instant runoff" ballot for voting

Characteristic 7: A president of the republic would be directly elected, without anything like the electoral college.

The “instant runoff” system would be used to elect a president of the republic, with the winner being whoever got the most total points. By avoiding any electoral college system, there would be no possibility of any candidate losing the election to another candidate who got more popular support, due to some electoral fluke such as occurred in 2000 when Gore lost to Bush even though Gore got more votes nationwide.

Characteristic 8: Anyone would be able to vote without any prior registration.

It is absurd that under our current system people are barred from voting because they didn't remember to register weeks earlier. Such a system effectively rules out large fractions of the populations from voting.

It is easy to imagine advanced technology that could make this possible. There could, for example, be a retina scanner or fingerprint scanner that would upload to a national database. If anyone tried to vote twice on the same day, a computerized system would immediately prevent the second attempt to vote.

Characteristic 9: The voting age would be lowered to age 16.

We currently put our lives (and the lives of our children) in the hands of teenagers of age 16, by allowing them to get driver's licenses. But we do not allow the same people to merely vote. Anyone old enough to drive is old enough to vote.

Characteristic 10: Political contributions by corporations would be forbidden, and contributions by individuals would be limited to a small amount.

To prevent corporations from having influence over elections to favor their selfish ends, in our fairer future republic it would be illegal for a corporation to make contributions to anyone's election campaign. There would also be a limit on how much any individual could contribute during a particular election, a limit such as 100 dollars. This would prevent rich people from heavily influencing elections for the sake of their own selfish ends.