A government of our peers

The foundation of American democracy is the belief that, when a government is not working, citizens have the right to change their government. The time has come to consider such a change. My proposal would require a constitutional convention whose decisions would have to be ratified by the various states, but I think approval will happen, given the problems with our current system of choosing leaders.

I propose that we choose our President and members of Congress in the same way we choose our juries, providing a government of our peers rather than a government of expert politicians.
The best leaders are those who do not seek power. In ancient Athens, governing officials were selected by lot for one-year terms. In the early Christian Church, new leaders were selected by those already in office—often the best of them declined their nomination, since they did not feel qualified to lead. They just wanted to learn more about Jesus. They were forced into office against their will, and they proved to be qualified all the same.

Imagine that in each Congressional district of the United States, the names of all registered voters are placed into a pool, and twelve names are randomly selected. A board of attorneys (consisting of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents) reviews the twelve citizens, researching their lives and removing the names of those who are not qualified for a place in Congress, but leaving a list of five nominees for the position (even if a further drawing of names is needed after the first twelve are exhausted). During the summer, information on the five candidates is sent to all voters at public expense. They debate one another in public, but privately funded campaigning is discouraged. On the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, voters choose from among the five. If none of them receives more than half the votes, the two who received the most votes are placed on a second ballot which is presented to voters on the third or fourth Tuesday of November.

The members of Congress would meet in Washington as is done now. They would be guaranteed the right to return to their former jobs after their time in office has ended, just as jurors and reserve military personnel are guaranteed now. A provision could be made for incumbent Representatives to be reelected if the voters so choose, although they would not run unopposed. Once the system proves itself in the House of Representatives, we will begin selecting Senators in the same way. Eventually, the President of the United States will also be chosen in this manner.

The writers of the Constitution did not trust voters to make good decisions about their leaders. The Constitution allowed voters to select Representatives, but it had state governments choose Senators. (An amendment to the Constitution changed that in 1913.) The Constitution still does not allow voters to choose a President, but only to choose electors who will choose a President. (Electors promise in advance who they will choose, so voters have confidence that they are choosing their President.) The Constitution says nothing about political parties, because the writers of the Constitution were opposed to the idea of political parties. For most of American history, party conventions chose candidates for office with little participation from the average voter. Often candidates were chosen by compromise in “smoke-filled rooms.” When Hubert Humphrey was nominated by the Democrats in 1968 without having won a single caucus or primary election, both major parties changed their rules to hold caucuses or primary elections in each of the fifty states. Both parties still seat additional delegates not chosen by the voters, and these so-called “super delegates” can still swing a nomination away from the choice of the voters.

Perhaps this idea should be tested in several states before a constitutional convention meets to propose this change for the entire nation. If four or five states selected their legislators and state-wide officials in the same way that juries are selected, we would see whether or not this idea works. The final change would be many years away, but the pain of this year’s presidential election might be remembered long enough to fuel a drive toward this change.

Our form of government is designed to change, responsive to the will of the people. Changes have succeeded in the past, so changes can succeed in the near future. Surely we can do better than we are doing this year. J.