By Ted Wachtel
Alexander Guerrero concept of “lottocracy” proposes a series of single-issue legislatures focusing on different areas—agriculture, consumer protection, defense, education, environmental protection, financial services regulation, healthcare, tax policy—rather than trying to deal with all of those areas in a traditional general legislature.
The 300 legislators in each single-issue legislature would be randomly selected for three-year terms, with 100 retiring and 100 replacing them each year, just like the U.S. Senate that changes one-third of its members every two years.
The primary advantage of the single-issue focus is that it enables citizen legislators to more readily learn what is needed to thoughtfully legislate in a particular area, rather like the strategy used in Deliberative Polling. Although Guerrero uses this model to present his case, he recognizes that there could be many other variations; but the critical element is the selection of legislators by lottery.
His concern with elections is that, “In the presence of widespread citizen ignorance and the absence of meaningful accountability, powerful interests will effectively capture representatives, ensuring that the only viable candidates—the only people who can get and stay in political power—are those who will act in ways that are congenial to the interests of the powerful.”
Professional staff, including lawyers, would support each single-issue legislature through a series of stages—agenda setting, expert presentations, consultation, deliberation, drafting, voting—in a process similar to Deliberative Polling; but it would last weeks or months, rather than just a weekend.
Guerrero discusses financial compensation for legislators, and strategies to ensure that participants do not take lucrative jobs or other kinds of bribes from those who want to influence legislation.
There are a range of practical considerations that would need to be explored and decided, such as:
- how to insulate citizen legislators from undue influence by family, friends and others
- how to provide peer support in coping with the pressures they face while serving
- how to take advantage of technologies to reduce the need for travel by supplementing face-to-face sessions with virtual meetings
Guerrero’s single-issue legislature offers another way that states and nations can experiment with an alternative to elected legislatures and try innovative variations, using single-issue legislatures for certain issues, without changing everything.
“Authority” is the official side of governance. Authority is inherent in those who have designated decision-making roles, from parents to presidents.
“Influence” is the unofficial side of governance. Even the strictest parents and the most powerful dictators must contend with influence, the inherent ability of their children and their citizens to support or defy authority and influence others to do the same.
Governance works best in any setting where authority and influence are aligned in support of shared goals. That’s what democratic elections are supposed to achieve: Citizens exercise their influence by voting into authority decision-makers who share their goals.
Sadly, the majority of citizens in democratic republics around the world no longer believe that is true. However, we can realign influence and authority by decentralizing governance; allowing people more voice and more choice, in exchange for taking more responsibility.
Selecting legislators by lottery means that citizens do not merely vote for decision-makers. They are the decision-makers. Influence merges with authority.
Given how strange and new the whole idea of lottocracy is to all of us, we should proceed thoughtfully and evaluate each step. But to do nothing leaves us stuck in the corrupt world that democracies now inhabit, dominated by party politicians beholden to the wealthy and the powerful.