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Friday, 2 July 2010


Democracies and dictatorships share a shortcoming: those in power want to be there. Since before Plato we have known that the most important disqualification from government should be a desire to govern, and there have been many proposals over the years for rule by juries of conscripts. My personal favourite would be to retain the idea of elected representatives from constituencies, but to deny those representatives the right to vote. They would be able to propose and to debate, rather like courtroom lawyers, but the conscripted jury (who would be allowed to do neither) would get to make the decisions.

But no such scheme will be implemented, of course, because both the politicians currently in power and their opponents who want to be in power next year have no interest in volunteering to be usurped by a jury of Ordinary People.

So how could we move a little way in the direction of government by jury?

One difficulty prevalent in democracies is a byproduct from the need to establish consensus to get anywhere. This good thing leads to a bad thing: the social cohesion required of the ruling group and the desire of its members for preferment cause those members to vote with the group even when they know it's doing something silly (and these are politicians remember, so silliness is pretty inevitable).

Secret votes in parliaments and senates would eliminate that difficulty completely. But that would lead, in turn, to a democratic problem: constituents need to know how their representatives voted in time for the next election, so they can decide if those representatives kept their promises and acted well.

Fortunately the inevitable bureaucracy of general-election nominations can be used to resolve this problem quite simply. Election candidates have to put in candidature forms before a deadline that is some weeks ahead of an election. Therefore we set up a scheme whereby sitting parliamentarians and congresspersons vote secretly in their parliament, and their votes are recorded. Then, the day after the deadline for the election-candidature forms, the voting records of all sitting members are released.

That way people in parliaments can vote according to how they really think, and the electorate also gets to know exactly how they voted before deciding whether or not to re-elect them.

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