Friends of mine know that I’m an ardent supporter of electoral reform in Canada— specifically I believe this country should transition from a First Past The Post electoral system to a system of proportional representation such as STV.

Almost a year ago while on vacation I started to ask myself whether the systemic qualities we demand in government are exclusive to democracy or if any other system of government could achieve the same qualities we hold as desirable.  I realized that my support of proportional representation is rooted in the belief that a representative government is a legitimate government and that this is a foundational concept in any modern democracy.

Ignoring the problems specific to non-proportionally representative democracies, there remains one major issue with all modern democracies: self-selection bias of the electorate and candidates.  It can be argued that countries that make voting mandatory eliminate self-selection bias in the electorate, but the issue of candidate self-selection remains.  Candidates choose to run based on their own self-interests.  Some of them have a “genuine” desire to serve and make things better.  Some of them just want a job.  Some of them have a power complex.  Some of them are popular and were encouraged to run by supporters.  But all of those elected, if they wish to keep their jobs beyond their current term, are forced to represent more than just themselves.  They must represent those who care about their decisions, another self-selected group.

Appointed democracy is another idea

Instead of electing MPs, what about appointing them randomly from a list which contains all eligible voters in the style of jury selection?  In doing this, every possible person who can vote will statistically have an equal shot at directly making decisions and crafting legislation.  Provided the sitting parliament has enough members the vast majority of voices, both majority and minority, will be represented.

No doubt, there would be some who wouldn’t want to deliver on their civic duty in this system.  I would propose that payment would have to be quite significant, around the level of current sitting MPs and increasing with each year of service up to the maximum.  I would also suggest appointments be staggered in order to foster an environment of continuity and experience.  If the terms were perhaps five years long then twenty percent of the parliament would be appointed each year to replace the exiting MPs.  Those recently elected could be mentored by second and third-year MPs and those in their final years could draft legislation.

One issue that may arise is the issue of compensation for high and very-high income earners who are appointed and forced to give up a large portion of their earning potential.  For each appointed MP I would propose that in addition to the aforementioned monetary compensation a multi-year income tax holiday would be awarded.  This would allow compensation to proportionately follow the earnings potential of MPs in an unbiased fashion based entirely on their prior achievements or future ambition.

I realize this idea hasn’t been fleshed out very thoroughly.  For example I’m not even touching on what this regime change could do to strengthen or deteriorate the partisanship that exists in a garden-variety democracy which would undoubtably be material do the discussion.  Nonetheless I want to put it out there for others to think about if only to demonstrate that there are other ways to do things that could possibly work as well as the status quo.  Or possibly better.

UPDATE: When I originally wrote this I had the selection process used in the formation of the Ontario’s Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform in my head as a model.  Roughly speaking, this assembly was randomly selected and contained a demographic sample of Ontario society.  For those who aren’t familiar with the assembly, its objective was to propose a new electoral system for the province of Ontario to replace the status quo first-past-the-post.  The irony of proposing their selection process as a system of government isn’t lost on me, considering they themselves proposed a democratic alternative in mixed-member proportional.  I should add that they, though being randomly selected, were able to arrive at a massive consensus (94-8) and were successful.  It’s disappointing that the electorate didn’t agree with the panel when the referendum occurred in October 2007.

I also assumed that I wasn’t the first person to think of using the model in a governing context and it and it turns out that is the case.  Thanks to Robin Harbron for pointing me to the Wikipedia article on Demarchy.  There’s quite a bit of useful discussion in there if anyone is interested in following up.