[EM] Conceiving a Democratic Electoral Process

Fred Gohlke fredgohlke at verizon.net
Tue Jul 10 10:05:02 PDT 2012

Good Afternoon, Kristofer

re: "If we consider representative democracy as a proxy for
      direct democracy, to make the latter managable, then we
      could be even stronger: we'd want representatives that would
      act as we would if we had sufficient information and time."

That's a good way of putting it.  Could it be improved by saying we want 
representatives that would act better than we act - by making rational 
rather than emotional decisions?

re: "There's a problem, though: it's hard to separate the
      categories (opinion and ability) from each other. If a
      representative says that we can't do X, is that because
      it's really a bad idea or because he's part of an oligarchy
      that benefits from not doing X? Similarly, if a
      representative says we should do X, does he mean that is a
      good idea, or is he trying to manage perceptions?

      Since it's hard to tell by the representatives' acts alone,
      that leaves the system. In an ideal case, the system
      discourages an oligarchy in the first place (rather than
      trying to patch things up when the oligarchy exists), while
      placing the good in positions as representatives."

As you say, it's hard to separate opinion and ability from each other - 
and it's impossible to do so from a distances.  That's why the system 
must give us a way to gauge the judgment and integrity of candidates 
before they're elected.  Once they take office, their decisions affect 
our lives.  If we cannot conceive a system that lets us evaluate them as 
well as we're able before we elect them we are doomed to an endless 
repetition of our past.

Gauging the judgment and integrity of an individual can never be 
perfect, but we can get better insight into a person's character through 
face-to-face interaction than we can in any other way.  If the 
interaction takes place in a competitive environment, it will bring out 
the vital distinctions needed to identify the better qualified candidates.

re: "If representative democracy is/should be a managable way of
      direct democracy, then we can also note that it doesn't, by
      itself, deal with the problem of opinions changing too
      rapidly, or of populism. Other parts of the system should
      handle that ..."

Therein lies the role of partisanship.  Society is dynamic and people's 
perceptions and anxieties change.  As particular concerns arise, their 
proponents will attract supporters.  While the rabble-rousing effect of 
the media cannot be avoided, that influence can be ameliorated if 
partisans are given the facilities and encouraged to seek out their best 
advocates to outline their concerns and develop alternatives.  When 
their views are shown to be in the interest of the community, their 
alternatives will be adopted, in whole or in part.

re: "In an electoral context, that might take the shape of not
      frequently re-electing the whole assembly but rather parts
      of it, or having different term limits depending on support,
      or requiring supermajorities or double majorities.)

Re-electing a portion of the assembly at each election provides a level 
of stability to government.  Term limits, while important, become less 
so if the people have a mechanism to carefully examine candidates during 
each election cycle.

When I think of the size of majorities, I think of the life of our laws. 
  At present, there is no provision for removing bad laws except by 
legislative action.  We will be better served when the life of our laws 
depends on the size of the majority by which they are passed.  Then, 
laws which barely pass will have to be re-enacted when they expire. 
This forces a re-examination of the law, after it has had an opportunity 
to accomplish the purpose for which it was passed.  If it is found to be 
effective, it may attract a greater majority and a longer life.

re: "So the problem is not partisanship, but rather exclusively
      partisan decisions."

The problem is that the parties are allowed to control the people's 
access to their government.  When the parties enact the rules by which 
elections are conducted, they control the way the people can interact 
with their government.  Gerrymandering and school board elections (in my 
state) are screaming examples, and are but the tip of the iceberg.  When 
the parties write the rules of engagement, democracy can not survive.

re: "It it were partisanship itself, the solution might have been
      easier, but what you're saying means that we should try to
      find a just-right spot instead: partisan influences not too
      strong (which is the case now) nor too weak."

Not exactly.  What I'm saying is that the people, all the people, 
including non-partisans, must be allowed to participate in the political 
process.  This is difficult because non-partisans, as a group, are not 
active in politics, "yet many of their most important concerns remain 
very political." (quote taken from The Report of the Commission on 
Candidate Selection - a board composed of the leaders of five large 
political parties in Great Britain - that investigated why parties are 
not representative of the people.)  Conceiving a way to give 
non-partisans a meaningful way to influence the political process is a 
serious undertaking.

re: "What do you think of proportional representation systems?
      Are they closer to that sweet spot than are majoritarian
      systems?"  Are they close enough?

They are almost certainly better than a two-party system, but they are 
not close enough for a fundamental reason.  Parties, by definition, have 
a narrower focus than the people.  They can never represent more than a 
portion of the people's concerns.

re: "Still, if aristocracy (in the original sense) decays to
      oligarchy too quickly, then sortition might be 'the worst
      except for all the others'."

Sortition would be an improvement over what we (in the U.S.) have today. 
  It would at least raise the level of governance to average.  I prefer 
to set my sights higher.  We have, among us, no shortage of superior 
individuals.  All we lack is a means of seeking them out and raising 
them to elective office as our representatives.  My hope is that we can 
conceive a means of doing so.

re: (with regard to whether a hybrid sortition system would deny
     us the benefit of partisan thought and action) "... perhaps
     parties would become support organizations of opinion."

I think they would, but it would be frustrating because the chance of 
achieving their goal would be severely reduced.  Would it be possible to 
include random choices from among those who identify themselves as party 
members and random choices from among the non-partisans, with the number 
of choices proportional to the size of the group?


More information about the Election-Methods mailing list