The United States Elections Should NOT be Run as a “Lottocracy”.

Opinions on Debatable Issues #7

Lottocracy, also called sortition, is the selection of political officials as a random sample from a larger pool of candidates. Ernest Callenbach and Michael Philips argue this “scheme would ensure fair representation for the people and their interests, elimination of many realpolitik behaviors, and a reduction in the influence of money and associated corruption, all leading to better legislation”. However, lottocracy is impracticable in the US when brought into practice. Here is why.

Should We Replace Traditional Elections with Sortition? –
Reason Magazine

Foremost, lottocracy can cause incompetent officials to be elected, which is unhelpful in creating an effective political system. In an elections-based system, we elect representatives because we believe they’re good at their jobs. According to Susan Stokes, professor of political science at Yale University, “There are ways in which we want our elected officials to look like us and then there are other ways in which we want them to be better than us”. But in lottocracy, as professor Ashley Koning of Rutgers’ Eagleton Institute of Politics says, “Some individuals may not want or are simply not equipped with the right skill set to serve.” In contrast, elections allow the most experienced and informed candidate to take the job because, naturally, citizens vote based on the past achievements of the candidates. Lottocracy can put a person with no basic knowledge about the Constitution nor federal laws to the important job of directing the future of our nation.

5 tips for working with incompetent co-workers | The Seattle Times
The Seattle Times

Some argue that capability is not a problem because a cognitive test will be conducted and basic training on specific topics and communication with local experts will be provided to inform the people being selected in a lottocracy. However, those cannot make them competent and experienced enough to be Senators or Congressmen. Despite that they might feel pressured by the responsibility put on them, it is simply unrealistic for ordinary citizens to obtain abundant legal knowledge and understanding of politics in such a short amount of time. You cannot train a normal person into a gymnastic in a couple of weeks and put that person into an Olympic contest, expecting them to bring the US a gold medal.

Do You Have Unrealistic Expectations of Your Grief - Grief Inspired
Grief Inspired

Besides the problem of incompetence, lottocracy undermines democracy. A country’s future cannot be thrown into the hands of fate or luck because it will engender chaos and dissatisfaction. Unlike jury duty, in which people are randomly chosen to decide something usually has little impact on the entire country, Senators and Congressmen represent the people’s will and shape the future of the US. Therefore, only when the candidate that is supported by the majority of citizens is elected, we are closer to democracy. If lottocracy can create the best outcome, then citizens should not worry about whether Sen. Doug Jones is going to be elected as the Alabama senator because any candidate is sane and educated. But, in reality, people are doing what they can to influence the election in a way that fits their desired outcome because that is the only way for us to feel represented and heard. We will always prefer one candidate over the other or dislike a candidate. The only way to have the majority satisfied and to maximize the citizens’ power and fulfill their will about who holds power and how this country looks like in the future is to maintain the current elections-based system because voting ensures that who gets the majority’s votes got elected. In a lottocracy, a candidate with only a 5% of approval rate can get elected, leaving 95% citizens discontent. This is the opposite of democracy because the candidates that represent the will of the majority do not get the job.

Should Decisions Be by Minority or Majority? – New Shepherds Orientation  and Seasoned Shepherds Revitalization
New Shepherds Orientation

Some argue that the current system tends to disproportionately select for social and economic elites as officeholders and lottocracy eliminate this. However, it is natural and ideal for social elites to be advantageous in elections. I am not saying that it is fair for the wealthy to remain in power, however, it is what is best for the current society. Let me explain. As Peter Belmi, Ph.D., of the University of Virginia contests, “Advantages beget advantages. Those who are born in upper-class echelons are likely to remain in the upper class, and high-earning entrepreneurs disproportionately originate from highly educated, well-to-do families.” Future generations of wealthier families or those who have political affiliations are born with advantages that shape them into competent candidates. Very few low-income students are admitted or recruited to elite universities, where high-paying employers go to recruit. In contrast, low-income students that can enroll in college disproportionately attend under-resourced colleges or universities and end up with low-paid jobs. Thus, usually, people from higher social classes are more competent and informed, and resourceful, to hold political office. This is an indisputable fact and cannot be reversed by simply changing to lottocracy without addressing the real problem of social disparity.

For richer, for poorer | Special report | The Economist
The Economist

What’s gonna happen in a lottocratic system in the US today is that unqualified candidates from lower social classes will fail to do their jobs or at least o them not as well as others could have done. This inevitably incurs dissatisfaction from other candidates, politicians, and citizens while undermining the effectiveness of the US political system. The only situation that can make lottocracy workable and create ideal outcomes is an egalitarian society where everyone has the same education and equal opportunities. But there is no way that the US is an egalitarian country or will be one in the future. Therefore, the election method should be realistic and adapt to the current economic and social disparities. Therefore, the current system that allows competent candidates, despite that they are often social elites, to be elected is overall better than lottocracy.

How To Deal With Customer Dissatisfaction | Small Business Automated
Small Business Automated

Lastly, lottocracy diminishes the powerful incentives of candidates to “ascertain and address the concerns of the citizenry” and “to perform at least minimally competently to promote their chances of re-election”. The pressure to obtain public support by recognizing problems that exist in this country and making improvements and contributing to the welfare of more citizens are generated in elections-based government. In lottocracy, there is no incentive for candidates to do so because all that’s going to decide their chance of getting the job is luck, so there is no point to do more for citizens in exchange for their support.

snoozing clipart - Clip Art Library
Clipart Library

Many argue in favor of lottocracy because of the flaws with the current election system. Even though there are legit concerns that current candidates’ focus on campaign and fundraising makes the results undemocratic because of the influences of economic and political circumstances, electoral finance rules can mitigate the elite advantage in electoral systems. According to the USA government, the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) puts limits on campaign contributions to candidates for president and Congress. It requires the candidates to report all the money their campaigns receive and spend. With this limit, the extent to which economic and political influence might impact the election results is controlled.

Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 - Ballotpedia

In short, lottocracy is not the solution to safeguard Democracy in the US. The root problem of the political and economic domination of social elites in top political positions must be addressed from bottom to top, which is to say that we need to provide equal education, opportunities, and other subsidies to abridge the incrementing socioeconomic disparities. Without creating a more equal society, in which most people are competent and informed, adapting lottocracy will only result in legislative chaos, civil dissatisfaction, and an ineffective political system.

The current election system is not perfect. Nevertheless, the solution is not to abandon it and go to the other side of the spectrum completely, but to adapt and improve it.

Democracy still works — but only if we work at it | Financial Times
Financial Times



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  1. Yoram Gat says:

    Hi there,

    Thank you for linking to Equality-by-Lot. If you would like to have a conversation about this topic, moving beyond the standard slogans for and against, I’d be happy to take part.


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