Randomization in Democratic Design: Applications to Modern Redistricting

– Bruce E Cain

While lottery government was an important feature in some of the earliest democracies, it has until recently played a relatively minor role in modern democratic design. Sortition in the Athenian state served to limit the influence of wealth, connections and power over government officials. By comparison, modern democracies have preferred to counter outside influence and special interests with civil service reform, stricter conflict of interest laws, transparency requirements and more frequent elections.  This modern effort to limit unwanted special interest influences has only been partially successful, especially in the US. In an effort to find additional ways to limit outside influence on public officials and to promote more deliberation in public affairs, some observers and reform leaders have rediscovered and revived sortition as a solution to contemporary democracy problems.  One example of this is in the area of redistricting reform. Political systems that use district based as opposed to at large elections for selecting representatives must redraw their legislative boundaries periodically to conform to the principle of “one person, one vote” equality. The ostensibly technical task of equalizing district populations is inevitably fraught with political tensions of various types, especially when incumbents and party leaders have the power and responsibility to devise and vote on their own district lines. When a single party controls the linedrawing process, it often results in a plan that favors it over the opposition. When neither party is in complete   control, the compromise solution is frequently one that diminishes electoral accountability and responsiveness by making all or most incumbents safer. Initial redistricting reform efforts turned to the courts for relief, hoping that judges would adopt fairness standards that could prevent partisan and incumbent gerrymandering.  After numerous attempts, the Court, however, was unable to settle on a manageable standard of political fairness, concluding only that our single member, simple plurality method of electing legislators does not imply the proportional representation standard associated with parliamentary systems.

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