Sortition can be seen as a backlash against a permanent political class. And yet it is hard to imagine achieving good governance without a cohesive group of elites who have the knowledge and social connections to navigate the inevitable complexities of such a vast undertaking. So if sortition is to work, some way must be found to select and develop the permanent class of decision makers who will actually pull the levers of governance on a day-to-day basis.
As I see it, there is nothing that the framers of the U.S. constitution got more wrong than in how they viewed the political elite. Their view was that political parties (“factions”) were to be avoided at all costs. Instead, individual candidates should represent the basic unit of choice presented to the voter. Unfortunately, this proved unworkable from the very beginning, and the political party of most of the founders, the Federalist party, died with the founding generation precisely because it eschewed the institutional structures needed to present voters with a coherent political worldview.
Many of our current travails stem from the fact that the Constitution does not recognize political parties in any official way. If this recognition existed, we could deal much better with issues like gerrymandering, but the pretense that we just vote for the candidate gets in the way.
So let’s go all the way in the other direction, and institutionalize political parties as a basic part of our government. First, let’s decide how many we want, and give each one the status of a ministry or department. I think 5 is the right number, since it gives voters enough choice to avoid simply voting against what they dislike, while not creating so much that voters are confused.
Second, let’s note that their entire operation—hiring, advertising, holding rallies, etc—will be funded directly through the general fund. Any attempt by political parties to raise money from outside sources should be illegal.
Third, the governance of the parties themselves is not democratic. This is absolutely essential. The purpose of a political party is to present the voters with a choice, not to be a polity in miniature. With this in mind, all parties must be governed by a central committee with no more than, say, 30 members. The chair of this committee would have the status of a cabinet secretary. Members would be replaced by the committee itself. This may strike some as undemocratic, but again, parties are the preconditions of democratic choice. Plus, as I outline below, there is a way to eliminate poor performing political parties.
And how do we vote for these parties? We rank each of the five parties. But on what topics? Surely ranking the parties on all governance matters at once is too much. A governing axis is the name I give to the various aspects on which we vote. I have 6 such axes in mind:
- Legislative – permanent laws: Laws, such as criminal and torte law, without duration. No spending can be allocated in these laws, although clearly these laws have budgetary implications.
- Legislative – budget: The budget is a temporary law (generally 1 or 2 years duration) to fund the government.
- Executive – domestic policy: The agencies of domestic policy (health, education, etc.)
- Executive – foreign policy: The agencies of foreign policy (state, defense, etc.)
- Executive – finance: The agencies of finance (treasury, securities regulation, etc.)
- Judicial: The courts.
In this way the ordinary voter now has 5 parties to rank, and six categories in which to express a preference. This is the “Goldilocks” realm of choice—not too much, not to little.
By some method, then, each party will get a (percentage) weight in each of these axes. The exact methods for this calculation are a topic for another post. What it means, however, is that the political power structure at any given time is essential just a 6 x 5 array of weights, representing the power each party has on each axis.
The election cycle has become a national trauma, creating both anxiety for ordinary citizens and perverse incentives for the political elite. A nice benefit of this system is that the ballot always looks the same: It is a ranking of all the political parties on each of the axes. As a result, voting can be done in a rolling fashion, rather than at a single distinct time. Voting continuously (in cohorts, to preserve ballot secrecy) eliminates a great source of instability in our current system.
Finally, what do we do with underperforming political parties? I take my cues here from European football (soccer), where a system of relegation and promotion ensures that bad teams drop out of the elite levels of play. Periodically, (say, every 4 years) the worst performing political party would be scrapped, and its position would be given to a new group of 30 board members. This could be done by petition (whoever gets the most signatures) or some other method. Obviously, prior to becoming a political party, a group would have to raise outside money, but once it becomes an official party, it will be funded from the tax base.
We now have a set of political parties measured along a number of axes, and empowered according to their share of the vote. What advantages does this have?
- Continuity: Voting happens continuously, with approximately equal cohorts. Each moment in time is as significant as any other, at least in terms of directly choosing the political elite.
- Parties over candidates: Parties present a more consistent choice to voters. They have persistence over time, and put out a clear platform. Individual candidates are much more volatile, and expose policy to a much greater degree of personal risk. Why should the minimum wage depend on the details of a particular candidate’s love life? Voting for parties reduces this risk.
- Natural policy groupings: Today, many voters choose a President based on their view of the courts. They choose legislative candidates on their most important issue (say, reproductive rights) even when they disagree with that candidate on other major issues. Voting by governance axis reduces this problem.
- End of “winner-take-all”: The worst aspect of our system is winner-take-all. As things stand in most democracies, only the governing party can actually do anything. In this system, each party has power in proportion to its share of the vote.
In a previous post, I explained how a proportional power structure can work for the judiciary. In future posts, I will go over mechanisms for the other axes. For the executive branch axes, the issue is mostly personnel, so the systems will look a lot like the system for the judiciary. For the legislative branches, power is mostly about the ability to propose laws that will then be voted on by a jurga, so the system will give a greater chance to more popular parties to propose laws. However it is important to note that smaller parties will still have some power to propose laws, avoiding the kind of gridlock we see in the U.S. where broadly popular policies never even get brought to a vote.
What then is the purpose of a political elite? It takes real professionals to run a government, but any group will become a conspiracy if left to its own devices. In my system, the elite does not run the government directly. Instead, it formulates basic political decisions to be considered by a jurga, which is the ultimate unit of sovereignty.