by John K. Berntson, February 25, 2004 (posted)
What is it that makes you who you are? Are you a computer geek, a sports freak, or a soap queen? Do you work in an office, in a store, or out in the elements? Are you straight, gay, or open to interpretation? Are you married or cohabiting? Got kids? Do you drive a truck, an SUV, a minivan, or a sedan? Do you hunt or go to the ballet? Are you a little bit country or a little bit rock and roll? Neither? Both? Do you live in a house, an apartment, a trailer, or a boat? Do you believe in God? What effect should any of this have on public policy?
Here's the thing: there are many, many things that make you you. Probably one of the least important things about you is where you live. Yet, in our representative democracy, you are lumped together in a district with thousands of strangers, almost none of whom agree with you on most particulars, and on Election Day you all try to elect one person to represent all of you. If you live in a "safe" district, it is likely that anywhere from a quarter to a third of the district voted for someone else. If you live in a competitive district, nearly half of the votes went to someone else. All together, probably forty percent of the voters did not vote for their representative -- and this does not count the large number of people who are not happy with the representative their chosen party selected for them.
But this is a democracy and winner takes all. Right? This is the way we do things in this country, the way all right-thinking people in the world do things. We have elections where everyone gets to vote, one side wins, and one side loses. The winners get to have their way for two or four years and the losers get to try again at that time. Is this not fair? How else would you do it? After all, you cannot hope to represent everyone.
Why is it impossible? Is there no way for everyone to be equally represented? Could this representation go beyond simple left and right, Republican and Democrat? How can we have a system that lets everyone have a voice?
Simple. Instead of electing candidates, we select representatives. We abandon the concept of representative districts and move onto direct, numerical representation of like-minded groups.
Welcome to Selection Day. As an example, let us see how this could work for the Colorado House.
Phase I: Any registered voter choosing to stand for office goes out and gets a couple of hundred signatures, just to keep the nonsense people from polluting the process. Signatures are verified by the Secretary of State.
Phase II: The Secretary of State publishes a list of candidates, mailed to every registered voter. This will include each candidate's name and address and a, say, five-hundred word essay, for lack of a better word, written by the candidate. In the essay, the candidate can include anything he wants to about himself, his stand on issues, his party affiliation, his biography, a phone number, a website.
This is the candidate's one chance to sell himself to the public on the taxpayer's dime. Undoubtedly, the media will back this up with their own voters' guides and candidates would be free to advertise as they do today. However, as candidates would not be running against each other, exactly, advertisements would probably be a little more positive, with little point in attacking other candidates.
This is where the magic of such a system would come into play, as each candidate tries to differentiate himself from all others, hoping for enough votes to propel him into office. He may attempt to sell himself as a regional candidate or he may try for statewide appeal. He might try to woo the VFW or the Sierra Club. He might try to be the champion of some minority or another.
Phase III: By whatever method seems appropriate, each voter selects the one candidate who, he feels, represents him. This would probably be a mail-in ballot of some sort, though it could just as well happen at the polls with election judges and such. The Secretary of State tallies all of the ballots. As we cannot, of course, have a legislature with hundreds or thousands of representatives, especially if we pay them, there will have to be a cutoff of some type. Since there are currently sixty-five members in the House, that would seem a good number. The Secretary of State announces the top sixty-five vote-getters; everybody else is eliminated.
Phase IV: Everybody who has had their candidate eliminated now gets a second ballot, with only the sixty-five survivors listed. They select as their representative the person on the list who they feel best represents them.
The House now takes office and everything goes pretty much the way they do now, but with a couple of exceptions. First, it would no longer be one representative, one vote. Each representative would carry the votes of everyone who selected him. This would make some representatives more powerful than others, but why not? We have legislators today who are more powerful than others, but for far less reason. Second, as representatives would not be equal and as many of them would not owe their position to the parties, House officers and committee assignments would probably be made in a different manner than today. Indeed, one hope for the system is that there would not be a static majority and minority, but that representatives would switch from one to the other, depending on the issue.
Yes, there are downsides to all of this. For one thing, it would be possible to have a one-man majority, though I think human nature would prevent that, but even if it did happen, this super-representative would still be at the mercy of voters in a couple of years. For another thing, we would lose the concept of the secret ballot. It would be imperative that the Secretary know who voted for whom and that each representative knows who he represents. Also, there would need to be allowances for when a representative dies or resigns from office.
However, I think all of this would be offset by a much more true representation of the public at large. It might even get those non-voters -- the ones who feel that they have no voice, whether they vote or not -- to participate. Political parties would still have a role, but their power would diminish.
The Senate? We have some options here. The Colorado Senate might be chosen in the same manner as the House. Or, we could elect senators the same way we do today. Or, we could set the House cutoff at thirty-four, instead of sixty-five, swap chambers, and have every board of county commissioners in the state select one senator, which should more than fill the larger chamber. Anyone who, like me, despises the Seventeenth Amendment can see the advantage of this method. The point is, if we have two houses, each selected by different means, it probably decreases the likelihood of any given law being passed. From a libertarian perspective, that would be a good thing.
This is a new way of looking at governance. If it can work at the state level, perhaps it can also work at the federal level. There might even be ways to adopt it to local government. Let your imagination run free.
No, this is not a serious proposal. I see no way of getting this enacted, either through the current legislature or through citizen initiative. I will not waste one political erg trying to get it enacted. Nor would it likely solve the basic problem, that we are in fact getting in our government a crude version of what the people actually seem to want.
Instead, I offer it to you as an example, so that you might offer it to others, showing them that the current political system is not the only one possible, nor is it likely the best one possible. Most people are married to their voting patterns because they -- often correctly -- believe that it is best option they have under our current representative democracy. If we can convince them that the political system we have is not the best available, that there are better, fairer alternatives, if we can wipe the Red, White, and Blue from their eyes long enough to see that what their teachers taught them about fairness and compromise could be wrong, we may open their eyes to better ideas, new options. This is what we need to do.
Selection Day is just a concept, one that probably would not have been possible when this country or this state was formed. New technology makes many new concepts possible, including various flavors of direct democracy. We should want, very much, to make people question the current system, to make them see the ultimate unfairness of group rule. Selection Day is a way of bringing these inequities to light. By describing a system that is more fair, more representative, we might then suggest to them our proposed system, where everyone gets to choose for themselves and nobody has the power to force others to do things their way, whether they are in the majority or not.
If our only argument is that Republican and Democrat politicians are stupid, evil people who misuse the system, we will most likely lose and will little change things if we win. The American people have become very comfortable with the notion of pointing guns at each other, to make each other obey. We need many ways to hold up a mirror to them, to let them see the ultimate immorality of what we have all been doing the past few generations, to make them understand what the founders really had in mind. This is one tool to help start the conversation. We will need others.