Lottery Voting: A Thought Experiment

January 1995

Edited by: Akhil Reed Amar, Yale Law School – Faculty Scholarship Series. Paper 987

This proposal outlines a system whereby votes become, in effect, tickets in a lottery to select representatives. While it potentially allows for odd results in single electorates, on a system-wide basis the law of averages suggests it would yield a more representative array of representatives.

The method treats all voters, all ballots, equally, but in a different way. Suppose we put all of the ballots from a given district in a twirling drum, pull one ballot out in a lottery, and declare the candidate listed on that ballot the winner from that district. Ex ante, each ballot has an equal chance of casting the winning vote. If you get 20 percent of the vote in a district, you have a 20 percent chance of winning the election even if someone else got more votes.

Like the current system, lottery voting uses small single-member districts, but because of the law of averages, lottery voting generates an overall legislature that looks much more like the one generated by cumulative voting. A geographically dispersed 20 percent minority party will win around twenty of the one hundred seats. Each party will get its ‘fair share’ – its proportionate share – of legislative representation, tracking fairly to closely the overall percentage of the vote it received statewide. It directly counters problems of gerrymandering by incumbents.

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