Structural Alternatives

Significant changes which go beyond elections to offer entirely different ways to make public decisions, but which can be complementary and added to our electoral democracy.

Based on a paper by Alex Zakaras, reproduced with the author's permission .

The Athenian ideal of securing better representation (and interrupting power) by lottery is the focus of this model. There are two key differences with the Citizen Legislature and Popular Branch models which also emphasise the value of random selection. The first is that it seeks to replace the Upper House or Senate as a house of review. The second is that it prescribes basic limits on the expected role of citizens in a belief that this "manageability" will make it the pragmatic option for a step toward a non-partisan and deliberative parliament.

All adults would be eligible for selection, and can decline if they don't wish to serve. The random group would be stratified for age and income to match census data on the makeup of the society it governs. Participants would be paid a salary equal to twice the average wage.

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Reproduced with the author's permission from the work of Marcus Schmidt.

With each citizen being politically active for 50 or more years, the core of this concept is to select one fiftieth of the voting age population each year and engage them in discussion and subsequently an online vote. This voice would constitute an additional house in the parliament.

Such an immense sample means the group is assured of being more representative of the population as a whole than the elite 'political class' which is becoming increasingly prevalent today (with some individuals graduating from student politics into staffer roles and then into a representative seat).

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(Selective excerpts from writings by Brian Martin, University of Wollongong; and John Burnheim, reproduced with the authors' permission.)

Today we elect a small number of people who make decisions on a wide range of issues. Demarchy, by contrast, is based on a network of numerous decision making groups. Each group deals with a specific function (i.e. transport, land use, parks) in a given area – so it's not a "generalist" system. The membership of each group is chosen randomly each year from all those who nominate they are interested in working on that topic.

If the community decides that certain groups of people should be represented in a subject area - such as the disabled on disability policies, or architects in urban planning – then it is simple enough to draw a required fraction randomly from within these audiences.

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(selective excerpts from 'A Citizen Legislature' by E. Callenbach and M Phillips reproduced with the authors' permission.)

Many reformers recognise the threat of money in politics, but solutions that only deal with campaign spending have failed to reach the root of the problem. The Citizen Legislature is a scientific way to select legislators so they will be truly representative. This process worked for the ancient Greeks over more than two centuries: selection by lottery. This will yield a more descriptively representative legislature (i.e. one that looks like the society as a whole) and one not beholden to the weight of special interest donations that are having inordinate influence over policy.

A traditionally elected party-based upper house/ senate would remain as house of review.

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Drawn from the work of Prof. Ethan Leib, University of California 

A basic tenet of western democracies is for a Constitution which provides for three basic branches of government: executive, judicial, and legislative. But with parliaments seemingly increasingly unrepresentative of the people they govern, it is suggested that a fourth branch should be added – the popular branch, comprised of a randomly drawn group of citizens. The passage of a binding decision would require a supermajority of two thirds of the Popular House as indicative of broad-based popular consent.

This is not a consultative group drawn to discuss a single issue: it is proposed The Popular Branch would be institutionalised and permanent with a clear separation of powers. This would include a potential power for judges to send a question to the assembly to settle a matter where the court would otherwise be making new law.

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A consensus conference brings together lay people and subject matter experts to identify common ground in topics where there is technological or scientific complexity, and where key aspects of the issue are uncertain, contested or controversial. Generally the ratio of lay citizens (or “Citizen Panellists”) to experts is 2:1.

In operation, the panel receives a set of introductory material compiled (in past instances) by a journalist in the field, and reviewed before distribution by subject matter experts and commentators to ensure a breadth of material is presented. This is not a model to veto content, but simply to expand it.

The lay panel then questions the experts to its satisfaction, and works continuously to assemble a report which includes only the elements upon which they can agree.

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Based on the paper ‘Democracy Through Multi-Body Sortition’ by Terry Bouricius, published to the Journal of Public Deliberation (Vol.9 Iss. 1, Article 11. Available here).

This model seeks to divide the activities of lawmaking among several groups with different functions and different characteristics. The members of these bodies would be randomly selected rather than being elected. Some of these bodies would be ongoing (like current legislatures), and others would be temporary (like juries).

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