What About Direct Democracy?
In the previous sections I covered ways to make our republic more democratic. Why not go all the way to direct democracy? For small towns, the answer is: go for it! For larger jurisdictions, there are problems.
Not enough study time. Modern government has become incredibly complex. Even fulltime congresscritters lack sufficient time to read the bills they are voting on. To expect the average apolitical citizen with a day job to read complicated laws is to be unrealistic. Then again, if we only allowed bills to pass that the median citizen could comprehend, it might be a good thing.
Parliamentary nightmares. Who gets to introduce a bill? How is debate to be carried out? How do we deal with proposed amendments? Go to a convention where there are a thousand people in the room debating using Robert’s Rules of Order sometime. Boring! Now scale that up to millions of people. Even with modern electronics, the process is unmanageable.
The “why bother” factor. You are one of a 100 million people voting on an amendment to a defense appropriations bill. The bill itself is about the size of a telephone book. The odds of your vote being the deciding vote is vanishingly small. So why should you waste your valuable time participating? If you were one of a hundred representatives, then your vote would have a significant chance of being the deciding vote, and you could personally lobby the margin of victory on just about any vote. But in a committee of all The People, the odds that your vote will make that much difference is quite small. (This is why a great many people do not bother to vote at all.)
The Founders opted for a representative republic because pure democracy does not scale up well.
For those who do not like representative systems, there are approximations to direct democracy that could be made somewhat workable. The Athenians sampled their population by random selection. If you were to take a random selection of citizens and put them in a convention hall, their votes would very closely approximate the results of a general election. The size needed would be on the order used for a Gallop poll or the like.
However, unlike a poll of the population, such a selected body would have more motivation to deliberate on the topic at hand because their votes would count for more. This would still be an unwieldy body for parliamentary procedure, but it could be used as a “citizens veto” of a proposal that came out of a representative legislature.
Such a system could be used for a few laws at a time. A randomly selected “citizen’s legislature” could be called up after each legislative session for final approval of the laws passed by representatives. Actually, more than one such citizen’s legislature could be called up in order to divide up the work. Participation would be something like jury duty.
I am not making a serious proposal at this point, by the way. I think it would be rather expensive and unwieldy. Getting a truly random sample would be hard due to no-shows.
On the other hand, our population has begun to outgrow its representative republic. Maybe we need such measures to fight the “why bother” factor.