Democracy by Jury

Imagine yourself being tried for a sensational crime, one that has gripped the passions of the entire country. It’s Casey Anthony, Duke Lacrosse and George Zimmerman, all rolled into one. Would you like to be tried in a well regulated courtroom, presided over by a judge, your fate in the hands of a jury that has spent weeks carefully reviewing all evidence and expert testimony? Or would you prefer for your fate to be decided by popular vote, your future in the hands of every Joe the Plumber with a pulse and an opinion, regardless of his knowledge of the case details?

Earlier, we had discussed why our current system of democracy is fundamentally flawed, and why our founding fathers had always intended for this nation to be a constitutional republic, and not a direct democracy. We had also discussed an alternative system of democracy, one that incorporates vastly successful insights from Google’s search engine.

Understandably, many were wary of making such dramatic changes to our electoral system, one that scraps the idea of one-person-one-vote. Hence why today, I’d like for us to discuss another great alternative and improvement over our current dysfunctional system. One that is much more simple and directly parallels a civic system that we already use everyday, with great success: the Jury system.

Our founding fathers were always very wary of mob rule, and justifiably so. History is full of populism and mob justice gone wrong, with terrible consequences. Even today, who amongst us is willing to put our life in the hands of a mob that is short on facts, but long on emotion?

The solution that was found: Trial by Jury. Power was decentralized and fairly portioned out to all segments of society, by creating a system that randomly picks Jurors from all demographics and walks of life. But at the same time, the problem of misinformation and emotional decision making was solved by requiring that the Jurors spend weeks sitting in a courtroom.

One that is well regulated by Judges and a system of procedures to combat the spread of incorrect and misleading information. One where both sides get to present their best case through facts, evidence and expert testimony. One where the Jury is required to pay full attention to the proceedings and deliberate carefully before finally making their decision.

Our current system of democracy solves the first problem admirably, by ensuring that political power is fairly distributed amongst all segments of society. But it fails horribly at resolving the second problem. Each campaign season finds itself marked by soundbites, shallow arguments, and opinions as opposed to facts, because these are the things that win elections.

Rumors and misinformation roam free and can change the course of elections, as John Kerry, John McCain and Barack Obama can all tell you. Without any pressure to listen to expert testimony from both sides, voters are free to self-segregate themselves within their own individual echo chambers. It’s no surprise that the election process more closely resembles a PR campaign, as opposed to a fact finding mission.

It’s all truly unfortunate, given that a much better system is staring us right in the face.

Imagine during every election year, auditoriums packed full of jurors, convening across every state in the country. Jurors holding the greatest civic responsibility of all: electing our Congressmen and the President.

Imagine every candidate being tried in these auditoriums across the country. Their actions, campaign promises, voting records, public policy platform and general conduct… all scrutinized carefully in a courtroom presided over by a judge. Imagine them being grilled by opposing attorneys for every campaign promise they broke, for every campaign contribution they accepted from lobbyists, for every dollar they spent on wasteful government expenditures, and for every vote they cast in favor of special interests. Imagine experts from the fields of Foreign Policy, Healthcare, Fiscal Planning, Economics and National Security… all brought in to give testimony on the candidates’ positions and how viable their plans are.

Imagine a jury in every county, a hundred strong, randomly picked from the public to represent every section and segment of our society, displaying the full and complete diversity that is America. Imagine a jury, excused from work for a few weeks, attentively listening to all expert testimony, carefully considering all the facts and analysis presented, and meticulously deliberating over who they would like to have represent them in their state capitol and Washington DC.

That is the type of democracy that I would like to live in.

Churchill once famously remarked that “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” The quote is often invoked as an insult against the average Joe, but I don’t see it that way.

Keeping up with politics, public policy and current affairs isn’t a hobby that most of us dedicate ourselves to… and we shouldn’t have to. We all have our own lives to lead, our own stories, problems and passions that we follow. If every single person was a West Wing aficionado intent on following every political development, our society would be so much more boring and so much less colorful.

Some of us may enjoy reading the news religiously, and others may enjoy volunteering in our local communities. Some of us may enjoy careful deliberation of public policy initiatives in Washington, and others may prefer dedicating their lives towards achieving scientific and technological breakthroughs.

These are all great passions worth pursuing, and we need a political system that doesn’t rely on every voting citizen becoming a public policy expert. A system that ensures that every candidate gets a fair and comprehensive hearing, by an electorate that has been given all the evidence and testimony needed to carefully deliberate and reach a conclusion.

The jury system may not be perfect – juries do return bad verdicts more frequently than we’d like. And the specific details of its implementation will certainly need to be tweaked to better fit elections. But it is certainly a vast improvement over any popular-vote based alternative. It’s time we applied these lessons to our democratic process as well. It’s time we started conducting our Democracy by Jury.

Related Links:
The problems inherent to direct democracy
Direct Democracy vs Representative Democracy
Reforming democracy – the Google way

Discussion thread on /r/philosophy

24 thoughts on “Democracy by Jury

  1. My thought would be:
    1/ Voters elect politicians.
    2/ Politicians propose legislation, and present the case for/against.
    3/ Juries decide by majority vote.

    People become politicians because they have strong views on political issues. I think this means politicians could be great at presenting a case, but will always be dreadful at deciding on one. If we think of parliament as a court room, politicians are both the lawyers and the jury, and I think they could make excellent lawyers, but will always be abysmal jurors.

    Unfortunately, because politicians judge the merits of their own arguments, those in the majority can win without a decent case, and those in the minority can’t win with one, so neither have much incentive to make one. If the outcome of the vote wasn’t so often a foregone conclusion, I think the standard of debate could rise considerably.

    I don’t think there’s a need to weed out naïvety before the debate begins. In fact I think it may be better if we don’t. Presenting and debating the views of the populace, whatever they are, may better inform the populace, and avoid leaving people disenfranchised because their views aren’t aired, so IMO it’s probably best if everyone gets equal representation, regardless of merit.

  2. indeed there will be flaws in the Jury part of the voting system. I expected that.
    I don’t want to get into a wall of text to explain every detail so let’s run through an example case,

    Some issue comes up for debate. In this case let’s say funding for a space program. This is something with no short term benefit, but assuming success, great scientific development in long term.

    a Jury of people, those who meet a certain criteria, are selected and asked to participate. They are explained the situation – economics, government expenditure, etc etc.
    There role is not to be experts, or be precisely fair, but to give the viewpoint of common man, (eg how will this affect my life tomorrow). So lets say that they vote to reduce space program funding.

    than the Parliament members act. during this time when the issue is being discussed it is their role to gather information from the general public, from popular opinion, of those in their area. They can weigh in on the issue and try persuade people one way or the other, but in the end they are forced to vote as the people dictate in their region. A city of 4 million, with 4 representatives might feel there is a 65% pro space program inclination. than 3 representatives will vote for, one against. which of them does this doesn’t matter.

    then Finally the President. S/He must look at the long term future of his/her and even other countries to see if a space program will benefit the country in the long term. in this case after reviewing all the data available, s/he make a decision, and importantly explains the decision on a national broadcast.

    there are 2 votes for and one against. in this way the space program goes ahead.

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