America, we have a problem.
We don’t vote!
Here we have the chance to participate in the greatest democracy on earth, but more than 40 percent of us didn’t cast ballots in the last presidential election. And that’s a presidential election. If a presidential election doesn’t get us out of our armchairs, I can’t imagine that city and county races would do any better.
What is it that makes so many of us stay home on election day? Do the candidates not reflect our values? Do we think our votes don’t matter? Are we just tired out after working all day, cooking dinner and getting our kids to bed?
If our election system isn’t working, why don’t we get rid of it?
Let’s replace voting with a system of random drawing, like the ancient Athenians with their Council of 500. Any registered voter could be selected to serve on the Council of 500. It would be a civic duty, like serving on a jury. Unlike jurors, council members would be well compensated, just like members of Congress. Our setup would remain similar to today, with local, state and federal governments. Only the elections would be gone.
The more I’ve been thinking about this system, the more I like it.
Troubled by money in politics? It’d be moot. No election ads, therefore no fundraising banquets by wealthy donors. Senators wouldn’t feel compelled to meet with corporate donors who want their support on favorable bills. Those who serve on the Council of 500 could use all their time to focus on mutual concerns instead of fundraising.
Troubled by voter apathy? Maybe knowing that their voice matters would wake people up.
On the Council of 500, instead of wealthy lawyers, would sit Americans from all walks of life. Teenagers. Farmers. Retirees. Accountants. Teachers. Truckers. Doctors. Janitors. Techies. Artists. People with disabilities. People of varying religious beliefs. People of all income levels. People of all skin colors. Think of all the viewpoints that would be brought into play. Everyone in America of voting age would matter.
Troubled by partisanship? There would be no need for political parties, jockeying for power, pitting its members against one another. Council members would serve one term, say, for one or two years, and then there would be another drawing.
Since this form of direct democracy could trample on minority viewpoints, we would retain our Bill of Rights. We would also need civil servants to carry out the wishes of the Council of 500.
How would such a system change the way we address our challenges? Among them: the tremendous loss of insect life and birds in North America, the innocents getting mowed down in shopping centers and places of worship, the refugees flooding across our borders, disagreements over abortion, the legality of recreational drugs, and rising sea levels.
How would we talk to each other, stripped of labels of party and status?
How would we tackle our common problems?
It would be fascinating to observe.
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“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.