Making Direct Democracy Deliberative Through Random Assemblies
University of Washington
Robert C. Richards Jr.
Pennsylvania State University, Department of Communication Arts and Sciences
February 10, 2012
ASA 2012: The Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, 2012
We examine closely the problems that beset modern direct-democratic elections. These include the provision of inadequate or unusable information about ballot measures to voters; the distortion of policy information by campaigns and the media; the frequent enactment of measures that are unconstitutional or that result in unintended consequences, such as the substantial erosion of state and local tax bases; the exercise of majority tyranny; and the manipulation of public sentiment by special interests. We then review the history of randomly selected citizen assemblies, from the legislative bodies of ancient Athens through twentieth- and twenty-first century proposals, such as demarchical institutions and popular legislative branches.
Finally, we propose five different varieties of random assembly forms — Priority Conferences, Design Panels, Citizens’ Assemblies, Citizens’ Initiative Reviews, and Policy Juries — and explain how they can address the deliberative deficit of direct democracy. After selecting members through stratified random sampling of citizens, each of these assemblies would operate at a different stage of the legislative process, from initial problem identification through approval of a finished ballot measure. Highly structured procedures guided by professional moderators and featuring expert testimony on policy and legal matters would ensure deliberative quality and adherence to democratic standards of participant interaction. Further, these procedures would yield measures that are more likely to achieve desired policy objectives, less likely to result in unintended consequences, and more robust to court challenges than measures produced by today’s flawed initiative and referendum processes.
Keywords: Deliberative democracy, Democratic deliberation, Direct democracy, Random selection, Ballot initiatives, Ballot measures, ReferendaAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: February 26, 2012
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